Stepney School ex-head fury over removal of pupils’ 90ft street mural

Mural at Stepey that used to be seen from Ben Johnson Road

Mural at Stepey that used to be seen from Ben Johnson Road - Credit: Archant

A former headmaster has written to his MP over a unique piece of ‘public art’ he says has been snatched away from its landmark street location in London’s East End.

Sean McGrath, who was head at Stepney Green School for five years till 2006, organised 800 of his pupils to work with artist Jean Powell to create the mural 11 years ago outside the school in Ben Johnson Road, as part of the Ocean Estate regeneration programme.

It showed the Thames with colourful buildings along its foreshore, with the river picked out in tiles designed by his pupils.

But the 90ft-long mural disappeared from the street—contractors are reassembling it inside the school playground, the school confirmed this week.

“People have been contacting me wondering where the mural has gone,” said Mr McGrath.

“Removing it downgrades a prestigious piece of public art which has been taken away with no consultation.”

Most of the £70,000 cost in 2002 was paid for by New Deal for Communities, not the school, to improve the street environment, he points out.

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“That mural became a landmark,” he added. “Jean Powell is a British artist of international standing—her work shouldn’t be downgraded by being put in the back playground where the public can’t see it.”

He has written to Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali and to East Ham MP Stephen Timms who originally unveiled the mural in 2002.

The school is undergoing rebuilding and the mural was taken down and put into storage for protection, according to Tower Hamlets council.

The design team for the school rebuilding told him they felt it “no longer matched the street elevation.”

Mr McGrath added: “I wonder whether it will survive, or be another piece of public art lost to history—a shame since the mural was a colourful addition to what is a drab street with a boarded-up community centre.”

He is suggesting the mural could be re-sited in public at Stepney City Farm close by, once the Crossrail construction site finishes.