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Clare Finney visits Southwark Cathedral to see the carving of the new corbels, designed by local school children and blessed at the service of commemoration on 3rd June

“It just makes so much sense,” exclaimed Darren Henaghan, gazing at the lump of stone which, at that particular moment, made little sense at all—or that is not to look at, being a stone with some bumps and chips in it, suspended on a table within the grounds of Southwark Cathedral. But the crowd of interested parties surrounding it belied its humble appearance—for within the short space of three weeks, this stone was transformed into one of the Cathedral’s specially commissioned ‘corbels’, the elaborately carved stone brackets found above the choir aisles.

It bears the fruit of Borough Market—both financially through the Market’s sponsorship and literally, with the Market’s fruit, vegetables, cheese and fish integrated into its design. It has replaced the most badly eroded of the corbels which, through centuries of weathering, had been rendered indistinguishable—and it commemorates the extraordinary community spirit which, a year ago in June, was tested to its utmost by the terrible attacks unleashed upon the London Bridge area.

“It’s not another bronze plaque. It’s a design that has been chosen by the children of our local school to celebrate what they feel best represents their local community: Borough Market,” Darren continued. This is no marketing stunt on the Market’s part: the children at Cathedral School had free rein to choose what they felt should constitute the design of the fourth corbel.

Darren and corbel carver

A homeless mog
The first is Evelyn Sharp, a local suffragette; the second, Doorkins Magnificat, a homeless mog who carefully worked her way into the cathedral—and the clergy’s hearts—some 12 years ago; and the third, the extraordinary PC Wayne Marques of the British Transport Police who was one of the first officers on the scene during last year’s attacks and fought all three attackers armed with only his baton, leaving him suffering from stab wounds and temporarily blinded.

“We asked our year sixes what they would like to see—what they felt meant the most to them in the area—and the majority of them voted for the fruit and vegetables of the Market, which helps keep them healthy and helps local homeless charities,” explained the Dean of Southwark, the Very Reverend Andrew Nunn. The class sketched out some of their suggestions, from which two were selected for use by the stone carver. “What is lovely is that the two children whose designs were chosen aren’t usually very confident, so this is a big boost for them,” the Dean continued.

Led by master carver Tim Crawley, the students of the historic carving department within City & Guilds of London Art School in Kennington transposed these designs into the cold, hard sandstone of a corbel.

A local project
“I wanted to use my hands more,” one student told me simply. “I was a graphic designer for 30 years, always in an office, and I wanted more creativity.” It took her all day to carve a very (very) rough outline of fruit and cheese into the sandstone surface, and 12 more full days to complete it. She loved working with the children and the cathedral. “We’re only down the road, so it very much feels like a local project, with everyone working together.”

At the commemorative service on 3rd June, her corbel, along with the three others, proved a powerful tribute to the power of community and creativity to triumph over violence and despair.