Desperate bid to save ‘incredible’ secret world hidden inside rented flat

When her older brother died in 2019, his older sister Pat Williams wasn’t sure what to expect when she entered his rented flat to collect his belongings. An eccentric but much-loved character, Ron Gittins hadn’t invited any of his family members inside his home for years – and they weren’t sure what would meet them.

A well-known character in Birkenhead, he was well-known in his local area, often spotted strolling around in his homemade military costumes. But he was also a total mystery to those who loved him – with his weird and wonderful private world only uncovered after his death.

Fuelled by his love for ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, he had transformed his rented home into his very own highly ornate classical “villa.”

Virtually every surface features murals of historical scenes, along with three stunning concrete fireplace sculptures of a roaring lion, a bull and what appears to be a temple.

Now his family and celebrities including Jarvis Cocker are fighting to preserve the home.

“We can all relate to people who do their houses up, everybody decorates their house in some way,” Cocker told the Guardian. “Ron has just gone that extra mile.”

He added the lion’s head fireplace, moulded by Gittins in concrete, was “unbelievable”.

“I have always been interested in the art of people who haven’t gone through the normal channels, they haven’t gone to art college and stuff like that,” he siad. “They have an idea and they follow it through. We all have creativity within us.”

From the outside, it’s impossible to gauge what to expect inside the Victorian terrace, previously reported the Liverpool Echo.

But inside is a treasure trove that needs to be preserved – with incredible features including a 3m-tall fireplace in the shape of a lion’s head, and another of a minotaur.

Speaking about the incredible home, Pat previously said “When we first went inside after he died I had the shock of my life because it was absolutely full of all sorts of stuff. How he coped in there I just don’t know.

“I don’t appreciate all his art but what he’s done is incredible. The fireplaces are extraordinary.”

As a youngster, Ron showed promise as an artist and studied at the Laird School of Art in Birkenhead.

Pat, 82, says: “As a child he was hyperactive and very creative.

“When he was a boy he used to make little soldiers out of plasticine that were from all types of regiments and countries. The details in the uniforms were incredible.

“He used to get into trouble in school for attention seeking and being what was thought to be mischevious and a little bit naughty but I think he was just bored a lot of the time.

“Today he would be diagnosed on the autism spectrum, I’m sure of it, and be treated with much more acceptance.”

Ron died a month before his 80th birthday, and became more eccentric in his later years, with Pat recalling him turning up to Pat’s 80th birthday in a thick coat, wellies, a wig and a hat “in case his head got cold”.

A popular sight in his local village, he was often spotted wearing homemade military costumes and pushing an old-fashioned pram which he would fill with bags of cement used to build his gigantic fireplaces.

Other times he took his life-sized papermache model of Egyptian queen Cleopatra out for a stroll.

After his death, a local family told Pat they used to shout “Ron alert” if they spotted him through the window before rushing to see what costume he was wearing.

Instead of flowers on his coffin, his sister placed two of his hats and a wig in a tribute to her much-loved sibling.

The pair stayed in touch until his death – though her brother’s eccentric views sometimes strained their relationship.

Pat said: “He resented the fact that I was the eldest and a woman. He had this view that men are really the ones that should be in charge. But he was a very big supporter of Margaret Thatcher.”

She added: “I was sad that he died on his own but he didn’t want everybody to know he wasn’t well and he didn’t want to go to hospital.

“He lived life on his own terms.”

Now the flat is being looked after by his niece Jan Williams, Pat’s daughter, who is also an artist.

Art consultant Angela Samata previously said Ron’s work is a fascinating example of ‘Outsider Art’ – a term used to describe work created outside the mainstream art world.

She says: “It’s so important to keep this because it’s not very often that we uncover these Outside Art environments that are created by an individual like Ron for their own pleasure.

“He’s almost created this fantasy world. It’s wonderful to hear that so few people have stepped across the threshold.”

Keen to preserve her uncle’s home for artists and other people to enjoy in the future, Jan has managed to secure a lease with the building’s owners, social landlord Salisbury Management Services.

Through their’ artist collaboration The Caravan Gallery, she and Chris have launched a campaign to protect his legacy as an extraordinary example of Outsider Art.

They would also like to restore its former entrance, which Ron had flanked with Egyptian statues that he had eventually had to remove for safety reasons.

Pat says: “I’m sad that he didn’t receive more acclaim publicly when he was alive but maybe he wanted to be discovered afterwards.

“I do think it’s lovely he will be remembered for many years to come.

“We had difficult times but you couldn’t help but love him.”