Heritage & Culture

Restoring Peterborough’s heritage at Fletton Quays

The family of the original artist of an historic mural have been closely involved in the plans for its new home at Fletton Quays. The mural was designed by Arthur J Ayres to celebrate the evolution of science and engineering and will soon be visible to the public once more after six years in storage. Two interpretation panels detailing the history of the mural will be situated by its new Peterborough home

For many years the presence of an incised bas-relief sculpture on the front of the main Bridge House building by Town Bridge was a familiar sight for Peterborough people. It was commissioned in 1955 as the result of a competition held by Mitchell Engineering Ltd aiming to strengthen links between industry and the arts. Mitchell Engineering Ltd had moved to Peterborough after their London office had been bombed during the blitz of 1940. More commonly referred to as a mural, it was made by celebrated sculptor Arthur Ayres. Ayres carried out work on many major buildings in London, including Westminster Abbey.

This Peterborough work was one of his largest, taking three years to carve in situ onto 51 panels of Portland stone. The design features Sir Isaac Newton, Archimedes, and Thomas Bradwardine, an English scholar who lived at the turn of the 14th century.

It also has a number of figures from mythology, including Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and the arts. It was commissioned when Mitchell Engineering still had a world-wide client base and long before the firm was taken over by Tarmac. As such it celebrates a sector of Peterborough business still represented by the world wide project base of firms such as Royal Haskoning DHV, Halcrow and Stirling Maynard.

However, it had to be removed in 2012 ahead of the demolition of the building and the regeneration of the South Bank area in Peterborough. It was carefully taken down and stored away until its new home was found. This summer, it will be brought back to life and sit on the side of the multi-storey car park at Fletton Quays, where it will be visible on entering the site. Two interpretation panels will also feature. These were created by ELG Planning and Peterborough City Council with the guidance of Arthur Ayres’ family.

The site is being taken forward by Peterborough Investment Partnership and Howard Bright, Principal Development Manager, said: “Recognising its historic importance, making sure this iconic mural is a focal point of the Fletton Quays site has been a priority right from the start of these development plans. “The landscape around the multi-storey car park is designed to respond to the artwork with trees framing the view as you enter and a small pocket park is proposed where people will be able to sit and admire the mural.” Chairman of Peterborough Civic Society Peter Lee said: “Arthur Ayres had a strong belief that the place of sculpture was as part of the external design of buildings rather than being shut away in galleries, so it is especially appropriate that it is to be re-erected on a building again. “We are delighted that progress is being made towards the relocation of the sculpture and look forward to seeing it installed.”

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