More than four decades after 14 lives were lost, a mural is unveiled for victims of New Cross Fire

New Cross fire mural Pic: Natalie Wilson

A mural to commemorate the 14 lives lost in the New Cross Fire was unveiled on Saturday, to mark the 41st anniversary of the event.

Crowds of locals, including families and friends of the dead and survivors of the fire, gathered to witness the artwork revealed at the site outside Cummin’ Up Caribbean Takeaway, on New Cross Road.

The fire occurred in the early hours of the morning of January 18, 1981, at 439 New Cross Road. Some attendees managed to flee but many were trapped inside the three-storey home.

It is unclear whether the fire was an accident. Nobody has been charged with causing the fire, although many believe that it was a racist attack on the party guests and that the investigation was inadequate.

Richard Simpson, the event organiser and owner of the takeaway, arranged for the mural to be printed outside the restaurant. Its name, ’87’, reflects that the fire took place 87 houses away at 439.

 The piece was conceptualised by Richard and street artist Davide Pianta, it was produced and installed by Colorset Graphics.

Richard Simpson speech Pic: Brenda Dacres

Before the unveiling, Simpson told Eastlondonlines that he wanted to withhold some details, to ensure that it was kept as a surprise.

He said: “It’s a silhouette. The silhouette represents the anonymous people who didn’t have that voice and so there will be lots of imagery and significance within it.

“We are going to do this for our friends: those who were playing the music, those who were the celebrants, those who were enjoying themselves, and we are going to mark this now on New Cross Road, where it took place.”

Wayne Haynes, a survivor of the fire, unveiled the artwork along with the family and friends of the 14 young black people that died.

Mural being unveiled, New Cross Video: Isabella Nova Edited by: Valentina Colo

Simpson added that the enormity of the unveiling overwhelmed him and he was taken aback by the community coming together in support of the mural.

(From left to right) Juliet Campbell, Richard Simpson, Brenda Dacres, David Micheal standing in front the mural Pic: Brenda Dacres

He said: “I viewed the mural as a blank canvas. The community came in and filled in the lines and the colour, it was just an extension of that. I envisaged having street art like Banksy and that is how I saw it. It is the community’s piece.

“I have had some of the families of the deceased ask if we can incorporate more pictures of their loved ones within the piece, which is something I am thinking of doing.”

He added: “I felt the day went fantastically, everyone had their opportunity to speak. It all came together very well. The piece evokes an emotion in people and stimulates a conversation.”

Brenda Dacres, Deputy Mayor of Lewisham, attended the event and told ELL: “I am truly thankful to Richard Simpson, owner of Cummin’ Up, for his inspirational tribute to the unheard voices of those who have lived and are still living with the trauma of the New Cross Fire, and family and friends whose lives were forever changed.

“Having this mural in a prominent place on New Cross Road is important as it helps to ensure all locally – especially our young people – know about this tragic event as part of our cultural history in UK.”

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