Operation Taurus - The Society saves a mosaic

Early in 1986 the Society was alerted to the potential destruction of an interesting Bull's Head mosaic on the stall-riser of a former butcher's shop in Tamworth Street. With the agreement of the developers members of the Society undertook the difficult task of removing the mosaic, confident that a way would be found to restore it.

Later that year the mosaic, now in eleven pieces, was taken to the premises of a small family firm in Small Heath, Birmingham, for evaluation. Subsequently, with the aid of a grant from the Swinfen Braun Trust, the mosaic was indeed reassembled and restored. A year later, in December 1987, it was placed on public display at the top of the main stairs in the old Friary School, now the Lichfield Library, where it remains today.

The following extracts from the Society's newsletters tell the story.

[February 1986]

After standing empty for so long we are pleased to report a much improved proposal for the restoration of the butcher's shop in Tamworth Street, although we regret the apparently intended removal of the mosaic on the stall-riser. The Civic Society's committee is investigating the possibility of being actively involved in salvaging this rare local example of mosaic.

[April 1986]

The Bull's Head design mosaic on the stall-riser of the former butcher's shop at No. 13 Tamworth Street is to be salvaged by members of the Society. Consideration is being given to its relocation, preferably somewhere in Lichfield or alternatively it may be offered to one of the museums.

[May 1986]

In the April edition of the newsletter we reported that the Bull's Head mosaic on the stall-riser of No. 13 Tamworth Street was to be salvaged by members of the Society. The developers who had agreed upon this exercise had given us a date by which it should be removed. The very wet weather caused great difficulty in sticking a layer of reinforced paper on the the face of the mosaic before the actual removal process could start.

The nuckle-barking, knee-creaking and utterly exhausting operation took seven hours and provided roadside interest and entertainment for shoppers on the mornings of Monday, 21st and Tuesday, 22nd April. We received more advice than assistance, much approbation and encouragement but only one critical comment. The last was from a member of the District Council who, apart from regarding the mosaic as worthless, claimed to have some mysterious knowledge of its origin and history - but refused to tell. Presumably unrevealed knowledge is power! At least we know that after the reversal of this Mithraic rite, the reconstructed mosaic will not be welcome in all parts of the city.

Various people claimed to have knowledge of the date it was first installed - either 1902, 60 years ago or in the 1930s - leaving the mystery unsolved. A group of schoolboys showed the greatest interest in its value and many older members of the community stopped to tell us they thought it a good idea to save it. The greatest hazard was passing dogs.

The mosaic is now in eleven carefully numbered pieces and safely cached in readiness for reassembly. If we find it too difficult we shall box it attractively and sell it as a jigsaw puzzle next Christmas.

[November 1986]

For safe storage the eleven carefully numbered pieces of various sizes and shapes were housed in the garage of one of our members.

Two problems than had to be faced; who could be found with sufficient expertise to restore and reassemble the mosaic, and where could it be located? The answer to the first question was found in August when our President arranged the for mosaic to be examined by a Birmingham firm specialising in this type of work. The examination was 12 noon and by 5 pm the mosaic had been transported to the Small Heath premises of the firm, it had been roughly reassembled and had been viewed by representatives of the Society.

A young and enthusiastic member of the third generation of this family firm is now undertaking the meticulous process of reassembly in detail. Such specialist work is necessarily expensive and the Society is currently seeking grants to meet the costs. If we are successful in this search we would then hope for the mosaic to be located somewhere appropriate in Lichfield and a number of possibilities are being investigated. We would prefer it to remain in Lichfield but if no suitable site can be found then we know that the Black Country Museum would be interested.

[February 1987]

In November we were able to report that a third generation member of the family firm of Cecconi of Small Heath, Birmingham, was in the process of restoring the mosaic. We were happy to have saved it from destruction but additionally, hoped that it might be re-sited in Lichfield. Now it will be, thanks to the gift of 500 from the Swinfen Broun Trust which will pay for the work that has already been done. It is hoped that a permanent home will be found for the mosaic in a place where members of the public can see it.

[November 1987]

The newsletter of May 1986 reported the seven hour long salvage operation to detach the mosaic from the stall-riser at No. 13 Tamworth Street. The frantic effort was needed to complete the rescue before the deadline given by the developers. The shop is still in the process of being refurbished but the mosaic has been restored by Adrian Cecconi of Phillip Cecconi & Son of Small Heath, Birmingham, with monies granted by the Swinfen Braun Trust. It is to be displayed in Lichfield College where it will remain on extended loan.

[December 1987]

At last it is back in Lichfield, restored, re-sited and ready for you too see. On Friday 4th December 1987 at a ceremony in Lichfield College the mosaic was officially placed on extended loan. The inscription, from the pen of calligrapher Gareth Roberts reads:

"This mosaic was rescued by Lichfield Civic Society in 1985 from the stall-riser of No. 13 Tamworth Street. It was restored by Adrian Cecconi of Phillip Cecconi & Son, Small Heath, Birmingham, with monies granted from the Swinfen Broun Charitable Trust and is on loan to Lichfield College".

In the presence of members of the Society, Governors of the College, Principal, Mr Ian James, Adrian Cecconi and his parents Mr & Mrs Phillip Cecconi, the Mayor of Lichfield, Councillor Howard Clayton, congratulated the Society on its enterprise in saving the mosaic for the City and Adrian Cecconi for the quality of his work in its restoration. Mike Knights, Chairman of the Civic Society, expressed our thanks to the Swinfen Braun trust for the generous donation which had paid for the restoration.