Henry Moore’s Old Flo unveiled at Canary Wharf after dodging Hurricane Brian
- Credit: Archant
Henry Moore’s treasured ‘Old Flo’ sculpture was unveiled today back in east London after 20 years languishing in a field in Yorkshire and surviving attempts to sell it off, a High Court battle for ownership and dodging a hurricane.
Roads around Canary Wharf were closed off during the night as a giant crane arrived carrying the one-and-a-half tonne ‘Draped Seated Woman’ sculpture and carefully lowered it down in Cabot Square.
The crane operation was a bit ‘touch and go’ after Monday’s delay in the wake of Hurricane Brian at the weekend causing blustery winds.
But the weather held and the bronze sculpture was finally lowered onto its new plinth and formally unveiled at 11am.
Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs was there to greet Old Flo after a four year legal wrangle with Bromley Council over its ownership, despite Moore himself having gifted it to “the working people of Stepney” back in the 1960s.
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“Old Flo is finally back home,” the mayor beamed. “This is an important part of the East End’s cultural heritage.”
But not without a bit of a bruising on the long journey to get Old Flo back.
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It was shunted away from Stepney when the Stifford housing estate was pulled down in 1997 where it had been ‘seated’ outside Wickham and Ewhurt tower blocks for 35 years and climbed on by generations of children, then transported to a field in Yorkshire for safe-keeping.
But it was former Tower Hamlets Tory councillor Tim Archer who discovered its whereabouts on a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park back in 2009 and began a campaign to get it returned.
His Tory colleagues were claiming the victory today with a similar pose with Old Flo by group leader Peter Golds to match the Labour mayor.
Cllr Golds also beamed with delight when he told the East London Advertiser today: “We are claiming the victory as Old Flo finally returns to the East End, after a campaign we started in 2009 to bring her home, back on public display.
“It survived an attempt by the disgraced former Mayor (Lutfur Rahman) to sell to the highest bidder, gone through legal proceedings to determine ownership and has endured the mud and sheep of Yorkshire for the past 20 years.
“Henry Moore’s drawings of people taking shelter during the Blitz inspired her creation and it’s right that the sculpture has a permanent home in the East End, which is what he wanted.”
Ex-mayor Lutfur Rahman decided in 2012 to sell off Moore’s sculpture for hard cash, which led to uproar in the art and heritage world. The issue was raised in Parliament, forcing the embattled mayor to withdraw the “fire sale”.
Then Bromley Council in south London claimed ownership because it had been given “custody of assets” when the former Greater London Council was abolished in 1986.
But Tower Hamlets, having taken over the Stifford estate from the GLC, put the gloves on and got into the ring, demanding Old Flo’s return.
After all, it was given to the GLC’s forerunner London County Council by Moore himself at cost price in 1960 as a gift for people of Stepney and erected on the estate which the Queen opened in 1962.
The Appeal Court finally ruled last year that it belonged in the East End.
Canary Wharf Group is hosting Old Flo for five years at Cabot Square with round-the-clock security.
But a final ‘new home’ is likely to be in Whitechapel by 2022 at the new civic centre now being fitted out in the old London Hospital complex, when the Draped Seated Woman gets a permanent council home.