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Henry Moore’s ‘Old Flo’ returning to east London after 20-year Yorkshire ‘exile’

PUBLISHED: 09:31 27 September 2017 | UPDATED: 08:41 26 October 2017

Henry Moore (inset) and his 'Draped Seated Woman',’ or 'Old Flo'. Pictures: Henry Moore Foundation and Tim Archer

Henry Moore (inset) and his 'Draped Seated Woman',’ or 'Old Flo'. Pictures: Henry Moore Foundation and Tim Archer

Henry Moore Foundation/Tim Archer

Henry Moore’s treasured ‘Old Flo’ sculpture has finally begun its journey back to east London after 20 years in ‘exile’ in Yorkshire and a four-year legal battle over who owns it.

Old Flo's original home in 1962 outside Wickham and Ewhurst tower blocks at Stepney's now-demolished Stifford Estate. Picture: ELA archiveOld Flo's original home in 1962 outside Wickham and Ewhurst tower blocks at Stepney's now-demolished Stifford Estate. Picture: ELA archive

The one-and-a-half tonne bronze sculpture was lifted off its plinth by a crane at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park yesterday, where it had been in safe keeping since 1997 after demolition of Stepney’s Stifford housing estate where it had been for 35 years.

It goes on public display at its new permanent home at Canary Wharf’s Cabot Square next month, after renovation work.

Moore sculpted his ‘Draped Seated Woman’ in 1957 and sold it to the London County Council at cost price as “a gift for the working people of Stepney” to be erected at the new estate in 1962.

The journey back started in 2009 when Tower Hamlets former councillor Tim Archer discovered its whereabouts on a visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park and began a campaign for its return.

Old Flo's temporary stay in Yorkshire Sculpture Park where it languished since 1997. Picture: Henry Moore FoundationOld Flo's temporary stay in Yorkshire Sculpture Park where it languished since 1997. Picture: Henry Moore Foundation

But controversy erupted when ex-Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman put it on the open market in 2012 for £20 million hard cash, which led to protests from the art and heritage world with leading figures like film producer Danny Boyle and Henry Moore’s own daughter Mary Moore.

The issue was even raised in Parliament, forcing Tower Hamlets to withdraw the “fire sale”.

Its ownership was challenged by Bromley Council as “the rightful keeper” of assets held by the London Residuary Body after the Greater London Council, which had taken over from the LCC, was abolished in 1986—despite records showing ‘Old Flo’ was a gift to east London by Moore in 1962.

The Appeal Court finally ruled last year that ‘Old Flo’ belongs to Tower Hamlets Council and the people of east London.

The new mayor, John Biggs, pledged to get it returned and put on permanent public show.

“Old Flo is finally on its way back home to the people of the East End,” he said.

“The previous Mayor tried to sell Old Flo, a decision which I reversed.

“This is an important part of our cultural heritage, so we have a duty to look after it somewhere safe.”

‘Old Flo’ was outside Wickham and Ewhurt tower blocks in Jamaica Street until the Stifford estate was demolished in 1997 and was transported to Yorkshire. Now it is coming home after two decades languishing in a country field.

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