Memorial Art to be Unveiled for Twickenham’s Belgian Village

Noticed the Belgian flags in East Twickenham recently? If you haven’t we can reassure you that yes, they are actually there. And they’re there for a good reason.  On Saturday 1st April a memorial artwork is going to be unveiled by the Belgian Ambassador to celebrate East Twickenham’s Belgian connection.  Many of you will know the backstory to this but just in case….


Belgian Flag, East Twickenham

During the First World War this part of London became home to around 6,000  Belgians who had fled their home country after the German invasion in 1914. A real community developed earning the area the moniker, “the Belgian village on the Thames”.  Many of these refugees worked in the munitions factory established by Charles Pelabon in what had previously been a roller skating rink.  Pelabon, a Frenchman who had previously operated factories in Belgium, supplied munitions to the Belgian army from January 1915 and throughout the war. At its peak his East Twickenham works employed 2,000 people.

During the war years French and Flemish could be heard on the streets of East Twickenham, Belgians established shops and businesses to serve their community, while the children attended a special ‘Belgian department’ at Orleans School in St Margarets.


Belgian munitions workers at the Pelabon factory

After the war the community dispersed with most returning to Belgium. The Pelabon factory continued for a few more years as a general engineering  company before Monsieur Pelabon eventually sold up and returned to France. Some of the buildings remained in industrial use and part of the  site became the famous Richmond Ice Rink but that, of course, is another story.

A great deal of work has been done to uncover and publicise this hidden history especially by Helen Baker and others.  On Saturday April 1st, to celebrate East Twickenham’s Belgian connection, a public work of art will be unveiled by the Belgian Ambassador H.E Guy Trouveroy as a memorial to this unique community of Belgian refugees . It’s being organised by the East Twickenham Centennial Group. As Helen says, “We see this as not so much a celebration of war as of two communities cooperating towards a common goal and of friendship for refugees.”


Pelabon works, East Twickenham

The unveiling will take place on Saturday 1st April from 12.00-2.30pm at Warren Gardens, Clevedon Road, TW1 2HZ.  And of course the project team are always keen to hear from anyone with information about the time, one hundred years ago, when East Twickenham became little Belgium.




Filed under Local Issues & News, Random Stuff

15 responses to “Memorial Art to be Unveiled for Twickenham’s Belgian Village

  1. Sandra Geluykens

    I go to work in Richmond daily but since the park is open again I usually take that route. Today I went via Twickenham and felt really at home seeing all these Belgian flags out. Came home, looked up why they are there. Lovely bit of history. What’s not to like about Twickenham, I will take the Twickenham route for the next few days 😊

  2. whiteknight

    Mrs Robot’s suggestion of “more of this kind of event” certainly needs following up. Any ideas she has might well interest one of the voluntary organisations in the Borough that put on such events. Also her plans for fund-raising and how much time she (and perhaps Mr R?) are prepared to give to the endeavour..

  3. This was a very jolly event. A large crowd assembled to greet the ambassador and M. Guy Pelabon, great nephew of Charles Pelabon, who spoke and then unveiled the impressive memorial stone. There were songs from local school children and an address on the importance of peace and reconciliation from a pupil at the German School.

    Well done the Centennial Group!

    • A. Robot (Mrs)

      Excellent! We need more of this kind of event to counteract the national embarrassment of cretinous politicians and boneheaded tabloids talking about wars with Spain over Gibraltar.

    • twickerman

      Quite a jolly event, partly due to the ‘Bloody Belgian’ beers being consumed!
      My Belgian biking buddy, who happened to be over here for the weekend, appreciated the Belgian flags in Richmond and East Twickenham, and the generous Friend of Cambridge Gardens who offered us slightly sweaty cyclists a couple of beers in the sunshine. Three cheers…..

  4. A. Robot (Mrs)

    It’s the opacity on opacity (and the grammar) ‘who is the problem’ , old girl …………

  5. Sally

    Thank you for telling us about this so we can support the ceremony. If only the St Margarets’ Flemish shops had remained , oh the delicious cakes to be had.

    Good to read of this,today especially.

  6. geoffn

    Great article. A couple of years ago Antwerp’s fancy new MAS museum had an exhibition on Belgium in the First World War. Prominent in the display was a huge photo of the East Twickenham shops, resplendent in all their French and Flemish names. Some of these photos can be seen on the St Margaret’s community website

  7. Chloe Emmerson

    This is a lovely story today of all days – thank you very much for sharing.

  8. It is definitely a worthwhile project in which I have had the opportunity to participate with regards to the two A0 plaques commemorating the Belgian Village and the Ice Rink (which was developed in one of the factories).
    The Richmond Environmental Information Centre supplied the information and graphics for the ice rink board from the HLF project (previously the domain of Richard Meacock). Both boards were put together and the artwork produced by Twickenham Alive; it is an honour to know that the information boards will be there for many years to come (Berkley and I are both former residents of East Twickenham).

    Well done Helen and all the other participants.

  9. Boss

    Belgian flags? European migrants? I thought Article 50 had done away with all that sort of thing.

    • illiad1

      dear boy, you are listening to the extremist press, not Ms May, who will be ensuring the rights of migrants both home and away(yes, that is English people in EU!) … England lets in many LEGAL migrants every day, it is the others that is the problem!

    • A. Robot (Mrs)

      Given that the Dacre-mouthpiece May is the ‘Boss’ of her party, it seems odd that you should assume that ‘Boss’ is a dear ‘boy’ (though even odder that you assume that May is interested in anything much beyond her own ambition and holding her party together by placating its Neanderthal wing, at the expense of the country).

    • illiad1

      And it looks like the robot has got rather confused… It cannot even see context..