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?