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Young People Help Restore Historic Arch and Local Pride in East London


Credit: Heritage of London Trust

In a gangland part of London, youth are being recruited into the revitalization of historic stone buildings to keep them from getting into trouble.

Queen Mary’s Hospital for the East End was built to serve some of the most deprived London boroughs, and saw its fair share of history before being demolished in 1983.

What remains is a stately classic-modern stone arch, which was completely neglected until a Heritage of London Trust program brought 110 kids and adolescents to work alongside stonemasons in a complete restoration of the arch.

The kids aged 9 to 17 gathered together with stonemason’s trowels and chisels to help re-carve the inscription, pave over the cracks, and yank out the plants growing on top of the solitary archway.

Seeing all the kids loitering together with tools in their hands brought over some police, such is the reputation of the neighborhood, but one young man told The Guardian the arch could give he and his compatriots a sense of pride in their community.

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“It’s not the wealthiest of boroughs, so there’s a lot of stuff that goes on here,” said Ben Owen. “But being able to look at a place and be proud of it … brings that sense of community back and makes people feel proud to live here.”

Queen Mary’s Hospital for the East End was opened in 1861 by a local doctor, William Elliott, to serve West Ham and Stratford. Queen Mary visited the hospital regularly, becoming its patron.

Credit: Heritage of London Trust

“Nothing at all survives [of the building] but this arch, engraved with the lettering: ‘Queen Mary’s hospital for the East End,’” said Nicola Stacey, director of the Heritage of London Trust.

“The lettering was totally eroded and illegible; buddleia was growing out of the top; no one knew what it was until we started the restoration. It was in a terrible state. We’ve recarved the lettering. We’ve studied all the original archives and old newspapers. It now looks fantastic. It’s a spectacular piece.”

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“The arch was designed in a modern classic art deco style with geometric scrolls, using newly fashionable cast-stone blocks. Its elegance perfectly conveyed the hospital’s order and authority.”

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