Chez l'abeille

Culture. Travel. Writing. My world in words and pictures

Camberwell Beauty ceramic butterfly

The history of the Old Kent Road.

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I found myself walking down the Old Kent Road today, in search of builders’ rubble sacks (but that’s another story for another day). Heading home I walked past the old North Peckham civic centre, which currently houses a church. Now I’ve gone past this building hundreds of times on the bus but I don’t think I’ve ever actually stopped to look closely at the large polychrome frieze that decorates the exterior of the building. What a surprise it is.

It is called “The history of the Old Kent Road” and does what it sets out to do, depicting the history of the area from the Romans arriving in Kent to the Canterbury pilgrims on through to modern (60’s) times. The piece is constructed from irregular shaped tiles, with well defined and boldly drawn figures and designs. I particularly liked how each figure had a completely unique face and expression! I also liked the use of the locally named Camberwell Beauty butterfly to form the surround to the entire frieze.

I discovered that, at 1000 feet square, it is the largest secular work by the Polish sculptor, Adam Kossowski (1905 – 1986). Kossowski arrived as a refugee from the Soviet labour camps in England in 1943. This work was designed in 1964 and completed in 1965. It now appears to be under the protection of the Twentieth Century Society.

From the bus it looks rather grimy and unloved. Up close you can see the hand of a skilful ceramicist at work and how beautiful it actually is!

I also liked this blog I found which describes the frieze too .

©Chez l’abeille 2014

 

 

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2 thoughts on “The history of the Old Kent Road.

  1. Cathy, thanks for highlighting this excellent, neglected work, and thanks for your photos. It deserves to be cleaned up and better recorded. There is an Adam Kossowski archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum that will probably explain how the local council came to commission him to make the mural.

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    • Thanks. I am rather inspired to go and seek out the other works in churches. I’m really glad I bothered to stop and look closely at it – I loved the slightly comic faces in the general crowd scenes. I wonder what he would have chosen to reflect the Old Kent Rd today!!

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