Nelson Mandela statue
Nelson Mandela statue, Royal Festival Hall, London © Historic England AA008489
Nelson Mandela statue, Royal Festival Hall, London © Historic England AA008489

Black British History Recognised Through Listings

  • Three new listings announced as Historic England partners with BBC on 'Black and British' season
  • 'Platforms Piece' on Brixton Station, thought to be the first work of public sculpture depicting Black British people, listed at Grade II
  • Bust of Nelson Mandela and Brixton Recreation Centre also listed at Grade II
  • Public asked to add their own memories, pictures and information about Black history to the record of all listed buildings and places
  • Black history of Brixton explored in Historic England walks

'Platforms Piece', the 1986 bronze sculpture of three life-sized figures who have watched over commuters at Brixton railway station for thirty years; the Brixton Recreation Centre; and Ian Walters' 1982 bust of Nelson Mandela on the South Bank have been listed at Grade II.

The three sites celebrate Black British history and are listed today by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England. Historic England wants the public to add details of their own stories and pictures relating to Black history to the National Heritage List for England - the free-to-search record of the 400,000 most significant historic places around the country.

By opening up the List to public contributions, Historic England hopes this fascinating resource will evolve to reflect the country's shared understanding of and connection with its past: events like the election of Britain's first Black Mayor at Battersea Town Hall (now Battersea Arts Centre) in 1913, or the enthronement of John Sentamu, prominent campaigner on race issues and Britain's first Black archbishop, at York Minster in 2005.

Today's announcement is part of Historic England's contribution to the BBC season 'Black and British', and also part of a major initiative from the organisation to improve understanding and recognition of England's diverse heritage, tackling under-representation of the major influences and contributions of communities including LGBTQ, Black and Minority Ethnic Groups, disabled people and women in building the nation we live in.

New listings

'Platforms Piece' was commissioned by British Rail as the focal point for the Brixton Rail Station Improvement Scheme in the 1980s.

Artist Kevin Atherton conceived of the piece to stand at the heart of Brixton, then one of the most economically deprived parts of London, where riots had underscored the levels of mistrust between local minority communities and the establishment. He created three cast bronze figures, each life-like and richly detailed, standing as fixed points in the bustling station.

He sought models who represented the local community, eventually selecting three people, two of whom worked at the nearby Brixton Recreation Centre. All, he felt, had a particular connection to Brixton. 'Platforms Piece' is thought to be the first public sculptural representation of Black British people in England and represents a celebration of the cultural identity of the area.

Commenting on her experience as one of the subjects chosen by Kevin Atherton to sit for 'Platforms Piece', Joy Battick said: "I'm so happy to see 'Platforms Piece' listed - being cast for the sculpture was a lot of fun, but we were serious too because we knew it would be on display to local people forever. Now it's a real Brixton landmark, and I can't believe that my figure has appeared in a book next to other London statues of people like Queen Boadicea and Winston Churchill."

Also listed today is the bust of Nelson Mandela by internationally renowned sculptor Ian Walters. Walters completed the bust in 1982 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the African National Congress. Originally displayed by the Greater London Council (GLC) as part of its 'Year of Anti-Racism' in 1984, it later passed to the ownership of the South Bank Board. The bust was unveiled on the South Bank, on the south side of the Royal Festival Hall, by Oliver Tambo, President of the ANC in 1985. In bronze resin it depicts a young Mandela, the subtle facial detailing of the piece reflecting his struggles and strength of character.

Another South London landmark is listed at Grade II: Brixton Recreation Centre. Opened to little fanfare in 1985, the Rec is now recognised as one of the finest sports centres and pools of the 1970s and 1980s, and one of very few to be listed. The Rec was designed by passionate socialist George Finch, and its dramatic, sculptural design has been likened to a theatre or gallery. Finch planned the spacious atrium at the heart of the Rec as a feature to bring people together to spur interaction. The full height windows of the lofty pool hall frame the Brixton skyline and give swimmers an eye level view of the railway - and also 'Platforms Piece' itself.

The Rec was opened when the aftermath of the riots hung heavy in the air and thirty years on, the Rec remains a valued social centre in Brixton, with rich cultural associations as the location chosen by Nelson Mandela for his 1996 visit. A plaque in the lobby commemorates the day 10,000 people lined the streets to glimpse Mandela, who came to Brixton to demonstrate his allegiance with the struggle for racial equality in Britain.

Heritage Minister Tracey Crouch said: "I'm absolutely thrilled to list these places and sculptures with such a strong connection to Black British history.
"Our nation's heritage encompasses people from a wide variety of cultures, backgrounds and traditions and it is vital that we continue to recognise all that have played a role in shaping our history."

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: "Today's announcement is part of the work we have been doing to recognise and explore the rich diversity that has been part of our national story for so many centuries. We want to make sure that when we celebrate historic places, everyone, regardless of gender, race or orientation sees their places represented - places that resonate for them and represent the history of this country as they see it. Today we are identifying and protecting three places that are linked to a specific time and place, but Black history has been present in our nation throughout the centuries, and right across our historic environment. We are calling on the public to share their knowledge and images to help us to make our national records more fully representative of our past ."

Historian and broadcaster David Olusoga who presents 'Black & British: A Forgotten History', part the BBC 'Black and British' season, added, "I'm excited to be playing my part in the 'Black and British' season, and I hope the new series will overturn the image of Black history as something that only happens at the margins of our national narrative. The four films tell the story of those periods in our past when the rights, status and humanity of Black people were among the big issues of the day, and reveal some little known background to familiar figures and places around the country. It's been great to have the chance to add some of these stories to the National Heritage List for England as well."

Write your own chapter of history

Today, Historic England is calling on individuals and community groups to contribute pictures, local information and family history to the records of historic places with connections to the rich span of Black British history.

Find out how you can contribute