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Southwark Park Caryatids

Restoration of the caryatids

Rotherhithe Town Hall, on the corner of Neptune Street and Lower Road in Southwark, opened on April 28th 1897. The main building was designed by architects Murray & Foster, and two Portland stone caryatids sculpted by Henry Poole (1873 - 1928) flanked the main entrance.

A respected figurative sculptor, Henry Poole worked in bronze and stone and taught at the Royal Academy as Master of Sculpture from 1921 until his death in 1928. As well as sculpture on Westminster Central Hall, Deptford Town Hall, Cardiff City Hall, and bronze lions guarding the entrance of The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation's 1923 Shanghai office (now in the Shanghai History Museum), Poole designed the comical bronze friars of The Blackfriar pub in the City. Much of his work has since been lost or relocated as public buildings have been altered over the last 100 years. In 1905 Rotherhithe Town Hall was converted into a library. The building was severely damaged in WWII, hit by bombs on 6 occasions, and was later completely demolished. The caryatids however were rescued and moved to the newly built brutalist Heygate estate off the New Kent Road in 1974. When this was demolished in 2011, the caryatids were relocated to Southwark Park, supported by the Friends of Southwark Park.

The female figures have similar but non-identical classical costume - one has a garland of oak leaves and the other laurel. They have strong physiques and symmetrically parted hair tied in a bunch at the back, typical of the Arts & Crafts period. They are balancing a ship’s prow on their heads, each with a winged female half-figure at the front - representative of Rotherhithe’s shipping industry. The figure on the right has lost her arms in recent years.

Structurally the statues are in good condition, but the right-hand figure has lost both arms. There is moss, algae, and lichen growth due to the surrounding damp and nutrient-rich environment and also atmospheric pollution. The Portland stone surface has deteriorated with widespread dissolution of the carved surfaces, and pitting and spalling to some projections. There is a minor build up of black sulphate crust in the undercut areas of the drapery. Most of the pointing has failed and there are weeds and vegetation pushing through the joints. There is no evidence of previous repairs. The visual impact of the figures are significantly compromised by the loss of primary carved details, including to the faces as well as the loss of arms.

Restoration will include excavation around the base of the sculptures and replacement with stone pebbles or granite chippings to aid water run-off and soakage. The statues will be cleaned and then missing and damaged features to the face, head and arms will be modelled in wax before being repaired with new stone sections. Joints will be repointed. The greenery will be cut back to reveal and also protect the sculptures.

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