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Duke pops down to see how east London teenagers helped restore ‘old Father Thames’

PUBLISHED: 10:00 07 October 2020 | UPDATED: 18:35 07 October 2020

Old Father Thames... all spruced up after 270 years of London's grime is removed. Picture: London Heritage

Old Father Thames... all spruced up after 270 years of London's grime is removed. Picture: London Heritage

London Heritage

Teenagers helping to bring a decaying old Father Thames stone arch battered by a century of east London pollution back to life have got a big thank you from the neighbours and from the Duke of Gloucester.

All spaced out... Duke of Gloucester meets teenagers at restored Georgian arch. Picture: London HeritageAll spaced out... Duke of Gloucester meets teenagers at restored Georgian arch. Picture: London Heritage

Two 19-year-olds from Custom House and Beckton were part of a heritage trust summer programme visiting the Bromley-by-Bow community centre where the historic Georgian stone arch with its delecate scuplture was being restored.

The restoration was part of a three-year programme by the Heritage of London Trust which is also helping youngsters struggling to return to formal learning after interrupted schooling during the lockdown.

It is running a programme getting youngsters connected with the community, including those excluded from school who are in pupil referral units and not knowing how to get involved in the community.

Chipping away at 270 years of London grime. Picture: London HeritageChipping away at 270 years of London grime. Picture: London Heritage

“It’s about young people taking ‘ownership’ of their local heritage sites,” the trust’s director Dr Nicola Stacey said. “They are making the connection that this is history for them, not just belonging to someone else.”

The neighbours were delighted at the restoration of the dilapidated Northumberland Arch at the community centre with its mythical “old Father Thames” face peering down on them that once stood near The Strand looking out on the mighty river.

But pensioner Joan Todd, 89, who has lived in the East End neighbourhood for 47 years, observes: “There’s not a lot around here for youngsters. Many of them are just hanging around, especially with this coronavirus.”

Meet the neighbours... explaining what's being done to 'old Father Thames'. Picture: London HeritageMeet the neighbours... explaining what's being done to 'old Father Thames'. Picture: London Heritage

There was no hanging around on the streets for Devon Fields from Custom House, or for Arnaud-William Mbaki from Beckton.

Devon got involved with the “Proud Places” heritage programme through a Newham youth group and admitted: “I didn’t really have an eye for history or restoring stuff before I came here. I’d just walk past and not really pay attention, but now I’ve got a creative mind.”

It was the same for Arnaud-William who revealed his frustration before getting involved: “It’s about being interested in these things but not knowing how to get into it, or knowing where to look for opportunities.”

Craftsman from London Stone Conservation carefully removing centuries of corrosion. Picture: London HeritageCraftsman from London Stone Conservation carefully removing centuries of corrosion. Picture: London Heritage

The restored Father Thames arch used to stand at the entrance to the grand Northumberland House which was demolished almost 150 years ago to make way for construction of The Embankment and London’s District and Circle underground railways.

It was bought by an east London philanthropist and transported to Bromley-by-Bow. But the past century hasn’t been kind to its delicate stone Georgian carvings that have been eroded by weather and pollution—until the heritage trust came to its rescue.

The Duke of Gloucester, the trust’s royal patron, was impressed with the restoration work and how Devon and Arnaud-William are now involved with the community.

Job done... Duke of Gloucester with his volunteers at Bromley-by-Bow where Northumberland Arch was being restored. Picture: London HeritageJob done... Duke of Gloucester with his volunteers at Bromley-by-Bow where Northumberland Arch was being restored. Picture: London Heritage

He popped down to east London to meet them and declared: “It’s vital that our heritage finds its champions in future generations. This is important work.”

Meanwhile, sprucing up the Cumberland Arch was the first to be completed from the heritage trust’s three-year restoration programme, with 42 active projects currently on the go around London.


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