London's mural scene continues to flourish. Here, we pick out 14 favourites, ranging from well-known central walls to lesser-known gems in the suburbs.
Have you ever considered just how many murals there are in London? They're everywhere. From traditional community murals, to giant works of street art, to celebrations of community heroes. The art form is also frequently hijacked for commercial advertising.
New stuff's going up all the time, often with the help of enabling organisations like Wood Street Walls and Global Street Art. At the same time, beloved community murals from past decades are being saved for future generations.
Choosing just a handful of favourites is an almost impossible task, but here goes...
1. The giant chihuahua
We have to start with one of the largest pieces of street art the capital has ever seen. This seven-storey chihuahua was painted by artists Boe and Irony in 2014, on the side of a 1960s residential block in Poplar. It is truly exceptional. If we were running Historic England, we'd introduce a 'listed status' category to protect important street art, and begin with this beaut. Find it near All Saints DLR station. Another champion piece by the two artists, featuring a pair of nuzzling foxes, beautifies a spare wall next to Walthamstow's Rose and Crown.
2. Votes for Women
Sticking in the East End, but trading Boe for Bow, we find this sepia mural on the side of the Lord Morpeth pub. The main portrait is of Sylvia Pankhurst, the famous suffragette who campaigned among the working classes of the area, and used to live practically next door. The mural is the work of Jerome Davenport and was painted in 2018 to mark the centenary of women gaining the vote.
3. Peace versus the warmongers
It's not every day you stumble across a mural featuring Michael Heseltine. Not unless you live on Cold Blow Lane, New Cross, where this stupendous peace mural is sited. The wall depicts four cruise missiles, ridden Dr Strangelove-style by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Michael Heseltine and Yuri Andropov. The four nuclear jockeys are intercepted by symbols of peace. The hopeful mural is the work of Brian Barnes, an absolute legend in the mural-painting world.
This mural is typical of many in south London painted by Barnes and colleagues in the 1970s and 80s. They include Nuclear Dawn in Brixton, Stockwell deep-level shelter, and the Battersea mural.
4. Anything by Lionel Stanhope
It's been estimated* that 85% of south Londoners have seen the work of Lionel Stanhope. He's the chap who paints bold lettering near railway stations, like this one at Nunhead, which even takes account of the lamp post. It's a simple but powerful way to reinforce local identity.
Stanhope's taken commissions on dozens of locations, including Herne Hill, Brockley, Forest Hill, Catford and Lee. Almost all are in South London, but a few can be found further afield, including Holloway and Luton. Stanhope is also the artist behind Waterloo's much-Instagrammed NHS Superman mural. A true London hero.
*By me, just now, based on nothing.
5. The ever-evolving Leake Street roof
Speaking of Waterloo, we have to include the famous Leake Street tunnel, which runs under the western end of the station. It is with a giddy joy that we walk through this tunnel. Its walls are an ever-changing canvas of street art, and you can usually watch the artists in action. But look up. The roof is also adorned with large-scale murals, such as this long-surviving piece by artist Olivierr. Like a modern-day Michelangelo, Olivierr and his fellow artists must paint their wonders upside down and onto a curved surface. How can anyone have this much talent?
6. Stik's life story
Easily missed on a service road beneath Hungerford Bridge (South Bank) is this lengthy mural by street artist Stik. The work shows his trademark stick figure growing from a foetus (not pictured, to far left) through childhood into an adult (with their own kids). It might not be high art, but the colourful progression is warm-hearted and particularly fun for children to explore. Stik, of course, has painted many other famous murals around town, including what was thought to be Britain's tallest mural in Acton, before the building it was on was demolished.
7. Hackney Peace Carnival, Dalston
This incredibly detailed mural near Dalston's Eastern Curve Garden was designed in 1985 by Ray Walker, but painted by Mike Jones and Ann Walker following his untimely death. It represents the Hackney Peace Carnival of two years before, when locals marched against war and nuclear stockpiles. Ray Walker is also noted for the Battle of Cable Street mural, on Cable Street, which is of a very similar style.
8. Darwin's tree, Bromley
Yes, there are more powerful and artful murals out there than this wall end in Bromley town centre. But we include this one because it features a scientist — and scientists deserve more celebration in the public realm.
The man in question is Charles Darwin, pictured as a young man (somewhat unusually... Darwin imagery usually favours the bearded, older Mr D) by the muralist Bruce Williams. Darwin lived vaguely close by in the village of Downe, which is open as a visitor attraction (and well worth the trek). In the mural, Darwin sits beneath a mature tree, populated with the motifs of his illustrious career, such as finch beaks, the Galapagos Islands and the Ascent of Man. Oddly, a portrait of fellow local boy HG Wells also appears in its branches. This is a reminder that a mural to Wells's own accomplishments was previously to be found on the wall. (Wells was also a devotee of Darwin, and weaved his ideas into some of his writing.)
9. Leyton's vibrant high street
The long road through Leyton got a splash of colour in 2020 when Camille Walala brought her trademark patterns to a row of shops. The designs cover eight different buildings, which must make this one of the largest works of art in the capital. The project was achieved with the support of local residents and shopkeepers, and partly paid for by local fundraising. It brought some cheer to the area in the middle of the Covid doldrums.
The shops lie in the borough of Waltham Forest, which could easily be declared the mural capital of London. Walthamstow alone contains dozens of multi-storey murals, any one of which could have featured in this roundup. We can thank the Wood Street Walls organisation — who also championed the Walala commission — for adding so much joy to these streets.
10. Phlegm's unique art
There's no mistaking a mural by Phlegm. The Sheffield-based artist specialises in spindly-limbed figures, going about their business in stark black and white. His art often make use of wall contours and sticky-outy bits, as with this masterwork in Heneage Street, Whitechapel. This one was painted in 2012 and continues out-of-picture. It's been partly tagged over since we took the photograph, but is largely intact ten years later.
11. A splash of colour in Wealdstone
The Harrow suburb of Wealdstone is a surprising hotbed of muralism. We spotted three hand-painted signs welcoming us to the area, as well as this delicious mural by Yinka Ilori (he of the multi-coloured road crossings). Called "Love Always Wins", the wall on Gordon Road was commissioned by Harrow Council in 2021, and facilitated by the London Mural Company.
12. London's tallest mural?
Another mural that appeared during the pandemic can be seen on the corner of Southampton Row and Theobalds Road. You can't really miss it. Stretching the full height of the NYX Hotel, I reckon this is even bigger than the Poplar chihuahua. The multistorey marvel is the work of Dan Kitchener, whose rainy night scenes have long beautified the walls of London.
13. The Spirit of Soho
We've all seen this one. The Spirit of Soho mural is a well-known landmark on the corner of Carnaby and Broadwick Streets, and has been since it was created in 1991 (designed by Freeform Arts Trust). But did you ever stop to really look at it? The top portion presents a map of Soho in the form of a patchwork dress, worn by St Anne (dedicatee of the parish church). This alone would give it a place on a list of best murals, but it has another trick under its petticoat.
Towards the bottom is league of extraordinary ladies and gentlemen (though mostly gentlemen), all with Soho connections. Here you'll find Marx and Blake rubbing shoulders with Mozart and Newton. On the hour, a clockwork mechanism is triggered. In an improbable exchange, singer Teresa Cornelys winks at Casanova, who blows a kiss back, while Karl Marx sips a Coca Cola. It may not be based on actual events. Incidentally, this is the only mural we know of with its own podcast.
A similar, and recently restored mural of local characters can be found in Fitzrovia near Goodge Street station.
14. A Deptford classic
This list could go on, and on, and on. I'll finish with this mind-bending classic on Deptford High Street. Called "His and Hers", the mural was created by Patricio Forrester of Artmongers for the 2002 Deptford X Festival. It may not be as intricate as others on this list, but it's become something of an icon for the area.
Only one Brian Barnes? Nothing by Conor Harrington? What about all the East Dulwich walls? The list of great London murals is potentially endless, and this has been a very subjective list. But we'd love to hear your own favourites in the comments.
All images by the author.