The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Ron’s Place becomes first Outsider Art listing in the UK

Ron’s Place, 8 Silverdale Road, Oxton, Birkenhead – Ron Gittins (1986-2019), Grade II listed

Image credit: Historic England

The remarkable Ron’s Place in Birkenhead has been Grade II listed following strong support from C20 Society. Created by Ron Gittins between 1986-2019, it is believed to be the first example of Outsider Art to be nationally listed.

Concealed for over 30 years within an unassuming Victorian semi-detached villa, at 8 Silverdale Road, in Oxton, Ron Gittins meticulously crafted a striking visionary environment, which remained a secret until his death in 2019. From intricate murals depicting historical scenes, to hand-crafted concrete fireplaces in the shape of a roaring lion’s head, a Minotaur’s head (a minotaur is a mythical creature with body of a man and the head and tail of a bull) and even a Roman bread oven, Gittins’ creative imagination permeated every corner of his rented ground-floor flat. The result is a compelling immersive space that reflects Ron’s intense character, combining his imaginative creative abilities and abiding passion for history, following a visit to Pompeii as a young man.

Image credit: Historic England

Outsider Art

Outsider Art is an internationally recognised creative phenomenon that often transcends genres and goes under a variety of umbrella terms, including Art Brut (raw art), Folk art, Intuitive art or Visionary art and Naïve art.

Tate describes Outsider Art as “art that has a naïve quality, often produced by people who have not trained as artists or worked within the conventional structures of art production”. A key feature of Outsider Art, and the artists involved, is that the work is created without an audience in mind, and often purely for themselves.

During the listing consultation, C20 drew particular attention to 575 Wandsworth Road in Lambeth, London as a comparator. Decorated by Kenyan-born poet, novelist, philosopher of mathematics and British civil servant, Khadambi Asalache (1935-2006), with an exquisite hand-carved fretwork interior. Now managed by the National Trust, the building itself is Grade II listed, but this predates the discovery of the interior in the mid 2000s.

C20 Director, Catherine Croft, commented:

“This is twentieth century heritage unlike any other, the first example of Outsider Art to be nationally listed – and about time! At Ron’s Place, one man’s extraordinary creative vision summoned creatures from Greek mythology and the architecture of ancient Roman to a humble ground-floor flat in Birkenhead. Proof, if needed, that great art isn’t confined just to established galleries and collections.

C20 strongly supported listing of this wonderful place, an utterly unexpected burst of mind-blowing creativity hidden behind a conventional façade. It’s also great news that the Wirral Arts and Culture Community Land Trust (WACCLT) will use the flat for creative arts programming to enhance the health and wellbeing of the people of the Wirral: what better end could there be to this amazing story.”

Image credit: Historic England

Ron Gittins (1939 – 2019)

The ground-floor flat on Silverdale Road was rented by Ron in 1986, and he spent the next three decades creating a visionary environment. With limited formal artistic training, he developed his own very particular world, articulated both through his flat and through the creation of historic costumes.  He would often wear his costumes when out in the local area, but he kept the creations within his home for his own appreciation, with visitors largely discouraged. Together these aspects sum up both the flamboyantly engaging and deeply private sides of Ron.