On a patch of scrubby ground on Mandela Way, just off the Old Kent Road in SE1, there is a Soviet T-34 tank which seems to have rolled straight off the cobblestones of Red Square. There’s no explanation next to the vehicle: it’s just there, neglected and overgrown, surrounded by trees and brown-brick flats.
The tank, known locally as ‘Stompie’, was originally used as a prop in the 1995 film ‘Richard III’. It starred, alongside Ian McKellen, in the battle scenes filmed at Battersea Power Station. ‘I was shot at while standing next to it,’ recalls director Richard Loncraine. ‘An old man with a .22 rifle was at the top of one of the chimneys and took exception to us being there.’
The T-34 was later purchased by Russell Gray, a property developer and Southwark resident, who plonked it on the centre of his Mandela Way plot.
Unlike other tanks, Stompie is not your usual military green. Its pattern and colour change regularly at the whims of south London’s graffiti artists. In recent years this motionless vehicle has sported leopard print, yellow taxi regalia, and electric pink. To the surprised passer-by, Stompie is a mystery, a rebellious exhibit that seems to have escaped from the Imperial War Museum a mile down the road.
By Henry Eliot & Matt Lloyd-Rose, authors of ‘Curiocity: An Alternative A-Z of London’, Particular Books, £22.
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