28 May 2009
Two statues that once formed the entrance of a historic Rotherhithe building could get lost amongst the regeneration of Elephant and Castle.
Rotherhithe Town Hall was destroyed in the Blitz, but the stone women who adorned the entrance survive. The statues were moved to a locked small garden amongst the towering flats of the Heygate estate. But the Heygate estate is due to be demolished as part of the Elephant and Castle regeneration and the statues will need a new home.
Local historian Stephen Humphries said: "They certainly need to be found a secure home."
The building was built in 1987 and the statues were made by sculpture Henry Poole. He had contributed sculptures to the famous Blackfriars pub, Deptford Town Hall and Cardiff City Hall.
Up until 1905 the building the statues fronted was used as Rotherhithe Town Hall. But the council moved to premises in Spa Road after Rotherhithe merged with the old Bermondsey Borough Council and from 1905 to the Second World War it became a library and a museum. The museum housed a number of interesting collections of
items, documents, and portraits.
An Observer article from 1938 states that the museum received "a mere £10 annually" from local authorities.
The paper describes the museum: as a "...rather dim, rather crowded, rather Edwardian hall of curiosities. The charm of this place is its unpretentiousness."
The paper gives details of the items on display which were dated from prehistoric times through to the 20th century.
Amongst the items was a 3,000 year-old piece of prehistoric embroidery, an Egyptian mummy-case, a letter from the Duke of Wellington which acknowledged the purchase of a Jamaican turtle, an early printing of The Book of Thomas Aquinas, published in 1483, and a stuffed pike weighing 15.5lb caught in Surrey Docks.
The Observer article describes the Town Hall's later museum as having something for "geologist and historian, ornithologist, local recorder, collector of oddities."
In his book local historian Stephen Humphries describes the building: "It was a great pity that the building was destroyed by bombing, for it was a handsome structure and was adorned with much well-executed sculpture. It was arguably the grandest building ever erected in the district.”
The bombing campaign from V1 and V2 artillery was devastating for the building. The first serious damage it suffered was in April 1941 when a volley of incendiary bombs removed most of the roof. In February and mid-June 1944 bombs dropping on nearby buildings created blast damage to the Town Hall. In late June 1944 the damage was devastating as a V1 bomb thundered into the building.
In November 1944 the building suffered damaged again from nearby bomb blasts. And finally, in one last bombing raid in March 1945, the building was destroyed by one of the last V1s fired at London.
Incredibly, nearly the whole stock of books was salvaged. And amongst the rubble were the still-intact two stone ladies. The statues could be returned to Rotherhithe as a permanent War Memorial.
Gary Magold, a member of the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Parks, in 2002 suggested that the statues could be placed on the green space on the site of the old Town Hall on Lower Road or in the Old Mortuary park in Rotherhithe village. He told the 'News': "It would be such a shame if with the demolition these statues just disappeared. They are part of Rotherhithe's rich history."
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