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British Mural Recreates 100-Year-Old Photo

March 7, 2024
A black-and-white photograph of Cowgate in Peterborough, UK

View of Cowgate, 1908

Some see graffiti and street art as signs of community degradation. However, one place in Britain views it the opposite way. The city of Peterborough, in the east of England, is embarking on a “business improvement district campaign,” which includes a mural on the side of a barbershop offering a brief glimpse into what the city looked like over a century ago.

Nathan Murdoch and Tony Nero are local artists commissioned by the Peterborough Positive campaign to create a street scene mural based on a 1908 photograph. The original picture that Peterborough Positive CEO Pep Cipriano first saw on a postcard shows a view of Cowgate, one of the city’s old streets about a five-minute walk from Peterborough Cathedral. Cowgate was one of the city’s main roads for centuries, frequently used to get to and from the cathedral, guildhall, and marketplaces. At the time of the photo, Peterborough was a relatively small city of just over 30,000 inhabitants, or about seven times smaller than today. The main industry in the area was brickmaking.

Murdoch and Nero are recreating this black-and-white photograph on the wall of a barbershop called Head2Head, which sits at the entrance of Cowgate, right off the Queensgate Roundabout. Cipriano states, “The mural will not only pay tribute to our past but will also be an eye-catching and detailed piece of art that adds to the visual appeal of Cowgate.” Although this is a commission from the city, Cipriano insisted that no taxpayer money is being spent on the project. The initiative’s central focus is ‘placemaking.’ With Peterborough Positive, the mission is to create “a more attractive, appealing and sustainable city centre”.

Murdoch has some experience in this sort of work. For the past few years, he has been creating murals and other forms of street art for various organizations, including Arts Council England, the Young People’s Counselling Service, and the local charity Diaspora. Murdoch was originally the only artist commissioned to create the Cowgate mural, mainly because he is primarily known as a graffiti artist. Murdoch brought in Nero, who worked as a graphic artist before switching to paintings and charcoal drawings, to help deal with the mural’s finer details. The Cowgate mural achieves several goals including, enriching the area with a new piece of public art while simultaneously harkening back to its past.