Exeter’s fabulous Westgate Mural on New Bridge Street is in reasonable condition and can be rescued. The Twentieth Century Society calls on Exeter City Council to step in and support the local campaign to save it.
The mural is a much loved landmark and tourist attraction in central Exeter and is threatened due to plans by the owner to cover it over with external insulation. The property behind the mural has ongoing problems with damp and there were rumours that the mural was damaged and not possible to save.
Following media reports that the mural could be lost, an on-line campaign was been set up and we were contacted by several local residents concerned about it’s future.
We asked conservator and lecturer Andy Coxall to inspect the mural and he found that the concrete render that it is painted on to is in reasonable condition. There are small scale areas that he identified in need for restoration, and light cracks in the some parts of the render which could be addressed through low key and inexpensive restoration work. In our view it would also be possible to deal with the damp issues by applying materials to the inner face of the flankwall.
We understand that Exeter City Council funded two previous restorations of the mural. We have written to Peter Edwards, Leader of Exeter City Council, urging the Council to step in to save the mural, and to back the owner with both advice and financial support.
Painted by local artist Andrew Stacey in 1979 to celebrate the Westgate festival, the giant 60 by 40 foot mural has become a much loved welcoming landmark at one of the four historic gates of the old city. It is based on festival events that took place in Exeter that year, including the international ‘Festival of Fools’; it features jugglers, street performers and other local characters depicted in the street and peering out of windows in neighbouring buildings.
Andrew Stacey, a former Exeter College art teacher, has already carried out two restorations of the mural since with was first painted. His second city gate piece, the Southgate mural on Holloway Street, completed in 1985 and restored in 2009, is also a much loved landmark.
Update on 21 October: Despite our best efforts to save the Westgate mural, we were extremely disappointed to hear that it has now been covered with a layer of insulation and render, fixed through the surface of the mural. The mural was a much loved landmark in Exeter and it is disappointing that the Council and the building owners were not able to find a solution that could have saved it. We were really encouraged to see so much support for saving it, and we hope that this surge in public interest will act as a wake up call for the Council and other building owners. These works are precious assets, part of the history and fabric of the city that people identify with and really care about. Historic examples like the Westgate mural are finite – once they are gone they are lost forever.