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When Banksy turned a neglected hell hole into an oasis of beautiful art

Mysterious street artist Banksy called on graffiti artists from across the world to to help him transform Leake Street under Waterloo Station - among them were Dolk, Vhils, Pure Evil, Blek le Rat, Eelus, Vexta, Pobel, Mr Brainwash, Kaagman, Ron English and 3D

Banksy's Cave Painting was at the heart of the 'Cans Festival' exhibition (Image: ©Michael Greenwood)

Underneath Waterloo station in South London there's a disused road tunnel called Leake Street where taxis used to queue for passengers on the Eurostar train.

Apart from London cab drivers no one had heard of - or cared about - this dark and damp tube of brick and tiles. All that changed on May Bank holiday weekend in 2008 when the graffiti artist Banksy showed up with an exhibition he called the Cans Festival (yes that's spray cans not Cannes in the South of France - get it?)

A week beforehand the mysterious artist sent a message out to a select group of about 40 like minded 'street artists' from around the world - they needed to be in London to help Banksy and no one was going to turn down an invite from the biggest name in graffitti.

Banksy's comment on gangs and knife attacks which were said to be at 'epidemic' levels in 2008 - sadly ten years on not much has changed (Image: ©Michael Greenwood)

2008 was a big year for London and the world. The iPhone had just been launched - most people were still calling on fat Nokias or even using landlines. While Facebook and Twitter existed user numbers were tiny and Instagram was still two years away. Come September 2008 global stock markets would crash and banks would need billions of our money to bail them out.

As Banksy sent his call to arms Mercy by Duffy was number one in the charts. London had been suffering a knife crime epidemic, the Chinese government had been suppressing democracy protests in Tibet and and Prime Minister Gordon Brown had just seen his Labour Party hammered in the local elections by a Tory party run by David Cameron . His fellow Tory Boris Johnson was hatching a plan to become London Mayor.

On 24 April Leake Street was boarded up with a sign warning people to keep out as it was 'closed for essential maintenance work'. No one would have suspected the mega-star spray painter was behind the hoardings with a group of fellow artists creating soon-to-be famous, albeit temporary, works of art.

The Official Cans Festival Poster are now worth a fortune - this one was taped to the site caravan (Image: ©Michael Greenwood)

As Uzzell-Edwards hints at this wasn't a bunch of kids showing up to make a mess of some walls - this was planned and with permission of the tunnel's owners, hotel rooms had been booked, security was in place and of course a few words were released to the press the day before it was opened to the public to tempt them in.

Banksy said: "Graffiti doesn't always spoil buildings, in fact it's the only way to improve a lot of them.

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