Banksy: The stories behind his ‘Great British Spraycation’

By Orla Moore & Laurence Cawley
BBC News, East

Banksy mural featuring dancing couple in Great YarmouthImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,

The couple are still dancing in the Banksy mural on Admiralty Road, Great Yarmouth

Over the course of a week last summer, a number of street art pieces appeared in seemingly random parts of Norfolk and Suffolk. The artworks were eventually verified by Banksy, but the fate of each piece varied drastically. What has become of them – one year on?

In early August 2021, one by one, graffiti started to appear in Cromer, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Oulton Broad.

They bore the hallmarks of Banksy: the slogans, the humour, the anonymity, the skill.

But it took a week of nervous hope and speculation before the artist claimed responsibility in a three-minute video, titled A Great British Spraycation.

It depicted him casually making his way around the East in a battered left-hand drive campervan, complete with beach windbreaker, ladders – and a cool box full of spray cans.

One of them was installed, perhaps unusually, in a ticket-only attraction.

“They would have had to have done their homework,” the former owner of the Merrivale Model Village, Frank Newsome, said.

“We have CCTV all around the perimeter at night which would have flagged up an intruder.

“He did it in broad daylight.”

He, or they – Mr Newsome cannot be sure.

Image source, Banksy/PA Wire
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The miniature model stable by Banksy was left in secret at Merrivale Model Village in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

He said it all started when he was told that “someone had put a drone up” over the model village.

“We managed to hook this thing out of the sky with a fishing net – but I was more worried about the glass everywhere when it smashed,” he said.

“When Banksy verified it with drone images all over the village, that’s when we looked back through the CCTV.”

Had Banksy been caught on camera?

“Two groups came in,” Mr Newsome said. “Firstly, three lads with cool boxes for the beach. Then a group of girls and boys, wearing masks because of the restrictions at the time.

“They didn’t want their picture taken at the kiosk. But then there was an almighty fracas at the other end of the village. Some of the group was shouting and swearing.

“The others must have done it then, when the staff were distracted.”

Image caption,

The model village has made a replica of the stable and placed it where the original sat

“We still didn’t think it was genuine but knew we couldn’t just leave it here in case it was.

“So we all babysat it in rotation and once it was confirmed, we moved it inside to safety, taking it off site every night, returning in the morning by different routes.

“I got an offer on the spot for £150,000 – then the chap came back two hours later and offered double.”

In the end, the graffitied stable sold at auction in January to a private bidder, for £800,000.

Today, the Merrivale Model Village has a 1-to-12 scale ‘Spraycation trail’ built into it.

Mr Newsome, who sold up and moved to Bury St Edmunds after suffering a heart attack in December, said the entire affair was “like a film script”.

“We called Pest Control, who handle Banksy’s affairs, just to ask ‘why us’?” he said.

“She wouldn’t give us any answers.”

So, one year on, what has become of the other Spraycation artworks?

All in the same boat, Oulton Broad

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,

The sheet of metal Banksy used for the boat was soon taken away

This mural was discovered on the side of a bridge over the Landspring Drain in Nicholas Everitt Park, Oulton Broad.

Banksy incorporated materials from around the site, including a corrugated metal sheet that doubled as a boat.

East Suffolk Council said the boat was removed “over flooding concerns due to its position blocking the drain”, but the art is still there, covered by a UV-stabilised polycarbonate screen to prevent it fading.

“There was an understandable buzz of speculation when the work appeared – and that sense of expectation made way for delight when Banksy confirmed responsibility,” the council said.

“The immediate aftermath saw visitors flood to the area from across the country.

“It generated enormous interest from the media and art world – but it also left a lasting legacy for the community.”

Gull and skip, Lowestoft

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

The gull mural was painted next to a skip containing strips of insulation

The gull mural appeared on the side of a house on the corner of Denmark Road and Katwijk Way, Lowestoft.

It was painted next to a skip containing strips of insulation, creating an artistic vision of a bird stealing chips.

The mural is still there, covered with a protective screen.

“Banksy’s visit had a hugely positive cultural and economic effect in East Suffolk,” the council said.

“In the last year, we have seen a number of projects inspired by the Banksy murals and involving street artists working with the local community.

Image caption,

Now protected, the gull mural is still in situ in Katwijk Way

Child with crowbar, Lowestoft

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

The video posted on Banksy’s website showed the pavement being dug up to reveal some of the sand

This piece appeared on the side of the former Lowestoft Electrical store, on London Road, showing a child building a sandcastle with a crowbar.

Once again, Banksy embellished his mural with physical props, in this case lifting the paving slabs and adding a sandcastle.

East Suffolk Council initially added a screen to protect the work, but the wall was then removed by the building owner and sold privately for an undisclosed sum in January.

Image source, Crispin Hook
Image caption,

The work was removed from the side of the vacant shop in November

Local artist GreaterThan recreated the mural of a child on the side of his own home in Lowestoft, but placed it inside a vending machine.

He said it was a “kick in the teeth” that the original had been removed.

Image source, Guy Campbell/BBC
Image caption,

Joe Thompson’s design replicates Banksy’s original mural and places it within a vending machine

Rat on deckchair, Lowestoft

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Banksy’s Lowestoft rat was on view for just over a week before someone painted over it

The rat – a familiar feature of Banksy’s street art – appeared on a seawall at the bottom of Links Hill, on Lowestoft’s North Beach.

It is leaning back on a deckchair and brandishing a cocktail – a few inches below a drain that drips waste water.

Just over a week after its discovery, the mural had been defaced with white paint.

But it’s still there, covered with a protective screen.

“As a council, we took action to preserve and safeguard the murals with protective screens; though regrettably, one of the pieces was left damaged as the result of vandalism,” East Suffolk Council said.

It wasn’t able to say when the restoration work would be undertaken.

Image source, Faye Louise Stone
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East Suffolk Council said it was “hopeful” the Banksy mural could be restored

Dancers on a bus shelter, Great Yarmouth

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

The mural shows a couple dancing to an accordion player

This mural, over a bus shelter in Admiralty Road by the town’s gas holder, still stands – albeit also under a protective screen.

“I remember it took a good week for them to be confirmed, and I got the phone call in my office on the Friday,” Great Yarmouth Borough Council leader Carl Smith said.

“On the Saturday morning I went down to the shelter to do an interview on Radio Norfolk and there was already 150 people standing there.

“People thought there were repairs going on at first without realising it was him, then off he went, no one noticed.

“We’re up for a Council of the Year award and the judges came and sat in the bus shelter getting their photo taken under a Banksy.

“You can’t ask better than that.”

Image caption,

This bus shelter mural in Admiralty Road still stands – albeit also under a protective screen

Arcade grabber, Gorleston

Image source, Getty Images

This mural, on Gorleston’s north beach, depicts an arcade-style grabber hovering over anyone sitting on the shelter bench.

It was vandalised soon after it appeared, with six teddy bears stencilled beneath and the words “Banksy Collaboration Emo” added.

The council cleaned it up and added a protective screen.

Image source, Shaun Whitmore/BBC
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The teddies were a later addition to the arcade grabber mural

Mr Smith said the first night the council realised the pieces were Banksys, “it was a case of trying to sort security and protection for them to prevent them being vandalised”.

“People were sitting in the shelter under the arcade grabber with teddies – they still do.

“I was hoping it was an endorsement for our bid to be City of Culture, the fact he called it a spraycation – it was just fantastic.”

Image caption,

The arcade-style grabber mural as it looks now

Model yacht pond dinghy, Gorleston

Image source, Banksy.co.uk
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One of the smallest – and perhaps most controversial of the artworks – depicted two children clinging to an inflatable dinghy

One of the smallest – and perhaps most controversial of the artworks – depicted two children clinging to an inflatable dinghy while an adult pumping it up is distracted by their drink.

It appeared opposite the arcade grabber mural, on a wall at Gorleston model yacht pond, but was quickly painted over amid “sensitivity” to a three-year-old girl’s death nearby.

The council has since removed the section of concrete wall where the artwork was.

It will eventually be restored with a view to being displayed “somewhere else in the town for people to see for free,” Mr Smith said.

The image has also been removed from Banksy’s website.

Frederick Savage statue: Guanock Place, King’s Lynn

Image source, Banksy.co.uk
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King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Council still has the cone – but does not know what happened to the tongue

The statue to the steam engineer and former mayor of Kings Lynn has stood on the corner of Guanock Place and London Road West for more than 100 years.

In what appeared originally as an act of random vandalism, an ice cream cone holding expandable foam was put in his hand – and a pink tongue draped from his mouth.

It was verified as the work of Banksy in his video.

King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Council still has the cone – but does not know what happened to the tongue.

A spokeswoman said they have no plans to do anything with the cone unless Banksy’s representative, Pest Control, authorises it.

Hermit crabs: Cromer

Image source, Laurent Forestier
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Cromer is famous for both its crab industry and cost of housing

This mural – a group of hermit crabs with one in a shell holding a sign stating “luxury rentals only” – appeared on a sea wall on Cromer beach. The town is famous for both its crab industry and cost of housing.

Before it was verified, North Norfolk District Council said it was minded to let tourists and visitors enjoy the piece “until nature takes its course and the sea removes it”.

When Banksy claimed it, the council coated it in a protective resin layer against UV and the ravages of the North Sea.

However, in June, the mural was vandalised.

Council leader Tim Adams said local businesses could benefit from the increased number of visitors checking it out.

“The poignant message here is in terms of the housing crisis locally,” he said.

“We have 2,500 people on our housing waiting list, and at the same time some 5,400 second homes here.”

Image source, Steve Hobart Photography
Image caption,

The graffiti added in June was across a large section of the sea wall, including some of the Banksy mural

But he conceded that the sea might have the last word.

“It’s only a matter of time before the sea takes it, and we can only protect it for so long,” he said.

“We don’t want to remove it or sell it – we don’t want it to leave North Norfolk – we want to maintain the message.”

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