Public art in Forest Gate

Saturday, 14 May 2016


This post should be read in conjunction with the immediately previous one, on monuments in Forest Gate, that looked at; The Gurney Memorial in Stratford, the cairn in West Ham Park, The Joseph Fry water fountain on the corner of Capel Road and Wanstead Flats, the clock and drinking fountain, outside Forest Gate railway station and the synagogue memorial, in Earlham Grove.

This article features more recent installations.  Unlike the above mentioned, these are all made of less robust materials than stone. But like all of the stone monuments, there is also an on-going Samuel Gurney connection with them.


The Preacher - Woodgrange Methodist church


The Gurney connection, first!  The Woodgrange estate and much surrounding land was part of Samuel's local land portfolio, before it was gradually sold off by his grandson, following Samuel's death in 1856.

The statue of The Preacher protruding from the Methodist church on Woodgrange Road was recently awarded Grade 11 listed status by English Heritage, which inspired us to find out more about it.

As we have reported previously, the original Methodist church on Woodgrange Road was destroyed in the blitz, on 3 December 1940. When it was being rebuilt in the 1950's, its architects appointed Hungarian-born sculptor Peter Laszlo Peri to create a statue/wall relief on the main, front-facing,  wall of the main church building.


Peter Peri's The Preacher,
 Woodgrange Methodist church

The resulting "Preacher" was unveiled in 1961 and is described by English Heritage as: "A striking long-limbed figure, grasping a prayer book. It is made of a dark mixture of concrete, resin and metallic powders, mixed by Peri and dubbed "Pericrete".

Among Peri's other works are three sculptures on a housing estate in Vauxhall, dedicated to children who lost their lives in the blitz. They were created between 1949 and 1952.

Peri has an interesting personal history. He was born Ladislas Weisz in Budapest on 13 June 1899, of Jewish parents. The family changed its name in the early years of the twentieth century, to sound less Jewish, because of the rise of anti-semitism in the city, in the years leading up to the First World War.

Peter eventually fled persecution from Hungary in 1921, seeking refuge, ironically, in Berlin, where he began sculpting his revolutionary "Wall reliefs".

Peri and his wife subsequently became communists and fled to Britain after Hitler's rise to power. He settled in London and worked in studios around the capital - finally in Camden Town.

He was largely ignored by the British arts establishment during his lifetime, which some have put down to his communist sympathies. He became a British citizen in 1939 and took the name Peter Peri. He later became a Quaker.

Peri subsequently undertook a number of post-war commissions and participated in exhibitions and arts exhibitions throughout the 1950's. He died on 19 January 1967, as a largely ignored, or under-rated, artist.


Window and mosaic on Durning Hall



These are in Earlham Grove, once Gurney land and named after Earlham Hall, Norfolk - his birthplace. The window is the altar window of the Church of the Holy Carpenter and was designed by Shingler and Risden Associates.


Durning Hall alter window - 
designed by Shingler and Risden
The mosaic, according to tiles within it, was commissioned by Newham Council Leisure Services in 1996. It seems to celebrate the activities that took place within the community centre, at the time.

It appears to have been created by attendees at the Greenhill Centre, in Manor Park, according to tiles, within it.


1996 Durning Hall mosaic

If anyone has more details about these artworks, we, and the staff at Durning Hall, would love to hear about them.


Community painting on Balmoral Road bridge



This is situated on part of the former Hamfrith estate, which - of course - for a while was owned by Samuel Gurney.

According to a plaque on it, the artwork was created by the local community and "commissioned by the Mayor of Newham and local councillors" in July 2013, to commemorate a major piece of work to strengthen the bridge.


Balmoral Bridge community painting

The mural features representations of the local area, including Wanstead Flats, the clock tower and Rotunda on Woodgrange Road, next to the station as well as local forms of transport. One panel on it is dedicated to the names of some of those involved in its creation.

The mural replaces a former community mural, which was created, overwhelmingly, by children from Godwin and Woodgrange schools, which was damaged during the bridge strengthening. 


Meanwhile - Forest Gate Rail station



Other artwork from these two local schools could be found on the walls of Forest Gate station, on the bridge from the entrance to platform one.  This, doubtless won't survive the current refurbishment work being undertaken there at present.

Crossrail, however, have been swift to commission a piece of surreal art along the long brick wall adjacent to platform 4.  This was put up in two days by an Italian artist, who prefers to create under the pseudonym Bifido, rather than under his own name, and some co-workers/artists.


Bifido, and team, looking pleased with
 themselves, having created "Meanwhile"
 in mid March 2016
The piece, entitled "Meanwhile" is constructed from paper, tiles and glue, using a "paste-up" technique (otherwise known as the more down to earth "stick on the wall badly, then watch it start to peel off after a couple of weeks" technique, to most Forest Gate residents).  

The work features, among other objects, a giant snail, a man standing in a huge tea cup, and falling leaves, metamorphosing into butterflies, a few clocks and a train. Just out of vision, Salvador Dali can be sensed turning in his surreal grave.

Bifido describes the work, in a statement that is destined for Private Eye's Pseuds Corner, as:


Looking at the spectator waiting for his train: an everyday repetitive sense of wait clashes with the speed of the train. Wait and speed are concepts at the core of this eclectic narrative: they combine and relate in an oxymoronic way.


Hoarding, around the Community Garden, Earlham Grove


Until the new station artwork, this was Forest Gate's latest significant piece of public art, and of course it is situated on former Gurney land (see above for the connection)!

The Community Garden steering group held a public competition last spring, seeking a designer /artist to offer a proposal for illustrating the rather stark and dull hoardings that surrounded the under-construction garden.


Community Garden mural -Metamorphosis
- designed by Jim Valentine, painted by
 over 70 local people, 2015
The competition was won by local artist, Jim Valentine (see his website: here, for more details), for his work Metamorphosis. Over seventy members of the local community (named in a panel on the mural) took part in The Big Paint in September last year, to colour in Jim's design outline on the hoardings.

The mural proved to be a great success and a colourful addition to the local area. Unfortunately, some of the panels were blown down in a storm at the turn of the year.

There has been something of a stand-off between the Community Garden committee and local council over who will take responsibility for the damage and restitution.  Fortunately a way forward seems to have been agreed.

This will result in a replacement of some of the damaged panels, while leaving more openings in the fencing for public viewing of the rapidly developing garden project. This will be in response to local public demand which has sought better viewing facilities.

A date has yet to be fixed for the repair and restoration, but as the committee says: it is an ill wind ...

So, the last two posts have focused on a ghost running through them, a future post will address the life and Forest Gate times of Samuel Gurney.

Footnote: We have not covered any of the many memorials/prominent headstones/ sarcophaguses in Forest Gate's cemeteries in this post, they have been covered elsewhere in this site on a number of occasions. 

Nor have we included a number of other, smaller, items of public interest - often details on walls or reliefs on the faces of buildings. Many of these have been recorded in an interesting, though slightly dated, website: Exploring London. They can be accessed here.

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