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Basildon - Works of Art
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Artwork found around Basildon

A short history

The first examples began to appear around the turn of the 1960s. This was at the two Roundacre roundabout subway entrances in the form of an abstract mural. The new town centre, under construction from the late 1950s, provided the perfect setting for a wide range of artwork, some of which can still be viewed today.

South Walk ceramic mural

The original abstract mural above the South Walk shopping parade dated from 1960. It was commissioned by the development corporation as part of the second phase of a new shopping parade called Blenheim House; the future ballroom and shop units 1-4 having already been completed in 1959. They employed renowned tile manufacturers Carter & Co. of Poole in Dorset to carry out the work. The company, whose clients included London Underground, had its origins in the 1870s when Jesse Carter established Carter’s Industrial Tile Manufactory. This was later to become Carter & Co. who inlisted the services of the artist William Gordon to design and oversee the Basildon mural.

The 13ft. high mosaic, which was believed at the time to be the largest in Great Britain, was created from hundreds of ceramic tiles forming abstract patterns above the full length of units 5-20, a distance of 314 feet (96 metres). The wall on which they are attached has a noticeable curvature and is predominantly free standing, being strenghtend at its rear by 16 short brick pillars spaced equally apart. In describing the work, which he hoped would 'capture the spirit of the new town', Gordon said: "The mural is completely non-representational, but has a geometric atmosphere and is very colourful".

In the early 1990s the bus station underwent extensive renovation work to create an enclosed covered walkway and the mural was either removed or covered over by a second mural in the form of a Timeline covering the years 412 to 1949, the year that Basildon became a new town. Either mural, both being the same length, was in the case of the first and is in the case of the second, still considered to be one of the longest in the country.

Keay House (now Southgate House), 88 Town Square, ceramic mural

Keay House, as it was then known, is a three storey office block in Town Square. It was completed in 1959 and sits above shop units 78-104. The mural, covering two floors of the building on the west facing wall, was the work of the artist Anthony Holloway, A.R.C.A.

It was informally unveiled during the week beginning Sunday 17th January 1960 having been shrouded in covers.

The mural's design featured primary colours in square tiles and was not known to have a title, meaning or message.

It survived to the mid 1990s when the Keay House three storey projection was removed to create a more 'open' town square. Keay House was then renamed Southgate House. At the time of writing it is not known whether any of it was saved.

Abstract mosaic, 26-28 Town Square, Basildon

The row of shops numbered 2-76 Town Square formed part of the town centre's first shopping block when completed in late 1958. A short projection above shop unit 26/28 - first occupied by ironmongers Mayes of Wickford - was built as part of the design.

A feature of the projection, high on its north facing wall, is an unnamed abstract mosaic by the artist Geoffrey Clark.

The wall, which has a slight inwood curvature, covers the units upper two-storeys and is windowless.

Until 1971, when the Marks and Spencer building was constructed, it was clearly visible being in a direct line with the original course of Pagel Mead and close to the nearest of the three water pools that led from St. Martin's Church. Unfortunately its view has been further obscured by a glass roofed canopy that was erected on the walkway in the 2000s to relieve wind turbulence, so long a bane when walking through some areas of Town Square.

Mother and Child sculpture and water feature, Town Square

In 1959 the development corporation commissioned a work of art to symbolise the growth of Basildon as a new town. The resulting work, known as the Mother and Child sculpture and raised pool, was designed by the french sculptor Maurice Lambert, R.A.

It was unveiled on Saturday 7th July, 1962 as a double celebration to mark the completion of the nearby tower block Brooke House.

The sculpture, made from bronze and lit at night from lights in the pool's floor, was one of the last pieces from the Paris born artist, who died in 1964.

Basildon Council would later adopt the sculpture, in revised form, as a symbol to represent the district.

In the mid 1980s a scheme to roof over a portion of Town Square was unveiled and during the months of 1986 the council mooted plans to relocate it to Pagel Mead (now St. Martin's Square) to a second square where the new Towngate Theatre and council's Basildon Centre would soon be constructed. In the event the Tops Estates proposed scheme, despite much discussion and some preparation work including the closure of Sweeneys discotheque, failed to materialise and the raised pool continues to remain in its original location.

In the 2000s restoration work was carried out that included fixing a leak which caused water to enter the underground garages below Brooke House. A later restoration around 2007 saw the removal of the circular water surround.

Together with Brooke House it was awarded Grade II listed status on 22nd December 1998.

Christ sculpture and porch, St. Martin's Church, Basildon

St. Martin's of Tours Church in St. Martin's Square (formerly Pagel Mead) was built in 1962. It was the work of local architect Treena Cotton. It was built in Pagel Mead when the road was to the east side of the church. Around 1964 the road was relocated to the western side of the church where a new pathway was laid with access to the church entrance, which was built on the south wall.

In 1968 a 30ft.+ porch was constructed to the front entrance. The porch is in two sections with the upper portion housing a sculpture of Christ by the artist Thomas Bayliss Huxley-Jones.

A special service of dedication performed by H.R.H. Katharine, Duchess of Kent was held on Wednesday 9th October, 1968.

The sculpture initially proved controversial and divided opinion although is now generally accepted as a worthy piece of art. It proved to be the artist's last completed work. He had been battling failing health and died soon after.

Sculptural water fountain, Station House (now Trafford House), Cherrydown East, Basildon

The Station House office complex in Cherrydown East was built on behalf of Amalgamated Investment & Property Company. Construction began around 1972/3 alongside work on the town's main railway station.

At the time of the station's opening in November 1974 Station House was still under construction and following its completion in March 1975 remained unoccupied until around 1976.

Although the building is largely in Cherrydown East the main entrance is at 8 Station Way adjacent to the (then) back entrance of the station and it was there on the station forecourt that the development corporation had plans for a 'sculpture garden'. Though this was never built a water feature sculpture was commissioned and subsequently positioned at the entrance of one of the internal car parks off Cherrydown East.

It has yet to be established if it was commissioned by the development corporation or Ford Motor Company but it did appear to be in place by 1975, sometime in advance of the eventual takeover of Station House by Ford.

The sculpture was created by William Mitchell and crafted from a weathering steel called Corten. The steel, which was hand cut to the shape of a 'triangular' spike, developed a rust-like appearance when wet and did not need to be painted despite being open to the elements.

The sculpture was titleless but became affectionately known as 'The Pineapple' due to its resemblance to the tropical fruit. It stood to the centre of a two course raised plinth in a shallow circular pool. Although the plinth was inclined, when in operation, the water from the fountain would splash the roadway which led to a transparent shield being installed around its outer perimeter. Its dimensions are unknown but it may have been between 7ft. and 8ft. high and a similar dimension in width.

In 2008 Ford announced the gradual withdrawal of its Truck Division to their Research and Engineering Centre at nearby Dunton. This was complete by 2010 and the building was sold to the real estate company and property developer Colonnade MMH (Trafford House) Ltd. who planned to convert the building to residential flats.

The fountain was subsequently removed in 2011 and put into storage within the Laindon Shopping Centre complex, which at the time was also owned by the company. The aim was to return it to Basildon once a suitable location had been secured, though it was uncertain if that would be Trafford House. Unfortunately Colonnade reported it missing in December 2012 but its disappearance went largely unnoticed until 2014 when the local newspapers covered the story.

Its current whereabouts remains a mystery. Various theories on its disappearance have emerged with the most likely one suggesting it was stolen and melted down for its metal content.

The artist, who had been informed of its disappearance, estimated its cost would be £500,000 if completed today.

Cats Cradle Pussiwillow III Clock, Eastgate Shopping Centre

The first phase of the Eastgate indoor shopping centre was completed in March 1980 with the opening of Savacentre, a joint enterprise between J. Sainsbury and British Home Stores. To the front of the store at the head of the shopping mall was a large irregular shaped concourse partially flanked either side by shop units and the car parking entrance/exits. To the centre of the concourse was placed an unusual looking clock and water feature by the London born artist and cartoonist Rowland Emett, O.B.E.

The clock, called the Cats Cradle Pussiwillow III, stands around 20ft. high on a circular plinth. It was commissioned by Basildon Council and chimes every 15 minutes followed by a moving performance each hour where cats and butterflies are seen to spin and rotate to the accompaniment of music. Its ornate blue circular water fountain feature, divided into eight equal segments, proved popular with the public who deposited coins into it which when collected were donated to various charities.

The inauguration ceremony, captured by various television film crews, was performed by the film and television comedy actor, writer and ex-Goon Michael Bentine on Friday 7th August, 1981. Its designer Rowland Emett was among the many spectators who turned up to witness the event.

In 1995 Eastgate underwent an extensive refurbishment resulting in a reduction in the size of the concourse and the clock was initially removed and placed into storage. It was then returned to Eastgate, minus its circular water pool, and placed in a new location on the first floor shopping mall, where it remains to this day. Unfortunately, since the move, its main features are no longer functioning.

Progression, Wat Tyler Country Park, Pitsea

In the mid 1990s work began at Basildon town centre's main town square on an extensive regeneration project; the main aim of which was to create a more open plaza. Along with new paving and lighting, the three main changes were the removal of the Keay House three-storey projection and the addition of two large glass pavilions and a square raised green. The two pavilions, named east and west, were both in occupation by 1999 by Costa Coffee and the hairdressing chain, Toni & Guy. The raised green, which was flanked on all sides with polished stone, had been created as the location for a proposed new piece of sculpture commissioned by Basildon District Community Arts Project to mark 50 years of the new town. Unfortunately, the artist chosen to design the new piece died before it was completed and so a new design, called Progression by Rochford born artist Michael Condron, was chosen as its replacement.

It consists of three figures, made from electro polished stainless steel. The leading figure stands 5 metres high (16ft.) upon a plinth and carries an illuminated sphere. It is inscribed December 2000.

The sculptur, who was born in 1972, created the work in an Essex garden. It was brought to Town Square in December 2000 and kept covered while the site was prepared before being unveiled with no formal ceremony in January 2001.

In 2004 following concerns over safety issues a council vote deemed it a health hazard and the statue was moved on Wednesday 28th July to Wat Tyler Country Park in Pitsea where it was put into storage and later resited in front of the Motorboat Museum (now Green Centre). An official unveiling ceremony conducted by council chairman Sandra Hillier was held on Monday 25th February, 2005.

The raised green on which it stood was also removed in 2004 and tarmacked as a possible site for a 3rd pavilion, which has yet to materialise.

Notes:

(1) Maurice Lambert (25/06/1901 - 17/08/1964).

(2) The council's use of the symbol took effect from April 1st 1974. It had to be redrawn to satisfy the late Maurice Lambert's widow who objected to the original design.

(3) Frederick Rowland Emett, O.B.E. born 22nd October 1906, New Southgate, London. Died 13th November 1990.

(4) Keay House was named after the first chairman of Basildon Development Corporation, Lancelot Keay. Following the removal of the Town Square projection it was renamed Southgate House, which it remains today.

(5) Thomas Bayliss Huxley-Jones (1908 - 10th December, 1968). He was born in Grahamstown, South Africa and came to England at the age of 4. He was active for at least 40 years and married to the artist Rose Gwynneth Cobden Holt. They lived at Broomfield, near Chelmsford, Essex.

(6) William George Mitchell (b. 1925). Born in Maida Vale, London, his previous works included the sculptural fountains of the Civic Water Gardens at Harlow New Town, Minute Men sculptures at Salford University, Manchester and an internal concrete wall for the reception area at Lee Valley Water Works, North London.

Text researched and written by William Cox, 2017.
Copyright © 2017, B. Cox - Basildon History Online. All rights reserved.
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Page added: 07/08/2017
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