The drab bridge over the railway line at Charlton station has been brightened up by a colourful new mural marking 100 years since Charlton Athletic first played at The Valley.
Artist Lionel Stanhope, whose creations have livened up drab corners all over south-east London, has spent two days working on the mural on Charlton Church Lane along with fellow artist and sculptor Zara Gaze. The project has been paid for by the Charlton Athletic Museum, an independent charity which seeks to preserve and celebrate the football club’s distinguished heritage.
Network Rail has supported the project, which sees Charlton join Brockley, Hither Green, Lee, Forest Hill and Plumstead as neighbourhoods with a Stanhope mural.
Charlton Athletic first played at The Valley on September 13, 1919. The first match in what was then known simply as the Charlton Enclosure, was a 2-0 win for Charlton’s “A” team against Summerstown. It took place in the South Suburban League – league football was still two years away.
Volunteers had converted the old sand pits – then known locally as The Swamp – into a usable football ground after an appeal from the local MP, Sir Ion Hamilton Benn, at a public meeting at the Mission Hall in Troughton Road a few months before.
Since then The Valley has been the scene for triumphs and failures as well as protests and celebrations, such as the pitch invasion last May when the Addicks won their play-off semi-final against Doncaster Rovers on their way to promotion to the Championship.
Stanhope, who used graffiti-resistant materials to create the mural, told The Charlton Champion: “It’s a nice one to do. The colours are really going to brighten up this little stretch outside the station.”
He has completed over 25 murals – mostly large creations under bridges, but a few, like Charlton’s, are smaller works on overbridges. His work is now spreading to railway land outside London, including Kent and Sussex and as far afield as Wales.
Ben Hayes, a trustee of the Charlton Athletic Museum, said: “As a museum we wanted to do something to mark the centenary of The Valley but at the same time brighten up the area. I drink in the Radical Club in Plumstead before games, so always see Lionel’s work by Plumstead station and thought it would work perfectly at Charlton, Eddie Burton at Network Rail was really helpful and Lionel was keen from the start.
“The Valley has a special place in Charlton fans’ hearts for many reasons. Nearly all fans love their own stadium but what makes The Valley special is that it was dug out in 1919 by fans, one of whom was Bob Sims, my great-uncle, and players.
“And then in the 1980s and 90s when we were forced to leave the fans, along with Roger Alwen and the other directors, fought to bring us home. The Valley is Charlton and Charlton is the Valley.”
Hayes added: “We hope it helps local people take pride in their area. It certainly brightens up what was a bit of a drab railway bridge. The football club played a major part in reviving the local community just after World War One when the Valley opened and the sign is one way of that.”
Fellow museum trustee Clive Harris said: “’Now more than ever our community is important. Charlton Athletic is so intrinsically entwined with the local community that to us, as a museum, it seemed the perfect way to commemorate the centenary of our beloved Valley. We hope it becomes an integral local landmark for generations to come.”
The mural also includes a small tribute to Seb Lewis, a 38-year-old Charlton fan who died from Covid-19 this week. A familiar and much-loved figure at The Valley, Lewis had attended 1,076 consecutive matches since 1998 before being admitted to hospital earlier this month. Stanhope was asked to add “Seb 1076” to the mural this morning, a couple of hours after fans heard about the news.
“I just heard about it this morning – it’s a nice touch to add his name and the number of games he’d been to,” Stanhope said.
Hayes said: “When adding ‘Seb 1076’ was suggested, we thought it was a brilliant idea. It makes the design extra special for everyone connected to the club. Seb was a regular visitor to the museum so we’re grateful to have a way to commemorate him in a small way.”
Museum is for local people too
The museum has been open for five years and has generated interest from other clubs, as well as holding events like last summer’s Blitz walk of the area with local historian Steve Hunnisett. Hayes said: “We’ve had visits and enquires for other English clubs such as Wimbledon, Luton and Exeter who have plans for new stadiums or stands that will include museum rooms. We also had a visit from the museums of Benfica of Portugal and Boca Juniors of Argentina.
“We hope that local people, whether they are Addicks fans or not will find something of interest. The way the club was founded in the streets near what is now the Thames Barrier by 14 and 15 year old boys is very much a local story. We’ve had plenty of non-Charlton fans visit and they have all found something that engages them. It might be the old rattles people used or the photos of local people stood on the packed Valley terraces.”
Now Hayes and others are thinking about a bigger idea – decorating the blank wall on the corner of Floyd Road for a wider celebration of the local area.
“There is a big blank wall on the corner of Charlton Church Lane and Floyd Road that is ripe for a mural showing the history of Charlton from the Horn Fair, Spencer Perceval, Siemens, the Thames Barrier and, obviously, Charlton Athletic. It’s something we’d love to work on with local residents’ and history groups,” he said.
If you like the mural and want to help chip in towards the museum’s costs, you can send via PayPal to cafchistorian[at]gmail.com, or contact the museum on the same email address for bank details.
If you’re as interested in doing something with the Floyd Road wall as we are, get in touch with us at The Charlton Champion and we can start investigating ideas and how to get it funded.
If you’d like Lionel Stanhope to brighten up railway land near you, email eddie.burton[at]networkrail.co.uk.
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