A mural of Sylvia Pankhurst has been unveiled on the side of the Lord Morpeth pub on Old Ford Road in Bow in time to celebrate the centenary year of women getting the vote.
Sylvia Pankhurst founded the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS) and was instrumental in helping women get the vote. The headquarters of ELFS was located in the building next to the Lord Morpeth which has since been demolished. This is where Pankhurst and other local suffragettes lived, worked and ran a cost-price kitchen to feed women suffering from the rise in food prices at the beginning of the war.
The mural, painted by Australian graffiti artist Jerome Davenport, or @ketones6000, shows a portrait-style depiction of Sylvia Pankhurst. Along with a portrait of Pankhurst, the mural depicts a woman holding a ‘Votes for Women’ banner in the top left corner and a interpretation of a famous photograph that shows her addressing a crowd in the top right corner. There are clear references to a public meeting she attended at the Bow Baths during which she got dragged off the stage, beaten, and arrested by the police.
The public house has stood for more than 100 years, but has been in the hands of its current owners since 2015. Five months ago, the pub owners decided they should do something to commemorate the history of the area, “Thanks to Sylvia Pankhurst the pub is already part of the Bow heritage trail anyway, and now we hope visitors can get an even better sense of Sylvia and her work. We have an amazing photograph of Sylvia and lots of other Suffragettes stood outside the pub when they lived next door.” says Mark Bowles, assistant manager of the Lord Morpeth.
“We wanted to do something to commemorate the importance of these women in the area, and graffiti seemed to draw the perfect line between old East London and new East London, especially with our proximity to Hackney Wick, and it being really well known for graffiti.” he explains.
The artist and pub owners had already worked together on another project – The Tiger, the Lord Morpeth’s sister pub in Homerton now bears a tiger mural. “After The Tiger, we had a good relationship and that’s when we started discussing similar vision for the Morpeth in Bow.” says Bowles.
It took Davenport around five days to finish the piece, but it took months of preparations.. With the help of historians and bloggers, Davenport researched Sylvia Pankhurst and the Suffragettes and found appropriate photographs from which to create the mural.
The project received support from the Arts Council, restoration consultants Alternative Arts, and street art blog Inspiring City. Tower Hamlets council supported the project, providing graffiti-proof paint to protect the mural.
As Bowles explained, “We were worried that some rapscallion with a £4 can of spray paint would come along and ruin the whole thing. Hopefully, people will appreciate the artistry of it, and won’t want to ruin it anyway.”
Much of Davenport’s work is done in a portrait style as seen here. In 2007, he began street graffiti with an aerosol, and has been painting professionally for six years. “When people walked past me painting, they pretty much all had great reactions. Loads of locals came up to me and spoke about Sylvia and her importance in the area, and people stopped in their cars to take pictures. It was pretty cool.” says Davenport.
The Lord Morpeth is a pub that balances old East London and new, with regulars who have been frequenting the public house since they were 16 drinking cheek by jowl with the new wave of incomers. Similarly the mural encapsulates both worlds – the heritage of the East End with the artists community in Fish Island.
Bowles says, “We wanted to make sure that what we were doing was giving back, and that we were doing it the right way – it would add not devalue the area. It’s been a labour of love.”