Helen Blaby continues her detective work on the Grosvenor Centre mural…
Isn’t it funny how your mind can play tricks on you, or you only have selective memory? I was absolutely convinced that the mural which used to be in place outside Beatties in the Grosvenor Centre only covered the Great Fire of Northampton. You may remember me talking about it last month. Well, it turns out my memory is only of the bit I used to find a bit frightening as a young ‘un, because the mural is actually a pictorial history of our fair town.
Thank you to everyone who got in touch with us to try and track down its whereabouts, it’s actually been fascinating to learn more about it. Some listeners to my programme suggested that it had been taken in by “The College” when it was put in to storage in 1999, so my producer, Sarah-Jane, duly put in a call to Northampton College who knew nothing about it.
Of course they didn’t, Thomas Osborne Robinson’s mural was taken in by the University, when it was still UCN – hence “The College” and it’s currently in storage awaiting a move to the new Waterside Campus later this year.
I’m hoping I might be able to get to see it, but I’m told it’s very large and actually too heavy to hang anywhere practical. When it was on display in the Grosvenor Centre it was behind Perspex and propped up such as a fire screen would be. That won’t stop me trying to convince someone it should be on display somewhere! Any thoughts as to where that should be?!
I’ve also learnt a little more about the artist behind it, Thomas Osborne Robinson. His association with the Northampton School of Art began as a student in the 1920s, and in the ‘70s his entire lifetime collection of posters was donated to the University.
He began work on the 11 panels of the mural in 1973, and the eleventh panel was unfinished at the time of his death. That was completed by Alan Miller-Bunford.
Quite the character, it seems, Osborne Robinson in his days as designer at the Royal Theatre could quite often be seen walking between his house and the theatre wearing flowing clothes, often with bold checks, and sometimes carrying a cane. He came to work in Northampton after WJ Bassett-Lowke, he of 78 Derngate, recruited him from his job at the Bonaventure Press to take over as scenic artist at the Royal.
He worked at the Royal for half a century, with occasional work at Stratford, and in 1937 he designed the costumes for Hamlet at the Old Vic, with Laurence Olivier in the main role.
This is the kind of thing I love finding out about, and as I said last month it’s fun when we can do this kind of thing together. Being able to talk about something on the air opens up a vast pot of knowledge, and an answer is usually swiftly forthcoming.
I’m hoping to put together a documentary about this fascinating local character, interviewing some of the people who knew him. If you can help with information, then please do get in touch!
Helen Blaby is on Twitter: @Blabers