Created by esteemed artist William Mitchell, whose work includes the Egyptian Room at Harrods, doors and frontices at Liverpool Cathedral, and the Stations of the Cross at Clifton Cathedral in Bristol, this mural was originally completed in the late 1960s and located on the side of the now-demolished Riverside Baths.
Using the cloisonné technique (distinctive 'compartments' of different colour as used to create stained glass windows), Mitchell depicts events and individuals from mediæval and Tudor history that have a connection to the local area: Richard de Luci, Lord of the Manor of Lesnes (the old name for Erith), implicated in the death of Thomas Becket whose bloody murder at the swords of two knights is shown in graphic detail on the mural; the Arms of William de Warenne and Geoffrey de Mandeville, both of whom were present at the signing of Magna Carta; the 'Great Harry', King Henry VIII's warship built at Woolwich and finished at Erith, two of the royal dockyards (along with Deptford) founded by Henry; an East Indiaman merchant ship, which would have docked at Erith to unload goods from China and India; the 'Men of Kent', the rebels led by Wat Tyler who rose up in protest against heavy taxes in the Peasant's Revolt of 1381, but were defeated by King Richard II, also depicted in the mural; the arms of Geoffrey Chaucerwhose 'Canterbury Tales' pilgrims would probably have passed through Erith on their way to visit Thomas Becket's shrine.
Mitchell used a raised sand and epoxy border to define the different compartments (or 'cloisons' in French) which were then painted in bright colours. Tile mosaics were used to provide greater detail to the faces of some of the characters depicted.
The mural was originally located on the west gable wall of Riverside Baths, opened in 1968 and designed by architect Richard Seifert, also responsible for Centre Point and Tolworth Tower. The Baths closed in the mid 2000s and lay derelict and subject to vandalism for a number of years. When the decision was made to redevelop the site, Bexley Council recognised the value of the mural, its report stating that 'the mural on the side wall of the baths is held in affection by local residents. A preliminary survey has been undertaken to establish its condition and every effort will be made to transfer it to another suitable location.'
Eventually, restoration of the mural was completed and it was re-erected in the regenerated Erith town centre in March 2010, complete with interpretation plaque explaining its content. The restored mural was formally unveiled on 10th June that year by William Mitchell, then aged 86, and by Leader of Bexley Council, Cllr Teresa O'Neill. Speaking 45 years after he had last seen the mural, Mitchell said: "I am delighted that the town values this mural so highly and I would like to compliment everyone involved in refurbishing and moving it to its new position. Well done! It looks fabulous. This sort of art is an important part of the town's identity and I am proud to have made a contribution."