A wonderful relief bust of the Belgian King - a tribute to his memory from 'the Belgian colony in Great Britain'. It's in a side chapel of a Catholic church - and by design or good fortune, the natural light from the roof fell on the bust as I was taking this photograph. And Belgium's colours are proudly, and touchingly, on display.
It's almost entirely forgotten now - but the influx of Belgians during the First World War, 250,000 of them, was perhaps the biggest torrent of refugees Britain has ever accommodated. Most went back - indeed were fairly forcefully told to go back - in the months after the war's end. And while here, many Belgians lived in separate colonies - where Belgian money was used, and in some cases directly under Belgian authority.
This bust of King Albert is in the Belgian church in Camden Town - a church whose links to Belgium persisted until just a few years ago. A Belgian missionary order, the Scheut fathers, moved to London a century ago - and after the war, the priests who remained in London wanted to establish a church which both served a local need and could be a focus for the Belgian Catholic community in London.
That's how Our Lady of Hal (named after a much venerated shrine in Belgium) came to be established in Camden - and it remains a well used, and much loved church, with a cosmopolitan congregation (though no longer any Belgians).
And in the chapel which houses a replica of the wooden Our Lady in Hal is this marvellous bust. There will be more about the church in Curious Camden Town, which I am co-authoring with Martin Plaut, to be published later this year.
Leave a Reply.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!