On Friday we reported how great it was that tourists were coming to East Salford, to Charlestown, to see Alan Boyson's magnificent mural, the Tree of Knowledge, sited on the old Cromwell Secondary School near the Cromwell roundabout (see here)
We also reported with disbelief how Salford Council had, firstly, completely snubbed the would be tourists, and then, via its joint venture company Urban Vision, had further insulted them by charging £50 to undo the padlock to the derelict grounds where the Tree of Knowledge currently stands.
Yesterday the Salford Star went down to greet the coach and maybe to have a word with the bloke from the Council who had the fifty quid honour of opening the gates. Instead we found the tour organisers struggling with the chains and padlocks themselves…
"Er, I've had to pick the key up from Eccles yesterday" said Aidan Turner Bishop, Chair of North West Twentieth Century Society "And I've got to take it back to Eccles too – I'm a repeat tourist!"
Aidan had to travel from Preston on Friday to pick the keys up, do the coach tour and then has to travel back to Salford to hand the keys back. That's £50 for the key plus all the travel costs. It left members of the coach party who we spoke to absolutely horrified.
Eddie Rhead, originally from Salford and now living in Manchester, was the person who first alerted the Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society to Salford Council's intended demolition of the Tree of Knowledge and helped to get it nationally listed. He was angry that Salford Council had charged £50 just to open a padlock…
"It's a kick in the teeth isn't it?" he said "I don't think any local authorities do that. It's an asset and the fact that people from all over the country have come to see it shows that. I wouldn't have given them the £50. It's disrespectful and spiteful and the fact that we even had to go and get the key ourselves just adds insult to injury.
"I would say that if Joe Martin [ex Salford Council heritage officer] was alive today he would have arranged for us to get in for free"he added "There just doesn't seem to be any will within the council to help, it's typical narrow mindedness."
Salford Council's attitude didn't detract from the day itself, as everyone on the Alan Boyson Bus Tour was well impressed with the Tree of Knowledge…
John East had come from London to admire Boyson's work…
"I'm interested in murals and the work of this guy" he told us "And I also came because I like to get out of London, see what happens in Manchester and see all the good things happening in Salford as well.
"This is Boyson's biggest work that we've seen and it's listed so yes I would say it's the highlight of the day" he added "The fact that it was listed means that nationally it was acknowledged as being a work of importance and I think that now it's beholdent on the local authority to think about what they could to do with it and how they can make a feature of it, rather than just fencing it off…or rather, hoping it will go away or fall apart."
Anne Lintott, a new member of the Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society, admitted she knew nothing of Boyson's work and had come on the tour out of curiosity. She ended up comparing his work to Picasso…
"It takes a bit of getting used to I think but it feels very much like the 50s and 60s, and a bit like some of the Picasso owls and birds and fishes" she explained "It's classic of its period…it's been a marvellous day, I'm very impressed."
The `Boyson By Bus' Tour took in the artist's impressive works at a multi-storey car park in Stockport, a greengrocer's in Denton, a church in Stalybridge, the Queen's Hotel and St Ann's Church in Manchester, as well as two stops in Salford – at the Tree of Knowledge in Charlestown and Pendleton College…
"We're into murals, which are fantastic art works of the 50s, 60s and 70s and ended up in things like car parks and shopping precincts" said Aidan Turner Bishop of the Twentieth Century Society "People sort of turned their noses up at them but they're from an era when public art was a decent, noble thing to do and a lot of fine art work was being made at that time.
"Councils don't seem to realise what's under their noses and they lack the vision and the imagination that their grandfathers had back in the 60s when they were running the councils" he added "They knew how to do things with style and they treated the working class with dignity, that's the point. It wasn't just another property deal, it wasn't just another speculation, it was a social service for the people and nothing but the best was suitable for the working class. And that's the thing that shows through when we're visiting sites now. It's a sort of reversed class distinction – now they're too scared to say `Nothing but the best for the workers!'"
Salford now has one the finest examples of the genre in the whole country, recognised in its national Grade II listed status. It was saved by the local community, by artistic experts and the campaign was kicked off by Eddie Rhead who used to live in the area.
"The Tree of Knowledge is so distinctive and of its time" he said yesterday "What's so great about these works of art is that they were always on quite mundane buildings but it was always with a vision to lift people intellectually, and I don't think they'd do such a thing nowadays
"It is big, and, if I can get a bit arty farty here, it looks a bit like Stonehenge, surrounded by nothingness. In its isolation it's even more impressive."
Salford's Picasso? Stonehenge? Take your pick. If Salford Council had its way the Tree of Knowledge would now be rubble. As it is, the Council's raking in £50 a time for tourists to open the chains and padlock themselves to view this "rare surviving example of a bespoke 1960s ceramic mural" with a "high level of aesthetic and artistic quality" (Department of Culture, Media and Sport).
"There's never been a better time to visit. We look forward to seeing you in Salford soon"
From Salford City Council's `Visit Salford' tourist website.
* After the Boyson Bus Tour had visited the Tree of Knowledge the tourists headed off to Pendleton (now Salford) College where there is a rare example of a decorative concrete screen by Boyson. One of the screens has been boarded over by the college, but another is still on view at the back of the building. The college's caretaker happily opened up the building and led the bus party through the college to see it. There was no charge for this.
UPDATE 15th June 2011
Salford City Council has now refunded the £50 charged for the keys to the Tree of Knowledge