At the intersection of Pages Walk and Mandela Way in Bermondsey, you can find a decommissioned Soviet T-34 battle tank. Of all the strange, wonderful and exciting things I saw during my time in London, this was definitely my favourite (especially because the T-34 is the greatest tank, in my opinion).
The tank was bought in 1995 by Russell Gray, after the council rejected his request to develop on the vacant lot. Urban legend has it that Gray then obtained proper petitions to place a “tank” on the lot – which the council, thinking he meant a septic tank, approved. Allegedly the cannon of the tank is pointing in the direction of the Southwark Council’s planning offices.
The tank was used in the 1968 Prague Spring, when Soviet troops rolled into the capital to crush the revolting students – if you have visited Prague, you have no doubt passed the spot on Wenceslas Square where students Jan Palach and Jan Zajic set themselves on fire in protest. The T-34 was brought to London for the making of Richard III, part of which was filmed at Battersea Power Station.
In 1991, acclaimed Czech artist David Černý painted the T-34 in Kinsky Square, Prague pink out of outrage against the so-called Soviet liberators of the Czech capital. In 2002, the Mandela Way T-34 followed suit, thanks to Polish artist Aleksandra Mir. Since then, it has had many different looks, and has even changed since I visited in 2016. Looks like I’ll have to go back.
Deep Cut: It has also been said that the tank’s nickname “Stompie” is a reference to Stompie Moeketsi who was killed in 1989 by Winnie Mandela’s United Football Club. The nickname was probably prompted, at least in part, by the fact that the current address of the tank is 1 Mandela Way.
What do you think? Do you believe all the political references? Or do you think it was just a “Fuck you!” to Southwark Council?