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The Hoxton Varieties Mosaic

October 3, 2023
by the gentle author


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Walter Bernadin, master mosaic fixer & Tessa Hunkin, mosaic designer

I had the privilege to see the Hoxton Varieties Mosaic by Hackney Mosaic Project unveiled upon the corner of Pitfield St and Old St. Celebrating the former Varieties Music Hall that opened nearby in 1870, the mural designed by Tessa Hunkin and realised by members of the project, illustrates the glory days of live popular entertainment in Hoxton with colourful images of acrobats and performing dogs.

When I arrived, Walter Bernadin, a sprightly white-haired Italian, was up a ladder sponging off the excess grout to reveal Tessa’s lively design in its full glory for the first time. “I am a master mosaic fixing specialist, I’ve been doing it for fifty years,” he admitted to me when I brought him a cup of hot tea to warm his cold hands, “My father Giovanni was a mosaic fixing specialist before me, so I just took on from him. We come from Sequals in Italy, most of the mosiac fixers in London are from there.”

“My father was in espionage and he had been here as a prisoner of war in Mildenhall. Then, in the sixties, there was a lot of terrazzo going on in London, so he came over in 1964. He ran a mosaic gang of forty men and I helped them out on Saturdays from the age of twelve and that’s how I learnt my trade. They put it on bridges and underpasses to cover the concrete. I could take you all over London and show you work my father done.”

The Hoxton Varieties Mosaic was another aesthetic triumph for the Hackney Mosaic Project who have spent the last ten years installing joyful artworks in unloved corners of the neighbourhood and drawing everyone back to consider the meaning of the place. Even on a cloudy day in midweek, a small crowd gathered in delighted excitement to admire the exuberance of the conception as a blank wall acquired a new life in Hoxton.

Walter Bernadin, Master Mosaic Fixing Specialist – “I could take you all over London and show you work my father done.”

Walter still carries his deed of apprenticeship with him in the van

Walter sponges off the surplus grouting to reveal Tessa’s finished design

Visit the Hoxton Varieties Mosaic at the corner of Pitfield St & Old St, N1.

You may also like to read about

The Mosaic Makers of Hoxton

5 Responses leave one →
  1. Esther Rank permalink
    October 3, 2023

    How lovely — on my way to see it soon!

  2. Alison Lynch permalink
    October 3, 2023

    Thanks for this. I’m now sending this article to a distant cousin whose relative was in a well known music hall act Tennyson and O’Gorman, and also our mutual great great grandfather, Gus Leach Snr, and great grandfather, Gus Leach Jnr, we’re the proprietors? Of Hoxton Varieties as well as chairman of Middlesex Music Hall in Drury Lane. We would love to find out more information on Hoxton Varieties… Bishopsgate Institute or?

  3. Jill Wilson permalink
    October 3, 2023

    ‘Joyful’ is the word! Another masterpiece by Tessa and her team which will bring joy to all that pass it.

    I can’t wait to see the book about all her brilliant mosaics.

    Bravissimo Tessa and Walter!

  4. Sally Baldwin permalink
    October 3, 2023

    I’m so glad you’re there to share things like this with all of us!!!!

  5. Steve Tennyson permalink
    October 4, 2023

    Fantastic addition to the area, and it is a reminder that the Theatre was important in the local community from the 1870s. Possibly my great grandfather, Joe Tennyson (Tennyson and O’Gorman), played there at some point in his Music Hall career – need to investigate further!

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