Back in August 2009, Salford Council bulldozers were poised to demolish Alan Boyson's Tree of Knowledge ceramic mural. The mural, completed in the early 1960s for Cromwell Secondary School for Girls (later Irwell Valley High School), includes pebbles from Ice-Age deposits and ceramic fragments that were found on the site prior to the school's construction, and features an owl, representing wisdom, overlooking the flowering of knowledge.
The mural was attached to the wall of the old school which had since become part of Salford University, and the building ? and mural it appeared - was no longer needed. The Salford Star was alerted and workmen at the site told us that the Tree of Knowledge was to be demolished within 24 hours.*
After this was reported, outraged residents, the Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society (TACS) and the Twentieth Century Society launched a campaign to save the mural.
Within those 24 hours, Salford Council halted the demolition and the mural was subsequently Grade II listed nationally by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport as a "rare surviving example of a bespoke 1960s ceramic mural" with a "high level of aesthetic and artistic quality".
Chris Marsden, Conservation Secretary of TACS said after the listing "Salford will set a national precedent. Here the mural was listed whilst the building it is part of is without significance. The mural is now recognised as being of Salford and of national importance. Public art murals can no longer be dismissed as incidental when they have the qualities of The Tree of Knowledge."
Eddie Smith, a former pupil at Irwell Valley High School, also added at the time: "I think I can speak for every ex-Irwell Valley pupil here regarding that mural, because it has been a fascination for every one of us."
Tree of Knowledge creator, Alan Boyson, sent a message saying that he was "chuffed" with the outcome. The Salford Star learned today that Alan, unfortunately, passed away recently but his superb artistic legacy lives on, thanks to the appreciation of communities that will fight to preserve his work.
The Tree of Knowledge is still standing on its original site but little has been done by Salford Council since it was listed to enhance the site or make the most of a nationally important piece of art.
As well as creating the Tree of Knowledge in Salford, Alan Boyson also produced distinctive ceramic screens for Pendleton College which are still in place. The Cromwell School sculpture was Boyson's first large commission and other works include an abstract Art Deco-style memorial window in the Grade II listed St Ann's Church, Manchester, and a decorative concrete mural in the Grade II listed Co-Operative Insurance Society (CIS) Building, Manchester.
Boyson also created the huge Three Ships mural in Hull and campaigners are currently appealing a decision not to list it nationally. In the meantime, Hull City Council has bought the building for demolition but is looking to preserve the murals if possible. The site is being surveyed to see if that is possible as more news is awaited.
Alan Boyson trained at the Manchester Regional School of Art from 1950-4 under the ceramicist Lester Campion, then at the Royal College of Art from 1954-7, before lecturing in the Ceramics Department at Wolverhampton School of Art from 1959-61. Whilst there, he established his own studio and began to produce studio work and small commissions, before taking on much larger commissions.
* For a full background see previous Salford Star articles...
Save The Tree of Knowledge! - click here
Tree of Knowledge Saved - click here
English Heritage Thanks Salford Star Readers - click here
Tree of Knowledge Listed - click here
Tourists Come To Salford to See Alan Boyson's Work - click here
Campaigners Fight To Save Hull's Three Ships - click here