Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Peter Hills Charity School statues now restored

It was great to have the opportunity to have a look at the Peter Hills Charity School statues now that they are fully restored before they go back up on the building. 

70 St Marychurch Street, the former Peter Hills School in Rotherhithe village is one of the few 18th Century buildings left standing in Rotherhithe.  Now converted for use as offices, it was established in 1742 as a charity school, having moved here from another building in the immediate area.  The school itself was established in 1614 and was founded by benefactors Peter Hills and Robert Bell.  Peter Hills was a seafarer, Master Mariner and Brother of Trinity House.  When he died in 1614, he left a sum of money to enable the establishment and ongoing maintenance of a school.

The two statues, showing a boy and a girl representing students at the school, have long been favourites in the Rotherhithe community and are always a key destination on guided tours of the area.  In the last few years they have become very run down, with paint peeling, giving them a very sorry appearance so it was great news that arrangements were being made to have them restored.  Thanks to Deputy Mayor Kath Wittham for securing the grant to enable this to go ahead.  It was such a good idea, too, to make the statues available at London Bubble for visitors to see them at first hand before and after the restoration work.

The statues before restoration, on display at the London Bubble
Copyright WORG, with my sincere thanks.
I was not able to attend the day when the statues were available in their pre-restored state so HUGE thanks to the lovely Secretary of the What's On In Rotherhithe Group (WORG) for permitting me to use one of the photographs that she took on the day.  The "after" shots are mine from earlier today.

The restoration was carried out by Hall Conservation, who are based near the Thames Barrier and have worked on some very impressive projects (see their website at

As Astrid Hall from Hall Conservation explained, as part of the restoration work they carried out an analysis of the previous treatment of the statues and cleared all the top layers down to the original surface so that they could determine the original colour scheme and replicate it.  The microscopic analysis of the paint shows that there were 26 layers of paint in total.  Astrid showed me on a photograph of the boy statue before its restoration, and the build up of the layers had smoothed out the surface, completely disguising the features of the face.  Now that the statues have been restored, the features are wonderfully clear.  They also found that each of the statues was made out of a single piece of limestone.

The paintwork has been restored to its original colours.  They are very bright and full of life.  At first glance it seems almost too bright, but that's only because they are right there in front of you.  When they are up on their plinths on the facade of the charity school they will far less dramatic and of course they will weather slightly.  I think that they look splendid, and I look forward to seeing them when they are returned to their original position on Tuesday 22nd March.

At the moment that building is looking very down in the mouth with its windows boarded up thanks to vandalism and theft, but that too is being worked on.  As a grade 2 listed building, planning permission is more difficult to obtain but the plan is that Hall Conservation will make a sympathetic grille that will protect the windows and offer it the security that it needs.

The statues before they were removed from
70 Marychurch Street. Photo by Chris Lordan.

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