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Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 15:49 UK
Salford's Tree of Knowledge saved
Alan Boyson's mural, The Tree of Knowledge (detail: owl of wisdom)
The Tree of Knowledge is topped with a depiction of the Owl of Wisdom

Salford residents are celebrating after a striking piece of public art has been saved from the wrecking ball.

The Tree of Knowledge sits on the side of the former Cromwell Secondary School, which is due to be demolished.

The Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society (TACS) applied for the art to receive listed status with English Heritage after hearing of the proposal.

That application was quickly granted after officials from the historical organisation inspected the work.

The mural was designed by artist Alan Boyson for the opening of the Cromwell Secondary School for Girls in 1962.

It depicts a stylised version of the mythical tree of knowledge topped with a wise owl and contains water-worn pebbles from Ice Age deposits and historic ceramic fragments that were found on the site during the building of the school.

The school later closed, with the building transferring to the University of Salford, who abandoned it for new premises last year.

Alan Boyson's mural, The Tree of Knowledge
Public art murals can no longer be dismissed as incidental when they have the qualities of Salford's Tree of Knowledge.
Christopher Marsden, Conservation Secretary of TACS

It was due to be demolished on Monday 3 August, but TACS managed to earn a temporary reprieve after making a listing application to English Heritage for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

That stay of execution was helped by the campaigning of Salfordians and local paper The Salford Star, who protested fervently to the City Council against the destruction of the work.

On inspection the art, the DCMS decided to give the work Grade II listed status for a number of reasons, which include:

  • the high level of aesthetic and artistic quality represented in a bold and striking composition
  • the clever use of colour, incised decoration, textures and mixed media, including ceramics, concrete, tiles and pebbles
  • that it is a rare surviving example of a bespoke 1960s ceramic mural produced by the successful and prolific artist, Alan Boyson
  • that it is a good example of the integration between art and architecture, and the 1950s/60s policy of enhancing communities through the incorporation of public art in the public realm

Pupils gather around the new Cromwell Secondary School in 1962
The mural was designed the Cromwell Secondary School for Girls in 1962

Christopher Marsden, Conservation Secretary of TACS, thanked Salford's residents for their part in the campaign and the City Council for their quick response to the request to stop the demolition process.

However, he says that the work ensuring the future of the mural is far from complete.

"With public pressure leading to the halting of demolition, the listing process has been allowed go through and has resulted in a degree of protection. That is great news.

"However there will be change. Salford Council has plans to clear the site and in the long-term develop playing fields.

"It is important that a watch be kept on the decision process by Salford residents and groups so that any proposal affecting the mural is made in the open and with public support."

Alan Boyson's mural, The Tree of Knowledge
The mural adorns the north side of the former school building

The saving of the Tree of Knowledge is seen by TACS as particularly satisfying, as the mural has been listed despite the building that it is part of being of no significance to English Heritage, a decision that Christopher sees as setting "a national precedent."

Adding: "Public art murals can no longer be dismissed as incidental when they have the qualities of Salford's Tree of Knowledge."

The Tree of Knowledge is not Boyson's only listed work in the area, as his abstract stained-glass window in St Ann's Church and decorative mural in the Co-operative Insurance Society Building are also protected.





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