Story Behind the Southwark Park Caryatids
In Southwark Park, Rotherhithe you can find some lovely sculptures in a leafy corner. However, they didn’t start life as sculptures, but rather Caryatids; female figures used as columns.
They’ve been in Southwark Park since 2011, but they’re travelled a fair bit in their history.
Rotherhithe Town Hall
The striking Rotherhithe Town Hall was erected in 1897 and designed by Murray and Foster. One of the most prominent details were the white caryatids, seen either side of the main entrance on the right below.
Image from Wiki Commons
They were sculpted by Henry Poole (1873-1928) whose most notable other works include the sculptural detail on Westminster Central Hall and the exquisite Blackfriars pub.
But back to Rotherhithe Town Hall, it was only actually used as a town hall for a short period, becoming a library and museum from 1905 when Rotherhithe merged councils with Bermondsey.
Unfortunately, the building was then severely damaged in the Blitz and later demolished. However, the sculptures were rescued and there appeared in a new housing complex in Elephant and Castle; The Heygate Estate, in 1974.
Image from Wiki Commons
Maybe they were a bad omen, but the Heygate Estate was also scheduled for demolition in 2011. The redevelopment scheme sparking heated debate about social cleansing.
Which brings us back to Southwark Park, where hopefully their stay is a little more permanent!
Previously owned by the Lord of the Rotherhithe Manor, the park was used for market gardening and not open to the public.
Replica of the Southwark Park bandstand, built 2001-2. The original (dating from 1884) was removed in the 1940s.
Eventually, after pressure from the public and Metropolitan Board of Works, it opened on 19 June 1869. It’s one of the earliest public parks in London (the first was Victoria Park in Hackney, which opened in 1842).
There’s a helpful plaque explain the caryatids’ history nearby and when I saw them, I definitely felt like these ladies looked like they deserved a break!
More London Caryatids
On the subject of caryatids, London’s other – more famous – set can be found on the side of St Pancras New Church, sculpted by John Charles Felix Rossi and his son Henry between 1819-22.
You can see them clearly from the Euston Road.
Do you know of any others in London?
My great grandparents were park keepers in Southwark park when my mum was a little girl so about 1915. She said they lived in the park but I cant find anything about accommodation in the park from that time. The lodge that is there now is from the 1930s.
The original park lodged stood on the opposite side of the carriageway from where the current lodged now stands. Originally it was a single storey building , had a second floor added later. It was demolished in the 1930’s as the house was both damp and suffered from subsidence. I do have Edwardian postcards of the park showing this lodge in situ.
Hello Katie, As a founder of the Friends of Southwark Park back in 1995 (no connections with the group that now claim to be the Friends Group), I was the person that brought the Caryatides (with an “e” as they are female) back to Southwark Park, via A Southwark Council Cleaner, Greener and Safer application. I remember “the ladies” being in situ in Lower Road, between advertising hoardings (this was the early 1970’s). I a have a copy of some photographs showing their removal. They then disappeared, and I saw them mentioned in a book by Peter Marcan, and that they were living just off the Old Kent Road. When I learned the Heygate Estate was being demolished, I launched a local campaign to bring them back to Rotherhithe, where they belong. I also chose the site in Southwark Park where they now stand, as they would have dominated the other potential sites suggested. They are now dominated by the trees, and the ground behind them slightly rises and the frames the plants and trees to their rear. They are now home and look very happy, and I’m so pleased that visitors to the park enjoy seeing them. if you want to see more of Henry Poole R.A. (the sculptor) work, visit Deptford Old Town Hall, The Black Friar pub in Blackfriars and Westminster Central Hall. By the way the Bandstand in Southwark Park (built 201/02) was a replica of the original which (was second hand) stood in the park until the late 1940’s and was purchased in the 1880’s from the RHS Site in Kensington, where the Royal Albert Hall now Stands.
Hi Gary, thank you for your input and I will amend that about the bandstand, really helpful! I think the site is perfect, well done! They look happy indeed. Good point too about the Blackfriar pub! Regarding the term ‘caryatids’, All are female by default. A male Caryatid are termed ‘Atlantes’; a reference to Atlas who held up the sky.
So nice to read about these two historical statues.
I remember playing in the bobbed old Rotherhithe town hall as a eight year old in 1954.
I also remember having to relay the York paving stones adjacent to the old entrance in 1964 as an apprentice mask paviour for Bermondsey borough council.these stones were over six foot square.