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Henry Moore’s ‘Old Flo’ snagged by fear of Hurricane Brian hitting Canary Wharf

PUBLISHED: 07:05 23 October 2017 | UPDATED: 16:33 25 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 hit a snag this-morning on its long-awaited return to east London after 20 years because of Hurricane Brian at the weekend.

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

It’s all down to gale force winds that hit Britain with a threat of more to come.

That would make the crane operation a bit dodgy trying to lower Moore’s one-and-a-half tonne bronze ‘Draped Seated Woman’ in Canary Wharf’s Cabot Square.

So the attempt to unveil Old Flo has been put back till 11am on Wednesday.

Former Tower Hamlets councillor Tim Archer who began campaign in 2009 to get 'Old Flo' back to the East End after discovering it had been languishing in Yorkshire since 1997. Picture: Tim Archer Former Tower Hamlets councillor Tim Archer who began campaign in 2009 to get 'Old Flo' back to the East End after discovering it had been languishing in Yorkshire since 1997. Picture: Tim Archer

It’s just the latest in a long timeline that Old Flo has had to put up with, first being shunted away from Stepney when the old Stifford housing estate was pulled down in 1997.

Old Flo had been ‘seated’ outside Wickham and Ewhurt tower blocks for 35 years, climbed on by generations of children, before being moved out to a field in Yorkshire for safe-keeping.

Former Tower Hamlets councillor Tim Archer discovered Old Flo’s whereabouts when he visited Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2009 and began a campaign to get it returned to the East End.

"Old Flo is finally back home as an important part of the East End’s cultural heritage—that’s why we cancelled the previous mayor’s sell off and are returning Old Flo to its rightful place"

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs

But then former mayor Lutfur Rahman decided in 2012 to sell it on the open market for hard cash, which led to uproar in the art and heritage world and a bitter campaign to keep it in the public domain.

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

If that wasn’t enough, another battlefront opened in the High Court to decide who owned Old Flo.

Old Flo’s early life

1957: Henry Moore creates ‘Draped Seated Woman’ in bronze

1960: London County Council pays £6,000 for sculpture as public artwork for the people of the East End

1962: Sculpture erected at Stepney’s new Stifford estate

1965: Ownership passes to GLC when LCC is scrapped

1986: April 1, Tower Hamlets Council takes over the estate when the GLC is abolished. August 31, Henry Moore dies, age 88

1997: Stifford Estate demolished. ‘Old Flo’ sent off to Yorkshire for safe keeping

It was claimed by Bromley Council in south London which was given custody of assets when the former Greater London Council was abolished in 1986.

But Tower Hamlets would have none of it, having taken over the Stifford estate from the GLC and therefore deeming the sculpture belonged in the East End.

After all, it was gifted to the GLC’s forerunner London County Council by Moore himself in 1960 as “a gift to the working people of Stepney” and placed on the estate when the Queen opened it in 1962.

Battle for Old Flo

2011: Cllr Tim Archer discovers Old Flo on visit to Yorkshire and starts campaign for its return

2012: October, Mayor Lutfur Rahman causes public uproar attempting to sell Old Flo

2013: High Court ownership battle opens. It is claimed by Bromley Council which took over GLC assets, but Tower Hamlets says it inherited sculpture as “a gift to the people of Stepney” when it took over GLC’s Stifford Estate.

2015 :Tower Hamlets wins final Appeal Court battle for ownership.

2017: Old Flo’s homecoming to Canary Wharf after 20 years ‘exile’ in Yorkshire delayed for two days by blustery winds affecting crane operation in wake of Hurricane Brian, but finally makes it

Old Flo went to and fro in legal wrangles until the Appeal Court finally ruled last year that it belonged to the people of the East End.

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs said this week: “Old Flo is finally back home as an important part of the East End’s cultural heritage—that’s why we took the decision to cancel the previous mayor’s sell off and to return Old Flo to its rightful place.”

A search then began for a spot to go on public display and tenders were put out by the council.

Canary Wharf Group won a five-year deal to house Old Flo at Cabot Square with round-the-clock security, amid fears that it could be stolen for its bronze value.

The inspiration for ‘Draped Seated Woman’ created in 1957 came during the Second World War with Henry Moore as an official war artist observing people huddled in air raid shelters.

But that’s not the last chapter in Old Flo’s troubled story...

A final ‘new home’ is likely to be in Whitechapel at the new civic centre now being fitted out in the old London Hospital complex when Draped Seated Lady gets permanent council housing—unless someone else attempts to put in a claim!

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