It looks like it’s been there since the Barbican was built, but this long row of 1960s ceramic art only arrived at the Barbican in 2013.

The art was originally commissioned by the Ministry of Works in 1960 from Dorothy Annan to line the front of a very 1960s office block on Farringdon Street which was also London’s largest telephone exchange.

As such, the ceramic murals are all telecoms themed, from the pylons, cables, telegraph poles, radio antennas and generators. They’ve all been done in a rather muted colour scheme which is very much of the time, soft browns and yellows with geometric designs.

The murals were commissioned at a cost of £300 per panel in 1960. Annan visited the Hathernware pottery in Loughborough and hand-scored her designs onto each wet clay tile. If you look closely, her brush marks can also be seen in the fired panels.

The nine panels were titled by Annan as follows (moving from west to east): ‘Radio Communications and Television’, Cables and Communications in Buildings’, ‘Test Frame for Linking Circuits’, ‘Cable Chamber with Cables entering from the Street’, ‘Cross Connection Frame’, ‘Power and Generators’, ‘Impressions Derived from the Patterns Produced in Cathode Ray Oscillographs used in Testing’, ‘Lines over the Countryside’ and ‘Overseas Communication showing Cable Buoys’.

The old Farringdon Street building was bought by Goldman Sachs who wanted to redevelop the site, and attempts to save the murals by listing them was opposed by the bank, although in the end they were given listed protection.

In the end, the City of London took ownership of the murals to save them from being destroyed, and in September 2013 they were moved to their new home on the Cromwell Highwalk in the Barbican, just around the corner from the Art Centre.

They’ve been sensitively backlit, and while nothing to do with the art, do take a look at the ceiling and how backlights are placed in a curved recess away from the art.

The narrowness of the corridor means this is less a work of art that you can stand back and ponder carefully, than a long visage into the distance to be looked at from angles.

It can be argued that far fewer people will now see them in this side corridor of the Barbican, but in a way, that makes them more enjoyable. The adventure of finding them in the Barbican is a task in itself and being the sort of person who can say to a friend… hey, let’s go down here there’s something I want to show you is always a delight.


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  1. Sam Macleod says:

    How do you find them?!

    • ianvisits says:

      ” and in September 2013 they were moved to their new home on the Cromwell Highwalk in the Barbican, just around the corner from the Art Centre.”

    • Chris Rogers says:

      Go up to the Library level in the BC and go through the door opposite to it. They look far better there than they ever did on Fleet Building, certainly in later decades.

  2. barbicanman says:

    I don’t think this is Cromwell Highwalk, which is on the level immediately above. This nameless bit of highwalk is probably best understood as the ‘bit of Speed Highwalk by the Arts Centre’

  3. ari el says:

    Annan Highwalk ?

  4. Veronica Burrows says:

    Thankyou Ian. I worked at Fleet Building as an Inland Telegraphist for 11 happy years until I was made redundant when the Telegraph Service was privatised in 1984 and and when I occasionally passed by I could see the building, with the murals still in situ, gradually deteriorating. So really pleased to see that they are now beautifully housed and presented.

  5. Jennifer R says:

    A really lovely little article. I swear I only discovered these this summer! Or maybe I’d never looked at them. One always discovers new delights at the Barbican, especially when getting lost! I was walking from the centre/ponds to try to find a toilet (as at the time, only the Gallery was open) and was needing to escape the complex. I came across these and was delighted. Very groovy and 60s style, I thought they were. I think they are such a marvellous addition to this part of the Barbican. Such endless delights to be found!

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