Grade II listed status granted for ‘hidden gem’ Ron’s Place in Oxton

A hidden gem of Outsider Art, Ron’s Place, located at 8 Silverdale Road in Oxton, has been granted Grade II listing by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England.

Concealed for over 30 years within an unassuming Victorian semi-detached villa, Ron Gittins meticulously crafted a striking visionary environment, which remained a secret until he died in 2019.

From intricate murals depicting historical scenes to hand-crafted concrete fireplaces in the shape of a roaring lion’s head, a Minotaur’s head (a mythical creature with the body of a man and the head and tail of a bull) and even a Roman bread oven, Gittins’ creative imagination permeated every corner of his rented ground-floor flat.

The result is a compelling, immersive space that reflects Ron’s intense character, combining his imaginative creative abilities and abiding passion for history following a visit to Pompeii as a young man.

The Grade II listed 8 Silverdale Road, Oxton, Birkenhead, Wirral. © Historic England Archive. DP371893.

Jarvis Cocker, legendary frontman and founder of Brittpop group Pulp, said, “A small number of people on this planet have known for a while that Ron’s Place is a very Special Place – but from now on, it is official: Ron’s Place has been given listed status!

“The work of one unique gentleman in the north of England has been recognised nationally. Globally even.
Hallelujah !!”

Mick Whitley, the MP for Birkenhead said, “Not long after I was elected I was taken to visit Ron’s Place. Its grandeur and strange beauty astounded me and I have supported various attempts by the parties’ involved in the campaign for its preservation.

“I am delighted that these efforts have resulted in this vital part of Birkenhead’s rich artistic legacy has been given listed status. This is a win for art, for the people of Birkenhead and for all those people for who Ron’s Place has been a source of pleasure and inspiration. Well done.”

The listing recognises Ron’s creation as an exemplar of large-scale Outsider Art in England, a creative phenomenon by artists motivated by their personal visions and often working compulsively, usually with no formal training and outside the influence of the mainstream art world.

Sarah Charlesworth, Listing Team Leader NorthHistoric England, said, “Ron’s Place is testament to the unique artistic achievements and vision of Ron Gittins over four decades. Ron’s creations have inspired action from people in the local area to raise funds to purchase the building and secure the survival of his legacy.”

Catherine Croft, Director, Twentieth Century Society, said, “This is 20th-century heritage unlike any other: the first example of Outsider Art to be nationally listed.”

© Historic England Archive. DP371912

Ron Gittins (1939 to 2019)

The ground-floor flat on Silverdale Road was rented by Ron in 1986, and he spent the next 3 decades creating a visionary environment.

With limited formal artistic training, he developed his own very particular world, articulated through his flat and the creation of historic costumes.

He would often wear his costumes when out in the local area, but he kept the creations within his home for his own appreciation, with visitors largely discouraged. Together, these aspects sum up both Ron’s flamboyantly engaging and deeply private sides.

Jan Williams, Ron’s Niece, and Wirral Arts & Culture Community Land Trust Chair, said, “I believe Ron would be made up and very proud at all the attention he’s receiving, and thrilled his work is being recognised and appreciated. He only kept it secret because you’re not really supposed to turn your rented flat into a Roman villa complete with epic concrete fireplaces, are you?

“When I was sorting through Ron’s possessions following his death, I discovered an incorrectly addressed postcard he’d tried to send me. He said he couldn’t wait to show me what he’d been working on next time I was home.

“I feel sad to have missed out on so much of my Uncle Ron’s complicated but intriguing story in the past, but it’s good to know his creativity will inspire future generations.”

Martin Wallace, Filmmaker and Ron’s Place Patron, said, “To visit Ron’s Place is a rare and strangely beautiful immersive experience. I’ve spent time in many ‘outsider art’ environments around the globe and Ron’s Place ranks with the best of them. But its real potential lies beyond its idiosyncratic appeal.

“Experiencing Ron’s Place can be an inspiration towards transformative improvements in wellbeing through creative activity for all kinds of people from all walks of life, young and old. It’s fantastic that Historic England has recognised the unique value and potential of Ron’s Place and chosen to ensure it must now be properly protected for generations to come.”

© Historic England Archive. DP371908

What is Outsider Art?

Outsider Art is an internationally recognised creative phenomenon that often transcends genres and goes under various umbrella terms, including Art Brut (raw art), Folk art, Intuitive art or Visionary art and Naïve art.

Tate describes Outsider Art as “art that has a naïve quality, often produced by people who have not trained as artists or worked within the conventional structures of art production”. A key feature of Outsider Art and the artists involved is that the work is created without an audience in mind and often purely for themselves.

Examples of Outsider Art can now be found in galleries in the UK and worldwide, including the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Collection at Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, and at the Tate Britain and Tate St Ives.

Catherine Croft, DirectorTwentieth Century Society, said, “This is 20th-century heritage unlike any other: the first example of Outsider Art to be nationally listed.

“At Ron’s Place, one man’s extraordinary creative vision summoned creatures from Greek mythology and the architecture of ancient Roman to a humble ground-floor flat in Birkenhead. Proof, if needed, that great art isn’t confined just to established galleries and collections.

“It’s also great news that the Wirral Arts and Culture Community Land Trust (WACCLT) will use the flat for creative arts programming to enhance the health and wellbeing of the people of the Wirral: what better end could there be to this amazing story.”

Lead image © Historic England Archive. DP371925

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