Richmond upon Thames 1WW Belgian Refugee Memorial

A Community project London, Richmond upon Thames, United Kingdom

Richmond upon Thames 1WW Belgian Refugee Memorial

Build a memorial beside the river to the 6000 1WW Belgian Refugees who made our towns "The Belgian Village on the Thames".

Managed by the East Twickenham Centennial Group for East Twickenham Village, in assocation with the Friends of Cambridge and Warren Gardens.

Are you proud of Richmond-upon-Thames                             and its history?

Do you have a Belgian refugee relative                                 you want to remember?

Would you like to honour the courage and enterprise       of 1WW Belgian refugees                                                               who lived in Richmond and across London?


Our objective

Build a memorial beside the river to the 6000 1WW Belgian Refugees who made our towns "The Belgian Village on the Thames".

"About the Project" just below will tell you the incredible story of the Richmond and Twickenham First World War Belgians. Go to the end of this page to see what the memorial will look like.


Thank You

Thank you to everyone who has supported this project. We've collected over £2000 online: not our target figure, but honestly we didn't expect to. We've also collected over £1000 off-line, and have our £5000 from the Richmond Civic Pride Fund. We need only £2000 more before we can commission the memorial.

Contributions are still welcome after 14 November:  you can send a cheque to East Twickenham Centennial Group, c/o SWLEN (Room 16), ETNA, 13 Rosslyn Road, East Twickenham, TW1 2HZ.  

You can also donate by bank transfer to East Twickenham Centennial Group,  Sort Code 20-72-17, Account Number 40876054. Please give name as reference, with tel. no. for acknowledgement.

About the project

Help us remember our long-lost Belgian friends! and Anglo-Belgian friendship!  Richmond upon Thames' forgotten story from the First World War.

Richmond upon Thames has a unique history.  Our area gave a home to 6000 1WW Belgian Refugees: so many that they changed the face of our town and made parts of them entirely Belgian.



The Belgians came here to work in a vast munitions factory beside the river near Richmond Bridge, built by dynamic engineer Charles Pelabon. Monsieur Pelabon escaped from Antwerp on the very day it fell to the invading German army, and dedicated himself to the war effort. Within only three weeks he was producing shells for the Belgian and Allied armies.

The Pelabon Works started in TEDDINGTON, then moved to a huge site beside the river in EAST TWICKENHAM . 

                  Photo courtesy of Howard Webb httl://                                

Richmond-Twickenham Belgian history is unique, even though refugees went everywhere in the country. But only Richmond-Twickenham developed a community so large, so compact and so vibrant.

When the war ended, the Belgians "melted like snow, leaving so little trace", and by 1945 they were completely forgotten. Their story has come to light by sheer chance.

          The Belgian achievement and the distinctiveness of Richmond-upon-Thames need to be remembered for ever.

Please help us make this a reality.


Two ways you can help

* Make a pledge to the Memorial Fund today. 

Rewards apply at various levels but all pledges small and large are welcomed with our thanks.

* Spread this message around your friends and neighbours.


More about the Belgian story

Two thousand Belgians worked in the Pelabon Muntions Factory, both men and (famously) women. Some of the women turned yellow from working with explosives and were called "canary girls".



The Belgians lived all over the Borough: many in East Twickenham; lots in St Margarets, where whole streets were often Belgian; also in Central Twickenham, Richmond, Kew, Hampton, Teddington ..........  You name it, they were there.  

Not all our Belgians worked in the factory though. Desirable Richmond also attracted the well-off, who supported themselves and socialised with their fellows across London.

Belgians had their own local shops of all kinds, and their own cafes and restaurants. 



They mostly lived their lives around the Pelabon Works: sports clubs, drama groups, orchestra and choir, and many more.

One of Pelabon's buildings later became world-famous as Richmond Ice Rink, which many of us still remember. Sadly the Ice Rink was demolished in 1992, 



but the pretty little riverside part outside it (Warren Gardens) which M. Pelabon left for public benefit remains still.

We think this marvellous story deserves a public memorial, and a memorial which our community can be proud of. 


Who are we?

We are the East Twickenham Centennial Group, created in 2014 to commemorate the First World War Belgian Refugees in Twickenham and Richmond. We now have over 100 members, with Helen Baker as Chair and Su Bonfanti as Secretary.


Since 2014 we have: -

  • followed up our story in Richmond and Belgium

  • traced and spoken with some Belgian Refugee descendants

  • given talks to local history societies and museums, and to the Richmond Literature Festival

 Museum of Richmond   

  • created a concept for the memorial, secured consents, and located a qualified craftsman (Kristoffel Boudens from Bruges)


The memorial:  Where it will be  What it will look like

The chosen memorial site is spectacular: beside the river at the very centre of Warren Gardens, open to the throng who walk the tow-path, the hundreds cruising by on pleasure-boats, and even the crowds on the other side of the river.


Planning consent has already been given. The memorial will stand at the very centre of the gardens, on the spot where once an army sentry guarded the Pelabon Works.


The exciting memorial concept created by Su Bonfanti is for a piece of public artwork in the form of a "standing stone", with a poetic inscription spiralling around it in a large decorative font. These are examples of what we mean:-


The monument will be carved out of "Belgian Blue" stone by our stone-cutter Kristoffel in Belgium.

Our inscription was chosen out of many excellent possibilities from a Poetry Workship at Orleans Primary School, where all the Twickenham Belgian children used to go:

                                         Memories flow through me                                                      like a boat flows down the river            

This was written by a 9-year old pupil in Year 5. It will be shown in the three languages used in the area at the time: English, French, and Dutch/Flemish.

There will also be an information board at the site, telling the story and showing some of the photos.

We plan for a public unveiling in 2017, probably by the Belgian Ambassador (who has agreed in principle) and in the presence of The Mayor, Local Councillors, our Members of Parliament, and local people (men, women and children) from Richmond and Twickenham. There will also be other eminent and interested people, descendants, and visitors from Belgium. The unveiling will be backed up with an exhibition telling the refugees' story, and by a reception for our invited guests.


Why are we crowdfunding?

We are crowdfunding for this project to reach a wider network of people who will be excited by our Belgian story and able to help us put our memorial in place. We have already raised £5850 towards our required total of £15000. We are now seeking the extra £9150 which will allow us to complete the project. With just £5000 more we can allow our stone-cutter to buy the stone and get started. 

In 1914 the British were united in their sympathy for "Poor Little Belgium" and in their efforts to help their destitute Begian friends. The Belgians were determined to take part with their allies in winning back their homeland. This is your chance to be a part of our new effort to commemorate the friendship between Richmond and Belgium, or perhaps to leave a permanent memorial to a member of your own family who was connected with the story.

Keep up to date with the Richmond upon Thames Belgian story and our memorial project on (using the additional tabs on the upper toolbar).

Managed by the East Twickenham Centnnial Group in association with the Friends of Cambridge and Warren Gardens. We are working in partnership with Richmond Council; Richmond Museum; Richmond Arts Education Service; the Borough of Twickenham Local History Society; south-West London Environmental Network; Orleans Primary School; the National Archives; AMSAB (Institute of Social History, Ghent, Belgium; and 125trading.






24 July 2015     This project is imaginative and interesting - I hope it is a success and                             raises plenty of money for this cause. It is amazing how much was                                   going on in Twickenham during World War I with resident Belgian                                   refugees, which few of us know about today.