Flat secretly transformed by artistic tenant gets listed status

Flat secretly transformed by artistic tenant gets listed status
A lion-shaped fireplace created by Ron Gittins in his home in Oxton, Wirral (Historic England Archive 2024/PA)

A rented flat that was transformed into a fantasy world by its artistic tenant has been given Grade II listing after volunteers stepped in to save it.

The ground-floor interior, hidden behind the front door of a semi-detached house in Oxton, Wirral, was decorated by Ron Gittins, who created fireplaces in the shape of a lion and a minotaur, crafted a Roman altar in the kitchen and painted Egyptian, Greek and marine murals floor to ceiling.

Mr Gittins only allowed a handful of people inside the home, where he lived for more than 30 years, but when his niece Jan Williams visited following his death in 2019 she dedicated herself to saving the flat, known as Ron’s Place.

Inside the former home of Ron Gittins (Historic England Archive 2024/PA)Inside the former home of Ron Gittins (Historic England Archive 2024/PA)

She told the PA news agency: “He had created his own fantasy world in a rented flat. You hear of people whose landlords won’t return the deposits because they’ve left a blu-tac mark on the wall and he had created a whole minotaur fireplace!”

Now, Mr Gittins’ work has become the first example of Outsider Art – a term used for work done by those without conventional training – to be granted Grade II listing by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), following the advice of Historic England.

Ron Gittins flatThe flat was decorated by tenant Ron Gittins and discovered after his death (Historic England Archive 2024/PA)PA Media - Historic England Archive 2024

Former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, among those who have supported efforts to save the flat, 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!”

Ms Williams said originally she and fellow volunteers applied to have the property listed to “ward off evil” and put developers off buying the building.

Ron\u2019s Place has distinctive fireplacesRon’s Place has distinctive fireplaces (Historic England Archive 2024/PA)PA Media - Historic England Archive 2024

But, a donation last year meant the group, as Wirral Arts and Culture Community Land Trust, was able to buy the home at auction and now hope to use it to inspire other artists.

Ms Williams, who is also an artist and runs the Caravan Gallery, said: “We have always had the idea of a holistic house of art. I’m sure that’s what Ron would have wanted, and having the listing gives us a lot more credibility.”

She said she believed her uncle, who died aged 79, would be “over the moon” to know his work had been listed.

From the outside, Ron Gittins’ flat looked like any other but he had transformed the inside with his art (Historic England Archive 2024/PA)

She added: “He was really proud of it. It’s sad because when I was going through his stuff I found a postcard he’d written to me saying ‘I can’t wait to show you what I’ve done’.

“He’d written the wrong address so it was returned to him and I never saw it but that kind of validates me and I think he’d be made up at the lengths we’ve gone to.”

Volunteer Alison Bailey-Smith said it had been a struggle at first to convince people the property should be listed.

Ron’s niece says she believes her uncle would be ‘over the moon’ to know his work had been listed (Historic England Archive 2024/PA)

She said: “Normally a listing might happen for a building of historic or architectural significance but this is to do with an artist, an artist who has allowed his creativity to take over the building from floor to ceiling.

“There isn’t anything like it in the UK as far as we know and there’s certainly not another one that’s listed so we’re absolutely delighted.”

Sarah Charlesworth, listing team leader north at Historic England, said: “Ron’s Place is a testament to the unique artistic achievements and vision of Ron Gittins over four decades.

“The extent to which 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 demonstrates the value of this remarkable project and why it has earned its place on the National Heritage List for England.”

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