Skip to content

Cecil Osborne’s Lost Murals Rediscovered

February 25, 2018
by the gentle author

Today I can reveal the three lost panels by East End artist Cecil Osborne (1909-96) which once hung in St Pancras Town Hall in Euston Rd and have recently been rediscovered. Now the owner is seeking a permanent new home for these paintings where they can be seen publicly and I hope my readers will be able to assist in this endeavour.

St Pancras & Kings Cross, 1956 (Click to enlarge)

Camden, Highgate & Hampstead, 1958 (Click to enlarge)

Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia, 1965 (Click to enlarge)

Last week, David Buckman author of From Bow to Biennale, the history of the East London Group of painters, took me to meet anthropologist Dr Kaori O’Connor at her flat on the top floor of an old mansion block near Bedford Sq.

There was an air of mystery about David’s invitation and I was excited because he promised to show me three important lost murals by East End artist Cecil Osborne illustrating the history of the former London Borough of St Pancras. Let me confess, I was not disappointed to encounter this splendid triptych revealed here today.

Cecil Osborne was born in Poplar in 1909 and, after studying at a commercial college, sought clerical work. Yet he had artistic talent and educated himself in art by reading books and visiting galleries. After viewing the East London Group exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1928, Cecil presented his work to the leader of the Group, John Cooper, and joined Cooper’s art classes at the Bow & Bromley Institute. As a consequence, Cecil exhibited around thirty of his paintings in East London Group exhibitions from 1929 until 1936, as well as supplying his clerical skills as secretary and treasurer of the Group.

In writing his book, David Buckman spent more that twenty years researching the lost history of the East London Group which had become dispersed after the Second World War. When David corresponded with Cecil in the last years of his life, after he had retired to Spain, David learnt of three murals which Cecil had painted for St Pancras Town Hall in the Euston Rd that had been removed from their original location and subsequently lost.

Cecil’s son Dorian Osborne supplied this description:

“The offer was from my father to supply three pictures painted in oils depicting the history of the Borough on canvases to be hung in the small Assembly Room at St Pancras Town Hall in Euston Rd. The council supplied the materials and father designed and painted the series which are six feet by six feet square.

We were living at 46 Belsize Sq at the time and that is where the first was painted, the work commencing in, I seem to recall, 1956 or thereabouts.  My brother and I were used as artist’s models for some of the children depicted. Also there are two rather ragged children shown in some sections which were based on the Bisto advertisement – for example, in one panel, pushing a hand-cart. The motorcar depicted in the illustration of the Doric Arch at Euston Station is a Triumph Gloria.

In 1958, we moved to 7 Redston Rd, N8, and that is where the second panel was completed and the third executed.  It is the third which shows the Post Office Tower, as it was in progress when Mary and I married in 1965 and she remembers seeing this panel in the house. At a later date, the council moved all three to the public lending library in Brecknock Rd near Kentish Town from where they were moved into storage.”

After David’s book was published, Dr Kaori O’Connor contacted him to say she had the murals, as she explained to me:

“I did not acquire the paintings so much as rescue them. They turned up in a weekly sale at the old Phillips auction rooms in Bayswater in the nineteen-nineties. Not a picture sale, but a general one, thrown in with furniture and oddments.

I saw one of the canvas panels poking out from behind a fridge. The Phillips staff knew nothing about their background and did not know what to make of them. I realised that some of the places featured in the paintings were near to where I live in Bloomsbury and knew I had to save them. If they had failed to sell, they would have been scrapped. As I recall, there were no other bidders.

Once I got them home, I realised they were a unique social history of a part of London that is rapidly changing out of recognition, while also acquiring a new cultural and artistic life today. Only recently, when I met David Buckman, I learned about the artist Cecil Osborne, his life and how the panels came to be painted for the old St Pancras Borough Council which no longer exists.

I have had the panels for some twenty years, and they remain as fresh and fascinating as the day I first saw them. They have a unique presence with a very strong sense of time and place, and tell their many stories eloquently. They are also very good company.

They were painted for a public space, intended to be seen by many people, so I would like them to find a new home where they can be widely appreciated as the remarkable artworks they are. I believe the past they depict can only enrich the present and future.

If you can offer a new home for Cecil Osborne’s triptych please email and I will forward your messages to Dr Kaori O’Connor.

St Pancras Town Hall, now Camden Town Hall, where Cecil Osborne’s murals originally hung

Paintings photographed by Lucinda Douglas Menzies

You may also like to read about

Dorothy Annan’s Murals at the Barbican

Lucy Kemp Welch’s Mural at the Royal Exchange

Alfred Daniels Murals at Hammersmith Town Hall

At the Painted Hall in Greenwich

17 Responses leave one →
  1. February 25, 2018

    Wonderful paintings, how good that they still exist. I hope a good home will be found for them. Valerie

  2. Robert permalink
    February 25, 2018

    Wow! That’s a fantastic piece of history. I do hope the search for a new home is realised ASAP.

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    February 25, 2018

    Museum of London?

  4. Kay Quinby permalink
    February 25, 2018

    Dear ‘Gentle Author’, each day I look forward to receiving your email and you never disappoint. Thank you again for a wonderful insight into bygone London.

  5. Delia Folkard permalink
    February 25, 2018

    What a fascinating story and to think that these amazing murals could have ended up on the scrap heap! I hope a good home is found and look forward to seeing them soon.

  6. Tina Baxter permalink
    February 25, 2018

    Suggest you make contact with the owners/Group who own of St Pancras Hotel or the D&D Group who run the German Gymansium they are always interest in art/sculpture. Also Google HQ my also be a option.

  7. Helen Breen permalink
    February 25, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, these murals depict such a rich, “recognizable” swath of London topography even for me, an occasional tourist to the city. I love its many distinct neighborhoods, many of which I have prowled on foot.

    Kudos to David Bruckman for publicizing the find and to Kaori O’Connor for conserving these treasures through the years. Good luck to you all in preserving another treasure of London history.

  8. February 25, 2018

    My mind reels, thinking that these might have been lost. “Visibility” is the first step in terms of
    finding a new home for these works of art — Thanks for shining a light.

    I hope there is good news to report about these unique murals in the future.
    Fingers crossed!

  9. Ros permalink
    February 25, 2018

    I too wondered about companies that have their HQs on the new Kings Cross development, like Google and Facebook. Best of all would be if they could be housed at the LB of Camden’s community hub there in Pancras Square, though I can imagine that local authorities would not feel able to pay for their acquisition and re-hanging, given their horrendous financial climate. Next best would be St. Martins School of Art, which re-located to Granary Square a few years ago. Not sure of their finances. But several of the big companies on the Kings Cross site, or the St. Pancras Hotel, are likely to be interested in building up art collections. I can’t convey the interest, relevance and presence of these murals better than Dr. O’Connor does herself!

  10. February 25, 2018

    I’ll second Greg – the Museum of London would seem a perfect fit.

  11. Sarah permalink
    February 26, 2018

    I think Museum of London where they will be properly cared for. After all, they were disposed of by St. Pancras Borough Council who should have passed them on to Camden instead of dumping them.

  12. February 26, 2018

    Great to finally see them! I hope one day in the flesh!

  13. Sarah permalink
    February 27, 2018

    Dear GA, could you kindly let us know what happens to these paintings? Many thanks.

  14. JOHN SHIRLEY permalink
    February 27, 2018

    Great to see these old murals of our amazing borough.

  15. Anne Engdahl permalink
    February 27, 2018

    It’s a miracle that these important works were saved from the auction house. It would be super to see them hanging together in a public place.
    Thank you for a super story.

  16. Alexa Rook permalink
    February 27, 2018

    Surely they should be reinstated for where they were intended to be hung; although possibly not very publicly accessible; & if Camden were so careless as to ‘lose’ them in the first place, may not be entirely to be trusted with their safekeeping. They’d make wonderful

  17. Malcolm permalink
    February 27, 2018

    I reject the idea of allowing these wonderful artworks to fall into the hands of Google or any of the other corporates housed in their appalling glass carbuncles that now besmirch the streets of Kings Cross. They should be housed in the Museum of London for everyone to see. Giving them to a multi-national company will once again hide them from view and will, in all likelihood, result in them being shipped off to foreign soil, out of sight of Londoners forever.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS