Royal Academy chooses Bethnal Green wartime disaster memorial

A scale model of the proposed Stairway to Heaven memorial to the 1943 Bethnal Green public air-raid shelter disaster has been selected to go on public show at the Royal Academy.

Architect Harry Paticas has learned that the model of his final scheme has been selected for the Academy’s coveted summer exhibition in Piccadilly.

Now the memorial trust is hoping the exposure will help their ongoing fundraising for the �500,000 needed for the 18ft-high hanging wooden stairway to mark the site of Britain’s worst civilian tragedy of the Second World War.

The scale model is made of teak recovered from a cargo of timber at the bottom of the Irish Sea, ironically from a ship sunk by a German U-boat in the First World War.

“The cargo was bound for Liverpool when the ship went down,” Harry explained. “It was retrieved from 300ft below the surface after researchers located where the vessel sank.”


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The teak will also be used for the final monument to be erected in Bethnal Green Gardens next to the Underground station entrance at the spot where 173 men, women, children and babies perished in a stampede to get into the shelter during an air raid alert.

Harry’s Arboreal Architecture practice in Old Ford Road, Bethnal Green, has been promised enough timber from the retrieved cargo to complete the whole memorial when the trust gets the rest of the funds—it needs a further �120,000 to complete the memorial. Only the base is in place so far, which will be unveiled with a plaque and a teak bench in time for the 70th anniversary next March.

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The Royal Academy summer exhibition opens Bank Holiday Tuesday (June 4) to August 12.

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