One man’s artistic wonderland, created secretly in rented apartment, given protected status

London CNNA rental property secretly transformed by the eccentric artist who lived there for three decades has been officially protected by the British government, five years after his death.

Shortly after Ron Gittins died in September 2019 at age 79, his family visited the apartment where he had lived since the mid-1980s in Birkenhead, just outside of Liverpool in northwest England.

What they found inside left them totally awestruck. Gittins had decorated almost every available surface in his home and painted numerous murals depicting historical scenes. Among the artworks were paintings set in Ancient Egypt and Georgian England, as well as fireplaces in the shape of a roaring lion’s head and a giant minotaur head, and there was even a Roman bread oven.

The discovery was particularly surprising as Gittins, who had limited formal artistic training, largely discouraged people from visiting his home, an apartment on the first floor of a Victorian duplex comprising three main rooms, a hallway, kitchen and bathroom.


After his death it became clear why, according to his niece, Jan Williams.

“The house was an absolute tip and you couldn’t even get through the door,” she told CNN in a telephone interview.

Williams said her uncle was “flamboyant” and “really outlandish” and was often seen around the town in costume, foraging for things that he would load into a shopping cart—such as bags of cement.

“This is one of the reasons the family didn’t see that much of him,” said Williams, adding that she last saw him in the year before his death.

“His behavior was quite challenging but we still loved him and thought the world of him.”


Every room of the apartment was piled high with bags, boxes, books, art materials, food packaging and much more, as well as many hand-written notes, some of them in code.

Soon afterward, Williams and her partner Chris Teasdale, who are themselves both artists and run a mobile exhibition space, started a campaign to save “Ron’s Place,” supported by friends, relatives, artists and others working within the world of culture and heritage.

Together they established the Wirral Arts and Culture Community Land Trust (WACCLT), which launched a crowdfunding campaign through the website Ron’s Place, applied for listed status and eventually bought the building last year.

Now, the property has been granted “Grade II” listing by Britain’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of national heritage body Historic England.

A spokesperson for Historic England explained the significance of the listing in an email to CNN, saying: “Including Ron’s Place on the National Heritage List for England allows us to highlight and celebrate what is significant about this extraordinary place, and helps us to make sure that any future changes to it do not result in the loss of its significance.”


“Ron would be absolutely over the moon,” Williams said of her late uncle.

“He was a kind of performance artist and the flat he created was like his stage set and own private world.

“He did have some mental health issues and went through spells of being really unstable. I think it was his artwork and creativity that kept him going.”

The property is currently undergoing work to “stabilize and preserve” the artwork for a “micro-museum,” while the trust is also hoping to convert the other apartments in the building to create a “holistic house of art and creativity,” according to Williams.

The space will then be available for other artists to work in, while further plans could also include developing the garden and cellar.

“It’s quite poignant because when I was sorting through his stuff after he died I found this postcard to me saying ‘I would really love to show you what I’ve been making’ but the address was wrong and I never received it. It’s almost like I’m making up for it now,” she said.

Ron’s Place is the first example of Outsider Art to be given protected status in England, according to Historic England.


An internationally recognized creative phenomenon, Outsider Art is described by Tate as “art that has a naïve quality, often produced by people who have not trained as artists or worked within the conventional structures of art production.” It is created without an audience in mind, usually by and for the artist themselves.

In a press release, Historic England said: “The listing recognises Ron’s creation as an exemplar of large-scale Outsider Art in England, a creative phenomenon by artists motivated by their personal visions and often working in a compulsive way, usually with no formal training and outside the influence of the mainstream art world.”

Among the many fans of Gittins’ works is Jarvis Cocker, front man of the indie band Pulp and a patron of the campaign to preserve the property.


Reacting to the news in a statement released by Historic England, Cocker, who is also a patron of Ron’s Place, said: “A small number of people on this planet have known for a while that Ron’s Place is a very Special Place—but from now on it is official: Ron’s Place has been given listed status!

“The work of one unique gentleman in the north of England has been recognised nationally. Globally even. Hallelujah!!”

Williams is proud of her uncle’s achievements and hopeful about the impact he will have on future generations.

“He encouraged me to see being creative and unconventional as completely normal and I’m grateful for that,” she said. “He never really held down a job and rarely had a reliable income for long but he did have a wealth of imagination and creativity. We want to share that with other people and say be creative and be resourceful and see the potential in others around and what you could make out of it.”