The end of my road has never been so busy. It’s been busy for while… since April 13th to be precise when Banksy painted what has now become known as Spy Booth on the side of a house. On Wednesday last week things stepped up a gear when scaffolding was erected and rumours of removal spread through the town. The citizens of Cheltenham are not amused.

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Panic On the Streets Of Cheltenham

I visited on Sunday to take some pictures and found a van parked up alongside the now boarded up Banksy. Inside were security guards – a couple of young energy drink swigging lads on 24 hour surveillance with orders to stop anyone “doing damage” to the artwork. A bit over the top I thought… at which point a man in a padded sumo wrestler suit came from nowhere at considerable speed and flung himself at the temporary structure thus calling security into action.

I have no idea what the sumo suit was supposed to signify and after a stern telling off the man retreated to the pub across the road, presumably the launch pad of his surprise attack moments earlier. This event seemed innocent enough and was likely fuelled by five pints of cider over lunch rather than an obsessive hatred of modern art, the council or wider “system”.

Other Cheltenham residents have been more intent on doing harm to the Banksy. Having learnt of its imminent removal numerous locals were caught ripping the boarding away from the scaffolding earlier in the week, presumably acting upon the childish notion that if we can’t have the Banksy then no one can.

Breaking the Banksy

I spent some time chatting with local residents, the security guards and passersby trying to piece together the story so far. I wanted to talk to the sumo wrestler too but he proved to be illusive. The common threads of information are as follows: The owner of the house has been paid an undisclosed amount by a company for the artwork – so essentially it has been sold. This company then began the process of removal but only got as far as erecting scaffolding before Cheltenham council got involved. Turns out there are restrictions in place forbidding any external alterations to the property without prior planning permission and a hefty fine and potential jail sentence is the punishment for rule breakers. There is another theory involving a local business woman who is raising money to purchase the Banksy from the new owner before it goes to auction. Her intention is to keep Spy Booth in its current location and she has become something of a local hero. Both tales offer a good explanation as to why the Banksy remains in situ for now, albeit boarded up.

Street Art Is Free Art

One thing is for sure, Banksy has got the local people of Cheltenham talking about art. People have been out in the street demonstrating and local creative juices have been flowing, evident in the site specific artworks that have popped up on and around the scaffolding boards. I particularly like the tiny little picket line complete with miniature people, fenced off with matchsticks. It would be a stroke of genius if someone was to respond to this new tiny piece of public art by erecting some equally tiny scaffolding around it and placing a minute security van out infront. Maybe a project for this evening?

The overwhelming majority of people that I talked to today want the Banksy to stay where it is, especially now that someone is trying to take it away. Funny that. A few weeks ago, when the mural was not under threat and before Banksy had confirmed its pedigree, I can’t help but feel that the public’s opinion on whether Spy Booth has a rightful place on the streets of Cheltenham would have been somewhat more divided.

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{How Much For A Banksy}

Here are a few of Banksy’s most iconic pieces with their approximate value at auction.

No Ball Games
Estimated sale price: £500,000
Painted: 2009

Girl With Balloon
Estimated Sale price: £450,000
Painted: 2004

Estimated Sale price: £350,000
Painted: 2006


Sale Of The Century

I feel sad that a great piece of street art, created without remuneration is to be removed and sold. It doesn’t feel right, but I understand and I do not bear the seller any ill feelings. I will admit now that if I was the owner of a wall that one day got painted on by a chap whose work fetches up to half a million pounds at auction I wouldn’t be leaving it for the visual pleasure of the street for too long either. There wasn’t a single person at the end of my road who didn’t express a similar view, seems all would sell their Banksy given half a chance. All perhaps with the exception of the lady with the “Street Art Belongs To The Street” sign, but I didn’t ask her because she looked more intimidating than a sumo wrestler with Strongbow on his breath.