Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Shipley Canal Fantasy Mural

Anyone walking along the canal towpath from the Victorian model village of Saltaire to the neighbouring town of Shipley will soon come across an unusual sight. 

Under a gloomy tunnel at Fox Corner, with pigeons nesting in the eaves, mellifluously cooing to each other, there is a colourful mural full of fantasy motifs - a jester, a dragon, a fairy-tale castle, courtly ladies, a knight, a tree-woman. 

It looks for all the world like the album cover for a 1970s progressive rock LP, or the design for a Pan Ballantine Adult Fantasy paperback. We wondered when we first saw it if it indeed dated from those heady times.

There isn't all that much about it online but one of the five participating artists, Dave Cogan, has posted a couple of comments (scroll down the link to see this one) which explain the background. He recalls that it was a project in February 1993 led by mural artist Tom Cousins.

The latter's website explains that he once lived and worked in Bradford (the nearest city to Shipley) and did other murals there, but is now based in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, still creating murals. 

Tom had got permission from the waterways board, and a local firm provided the paints, but even so there was some opposition from councillors and the press. Despite that, the mural is now one of the sights of the canal walk and, as Dave Cogan says, certainly brightens up a rather grim, dingy tunnel. 

The mural is in a fairly inaccessible position and this has probably helped save it not only from busybody killjoys but also from the depredations of the elements, and from the attentions of urban graffiti artists, although a few tags have been added on top of one or two of the scenes.

It is just the sort of eccentric, fanciful, delightful, bizarre and cheering public art that ought to be cherished and preserved. 

(Mark Valentine: Photographs: Jo Valentine)


  1. This is fantastic. I remember seeing a similar set of murals (at least the project was similar, though the art was very different) in some highway underpasses in Indianapolis. I talked with some of the artists who were working on it, and they were thrilled with the public works opportunity.

  2. This is exactly the sort of delightful surprise one always hopes to come across when venturing out into the concrete wilderness. For anyone interested: Stéphanie Kilgast is a French artist who, amongst quite a few other things, paints wonderful, slightly hallucinatory murals. She also produces whimsical book art - just not quite what you'd imagine reading this sentence. In addition to her website, she has a YouTube channel with, amongst other things, a time lapse video of her lovely mural painting in Vannes, Bretagne.
    Anyway, many thanks for the post and the pictures; they put a big smile on my face.