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Extra's Gallery Room 3

The London Group Murals

Back in the 1970's the London Group made two large murals. The first one in 1972 was the "London Festival Mural" and the next one from 1977 was the "Jubilee Mural" which was made to celebrate the Queen's twenty five year reign.

Our Alf Murtell has uncovered the original articles from the Marquetarian featuring these murals, so, with a little adjustment of the contemporary photos, here are those original articles - starting with the "London Festival Mural":


The London Festival Mural

Places featured in the mural, from left to right are :- The Avon Gorge Bristol; Edinburgh (on the hill); York Minster; the Roman Baths at Bath; The Shambles, York; The Rows Chester: St. Paul’s Cathedral, London; the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, London; The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells; Whitby Harbour: Windsor Castle; Holy Trinity, Stratford.upon-Avon (where Shakespeare was christened); and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford.

It was in mid-1971 that our Secretary, Gladys Walker, first conceived the idea of making and selling a large marquetry mural as a means of raising funds for The Society. Despite the initial lack of encouragement she set to work and produced a design for a mural that was to be just over eight feet long by two feet high, depicting important and well known places from North, South, East and West of Britain. The sheer size of the project seemed to petrify many who saw these early plans, but nevertheless by the end of 1971 the design had been divided up and parts of it sent to the various Groups who had volunteered to help.

Members of Leeds, London, Bristol, Tunbridge Wells, Thames Ditton and West Kent Groups helped to cut the main features of the mural, and the parts were assembled and cut into the background by Mrs. Walker during the early part of 1972. The firm of Shadbolts of North London stuck, edge-lipped and polished the completed mural, and Mr. James Shadbolt made a point of reducing the cost of this work because of the interest it had engendered in the firm.

During the London Arts Festival in 1972 the mural was shown at Bromley, Kent; Olympia; and Hall Place, Bexley, Kent. Wherever it was displayed it caused a great deal of interest, especially at Hall Place, which was such a fitting venue for our work.
If not sold before May, the mural will be on show at the Fairfield Halls. Croydon. during our 1973 National Exhibition.

The Silver Jubilee Mural

The Jubilee Mural was the brainchild of Mr. Charlie Good, whose main interest was two-fold. One, to present to the Queen a momento of Marquetry for her Jubilee year, and two, to re-kindle some of the interest that seemed to be waning a little at the London group meetings in the middle of last year. Both of these interests were fulfilled, whether by pleading, cajoling or bullying (myself included). The mural was completed and presented to Buckingham Palace on December 22nd, 1977.

To return to the beginning, ideas on all sorts of subjects were bandied about for some time until the final format emerged. The mural was to depict a pictorial panorama of British achievements during the first twenty-five years of the Queen’s reign.

The pictures included Concord, the Hovercraft, the liner QE 11, Bobby Moore with the World Cup, Calder Hall (atomic reactor), a North Sea Gas rig, the Post Office Tower and the Joderell Bank radio telescope, the climbing of Everest, Coventry Cathedral, also a picture of Sir Winston Churchill. Balmoral, Windsor and Caernarvon were three of the castles shown together with Buckingham Palace.

A picture of the Queen herself took pride of place in the centre of the mural and just below, a small picture showing Queen Victoria’s crib with a riding hat and saddle plus rattle - this was a last minute inclusion as a tribute to Princess Anne’s new baby Peter.

Lastly, but certainly not least, a beautifully worked scroll that read: “This mural depicts some notable achievements and events from the first twenty-five years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. It has been made by members of the London Group of the Marquetry Society in commemoration of the Silver Jubilee Year 1977”.

The pictures were then linked together with two ribbons of satinwood and figured ash, and interspersed along these were emblems of the four countries. This helped to balance the whole thing. The mural’s finished size was over eight feet long and three feet high.

Horrie Pedder admires the Silver Jubilee Mural in its display setting

Now let’s go back once again to the beginning.

Members of the Group chose the particular picture or pictures they would like to do, and so we began. A suitable background was chosen. This wasn’t easy as pieces of veneer of over three feet wide and nine feet long just don’t grow on trees (sorry, I’ll rephrase that) are not so easy to come by; at least not that which would be suitable for the kind of background we had in mind.

Two pieces of 18 inch wide Aspen turned end to end gave us the answer. They were then joined together by glue stitching (a method of joining used in the veneer trade).

We now come to the problem of transport. As we could not leave the mural at our clubroom it had to be brought to and from Malet Street.

It was done in this way: The veneer was taped to a piece of 3/8” plywood and this in turn was put into a large plastic envelope to prevent the weather getting to it, and this was then tied to the roof rack of Mr. Good’s car. For eight or so group meetings it was shuttled back and forth so we could offer up our completed or near completed pictures to the background. When at last the final positions of the pictures were settled, Mr. Good began to cut them in.

This was done in a hastily set up workroom (i.e. his front room). It was the only place large enough to lay the mural flat.
When this was completed an ebony stringer was added, then the crossbanded border of Nigerian Walnut fixed into position and finally an edging of Macassar Ebony all the way round. We were now ready for the laying. This was to be done by the firm of F.R. Shadbolt & Son.

A day was fixed for Charlie and myself to be there while the mural was being laid, and speaking for myself, it was an experience not to be missed.

The first step was to prepare the baseboard. This was to be of one inch blockboard cut to size with a solid Nigerian Walnut edging glued all around. It was then trimmed to a quarter of an inch larger all round than the mural itself. Next was to sand the board flat and this was achieved by passing the board through large sanding rollers; the first being a rough one, the second medium grade and the last a smooth roller. Unfortunately during this process it was found that the ply facing on the blockboard had discoloured to a greyish black due to some peculiarity during its manufacture. So the team at Shadbolts decided to scrap that one and prepare another. As they said, “After seeing all the work that had gone into making the mural they were not taking any chances of anything going wrong with the laying part”. This time everything went well.

The board was then cross-veneered, first it was put through the rollers in the glueing machine and a few pieces of Kato layed across the board. It was then put into the steam heated hydraulic press to be stuck down. Once the board has been removed from the press and allowed to cool down, it was again put through the glue rollers, this time to glue the side on which our mural was to be put.

We placed the mural on the board, covered it with two or three layers of brown paper and then a blanket was placed on top of that. It was placed once again in the press. This time for ten minutes at a pressure of 3,000 lbs. per square inch and at a temperature of l400F. Watching the pressure build up, I wondered if instead of an eight foot mural it wouldn’t end up more like twelve feet!

Anyway, after the allotted time, it was removed from the press and allowed to cool for half an hour. We came now to the trimming down to size and squaring off of the mural. When I saw how Shadbolts intended to do this I was more than surprised. It was mounted on a sliding carriage and then passed between two circular saws! I had visions of our cross-banded Nigerian Walnut flying in all directions, but obviously they knew a great deal more about what they were doing than I did. After the mural had passed between the saws it looked as if it had been sanded not sawn! (Sigh of relief from Charlie and me!). The brown paper we had put on before the mural had been put in the press, now had to be removed. It was at this point I really had pups.

Two men arrived with buckets of water and proceeded to swab the mural down as one would when washing a car! I think our anxieties must have been showing by this time so it was just as well a cup of tea was handed to us. I’m not sure if it was to calm us down, or get us out of the way! Having removed all the brown paper and washed it once more, the mural was left for another half an hour to dry.

We came now to the last part of the job, that of sanding. The gentleman who was to do this told us he would like to be completely alone when he did it. In his words he wouldn’t care to have a hoard of raging marquetarians knocking his door down if he went through the veneer with his sander. (I saw his point!). So this was one part of the operation we didn’t actually see. So while the sanding was taking place we took the opportunity of having a good look round the works. With their thousands of sheets of veneer stacked around it was a sight for sore eyes.

Incidentally, they have over ten million square feet of veneer in stock at any one time and over one hundred different varieties. (I think I’ll get a job there!).

After twenty minutes or so we were told that the sanding had been completed. So with fingers crossed we went to see the mural beautifully flat and smooth, showing once again how those fellows know their job. The laying and sanding now completed it was once more loaded onto the car.

Later that week it was taken to W. Horwoods of Poplar to be polished, and completed with a satin finish. The date was Wednesday, 21st December, and the mural was due to be delivered to the Palace on the 22nd. To say it had just been finished in the nick of time was an understatement.

The following morning the mural was loaded onto Charlie’s car for the last time. (“Thank the Lord!”, sighs Charlie) and off to the Palace we go.

We were received by the Privy Purse who showed considerable interest in how the mural was made, the ideas behind it, how many people were involved, what woods were used etc. He then assured us that the Queen would be notified of its arrival and when she had seen it, would then decide where it should be put.

The two letters received by Mr. Good from Buckingham Palace are reproduced on our VIP page - (click here to see).

So it seems that we are to be fortunate enough to have the mural put on public display. So those of us who wish, will be able to see it.

Well a big venture was concluded successfully and a big vote of thanks is due to all concerned, but I couldn’t conclude this article without giving a special mention to Charlie Good without whose enthusiasm and hard work the mural might never have got off the ground. Also to the firm of Shadbolts who showed us encouragement and help from start to finish with the laying of the mural. They charged absolutely nothing for doing it too! Last, but not least, to Mrs. Trickey whose drive behind our Bring & Buy Sale more than offset the cost of the polishing. (Didn’t she do well). So once again, well done everybody.

D. Austin.