EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
There’s growing concerns and “disappointment” that Croydon, the 2023 Borough of Culture, has managed to lose yet another significant piece of public artwork, right from under the noses of the council.
A much-admired, mid-20th Century frieze on the front of the AMP House office block has been removed, and according to a workman on the site today, has been taken away and destroyed.
The potential loss of what has been described as the best piece of street art in Croydon has caused dismay at the 20th Century Society, and condemnation of the council for allowing this latest piece of wanton Philistinism.
According to sources close to the Town Hall, council officials – based in Fisher’s Folly offices, less than a five-minute walk from AMP House – did not even know that the frieze had been removed.
AMP House is one of the 1960s office blocks in the town centre, located the other side of Dingwall Road from East Croydon Station and Croydon’s hub of crass anti-culture, Boozepark.
AMP House is so named because it was built for and first occupied by the Australian Mutual Provident insurance company, who in 1968 commissioned Fuller, Hall and Foulsham to produce “Humanity Relief” as a piece of public art to go above the main entrance of their Croydon building.
Award-winning architectural author John Grindrod has described the work as an “amazing atomic-age relief”.
The frieze will have been seen by thousands of commuters every day, and appreciated by many.
But the frieze, and AMP House, are not known to be subject to any heritage listing or planning protection, according to research conducted by the 20th Century Society.
AMP House is currently being refurbished by developers Ashley, while office space in the building is being marketed by estate agency Stiles Harold Williams. Stiles Harold Williams acts as estate manager for the borough’s biggest property owners, the Whitgift Foundation.
Ashley refused to comment when approached by Inside Croydon.
Dick Plant is a key mover in the Croydon Establishment, being a senior director at Stiles Harold Williams and the chair of the council-backed Develop Croydon group of big-money business interests. He told Inside Croydon that he knew nothing about the missing artwork or what fate might await it. His tone strongly suggested that he couldn’t care less.
According to Fairfield ward Labour councillor “Thirsty” Chris Clark (who apparently doesn’t know the difference between a mosaic and a frieze), “The developers responded favourably to me when I made the case to their faces that the mosaics should be retained and restored as part of any development of the site.”
But the site manager today said that the frieze has been destroyed – apparently in the mistaken understanding that the abstract artwork was actually the company logo of the long-since-departed Australian insurance company.
If the frieze is indeed destroyed, it will not be the first piece of significant public art to have been lost from what the council once, without any sense of irony, tried to dub “The Cultural Quarter”.
Countless items which were on display within the Fairfield Halls before its £70million refurbishment began in 2017 have never been re-located or replaced, while noted artist Peter Youngman’s metal artwork on College Green, next to the Halls, was removed, its fate never satisfactorily explained.
Today, when asked about the AMP House artwork, a spokesperson for the 20th Century Society told Inside Croydon: “The C20 Society is concerned to see that this fine 1960s agrarian, figurative relief has been removed from AMP House, and at reports that it may have already been destroyed. We’re liaising with Croydon Council to understand the circumstances around its disappearance.
“Commissioned by previous occupants, the Australian Mutual Provident Society, ‘Humanity Relief’ was a focal point above the main entrance, positioned on the building podium – itself decorated with a frieze of precast concrete fins, designed by sculptor Michael Marriott.
“Croydon has some of the finest post-war built heritage anywhere in the country. In recent years there’s been a growing appreciation and re-appraisal of the once maligned architecture of this period, so it’s especially disappointing to see prominent examples continue to be lost.”
Ria Patel, the Green Party’s councillor for Fairfield ward, is pursuing formal enquiries at the council regarding the artwork.
She said, “It’s concerning to learn about the removal of the street art from the facade of AMP House, a key part of Fairfield’s 1960s architectural and cultural heritage.
“It’s even more concerning that no one appears to know what’s happened with it.
“I hope the piece is still intact and can be recovered promptly.
“The possibility that it may have been destroyed speaks to a culture of carelessness, where profit and development is prioritised over heritage, culture and local people’s priorities.”
Meanwhile, a short walk away down George Street, thousands of pounds of public money is being spent through the Borough of Culture to stage street art and mural workshops in the Whitgift Centre shopping mall.
You really couldn’t make this shit up.
Additional reporting: Annabel Smith
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