The iconic Nuclear Dawn Mural, in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton was created by artist and political activist Brian Barnes, Dale McCrea and twenty residents of Carlton Mansions Housing Co-operative between 1980-1981; it is a rare surviving visual commentary on the period known as the ‘Second Cold War’, when the threat of nuclear attack was a prominent fear for many living in the UK. Many feel that this threat has never subsided and is just as relevant today.
The mural is situated on the Victorian gable end of Carlton Mansions in Brixton. Inspired by Felicien Rops’ Satan Sowing, it graphically depicts a colossal skeletal reaper throwing a cascade of bombs across London’s metropolis, with contorted faces and a map of the world, billowing through the form of the mushroom cloud. Within the cityscape, below the houses of parliament, the prominent political figures of the era are shown within a protective bunker. Peace doves fly into the cloud to form the iconic CND emblem.
Over the last three decades the condition of the mural had deteriorated beyond repair. It had been the target of many campaigns of graffiti in the decade prior, with minor interventions to restore the mural by members of the community and Barnes.
Lambeth council earmarked Carlton Mansions and the surrounding area for regeneration in 2015.
In the summer of 2018, Campbell Smith & Co were commissioned to undertake a full condition survey to create a benchmark for subsequent review. In 2019, we were invited by Lambeth Council to reassess the condition. Based on testing and analysis, we advised for the repair of the render and reinstatement of the mural with a durable paint system, due to the overall failure of the existing paint surface. Lambeth Council agreed and the works could begin.
Below are images before the restoration began.
Campbell Smith prepared the render substrate and stabilised the surface before the mural’s reinstatement. The consolidation works utilised carbon fibre stitching, pinning, grouting and repair to the structure of the render, which was cracked, and absorbing moisture.
Following the conservation works to support the reinstatement, we continued to project manage and support the artists through the restoration phase for Lambeth Council, with conservation ethics and quality in mind. A team of mural artists, and friends of Brian Barnes, undertook the repainting using a mineral silicate paint system. Throughout the process, much interest was gained, with many visitors including Brian Barnes and Dale McCrea, contributing to the scheme. The work was documented for posterity by the Clapham Film Unit as an archive to celebrate the works.
The iconic mural is now complete, and much joy has been spread through the reveal to the community.
As with all good preservation care management, our conservation work continues on.
The mural has been protected with conservation grade sacrificial coating and is accompanied with a viable maintenance plan. Improvement works are still ongoing with the restoration and a new commission to celebrate and mark the restoration. All these items are to promote the longevity of the mural and its environs.