Transition Primrose Hill

King Henry’s Road Mural Initiative

The famous mural along King Henry’s Road was painted by the Fine Heart Squad in 1973. This much can be seen, though now faded, on the brick wall.

But who were the Squad and how did the paintings happen?

When Transition Primrose Hill organised a meeting in Chalk Farm Library in July to discuss the mural, Bee Thompson who lives opposite the wall, undertook to do some research. And she found the artist Philip Haritigan, now living in France, who sent an amazing account of those days, when squatters hung out at the Round House and street art was just beginning.

Not everyone was happy with the murals, (as recounted by the Ham and High – no CNJ in those days!) but Network Rail and Camden Council were behind the painters and they were joined by local kids and artists from Chile.
Here is Philip’s story:

I was a street artist. I worked from the Roundhouse Theatre. At the time there were squats in Kentish Town. I had studios in these squats

In 1971 I got permission to paint the Railway Bridge at Primrose Hill Station. With acid freaks from the Roundhouse and other remnants from the neighbourhood – we used paint as a form of healing

The period was very difficult for everyone I knew but we made hope from very little – front page of the Times April 6th 1972. After that it was always looking for different sites. In the spring of 1973 I went back to the railways guys at Watford who were so proud of me and what was seen to be so positive. I asked for permission to paint the wall on King Henry’s Road

I got £100 from the Arts Council and £100 from Camden Council. We – that’s the new group – The Fine Hearts Squad – a community Arts Blues band – Tony King, Peter Carey and passers by joined in an inspired jam session.

The Chilean mural came about when a young man called Berger – can’t remember his first name – asked if we could incorporate a session with the artists from Chile who were exiled in UK – they had worked in the streets under the Allende regime but now were living rough in squats like us

Sure, I said one Saturday morning – March I think. We all turned out together with some fellas from the TUC education department – the squad – the paint and about ten Chilean political sympathisers – one girl who showed me some photos of work done in Santiago. They were in ponchos and we were in denim – it was like Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton or something like that. Monday too and some of Tuesday afternoon

The outrage was localised to bad publicity from Hampstead and Highgate Express and right wing papers but the Guardian did a big photo and a strong supportive article on the back page. I was into community arts – not art in the bourgeois sense but socially orientated action.

I fell out of favour with the Arts Council who said that because I worked with passers by and sometimes adolescents I was not considered an artist. But I started a project in Mardyke – a sink estate in Dagenham – which was inspired by the King Henry’s Road mural. In those days I believed that my work was of a shaman or healer.

One thing led to another – The Fine Heart Squad struggled on till Thatcher came to power and then I was effectively blacklisted. King Henry’s Road was always there as a reminder until recently. I left to live in France in 1984 and I have continued in the social context ever since. I am 62 years of age and live in Bonnieux in southern France.
June 21, 2010