The Belgian Village on the Thames explored

Release Date: 15/03/2017

The moment in history of when 6,000 refugees formed the ‘Belgian Village on the Thames’ during the First World War will come to life thanks to funding from Richmond Council, The Heritage Lottery Fund and the Richmond Civic Trust Fund.

The project revives the forgotten story of the thousands of refugees who worked at and lived close by to the Belgian munitions factory in East Twickenham. ‘The Belgian Village on the Thames’ project starts on Saturday 1 April when the Belgian Ambassador unveils a new memorial outside the old factory with accompanying music and poetry from Richmond upon Thames schoolchildren. Public subscriptions for the memorial have been supported by Civic Pride funding from the Council to the tune of £5,000 and Civic Trust funding for £4,885.

The project includes an exciting three-month long exhibition which revives the memories through newspaper clippings, old photos and family keepsakes, all compiled by the East Twickenham Centennial Group. Unveiled with the memorial in Warren Gardens on 1st April, the exhibition will then be showcased at Twickenham Museum on The Embankment from April 6. Heritage Lottery Funding of £8,000, which has made this possible, has also allowed for two permanent information boards beside the new memorial and continuing research at The National Archives in Kew.

Researchers and volunteers will trawl individual Belgian record cards held at The National Archives to create an online database of individual refugees with their local addresses. The aim is to recreate a picture of what the functioning ‘Belgian Village’ was like. Trained by experts, volunteers will learn a range of new skills from archive research through to event management and museum work.

In this way the ‘Belgian Village on the Thames’ project will ensure the Belgian memories live on in future years.

Richmond Council’s Cabinet Member for Community, Planning and the Voluntary Sector, Cllr Susan Chappell, said:

“The Richmond and Twickenham Belgian community was unique. Like many other Belgian Communities, it was created by a munitions factory offering employment. But less than a handful of towns in the UK had so many Belgians and none of these were created by independent Belgian businesses. The Twickenham-Richmond set-up created a genuine community where Belgians from all walks of life lived together as they might in Belgium.

“The Civic Pride Fund offers grants to local community groups like these that give so much back to the residents of our Borough. ‘The Belgian Village on the Thames’ is yet another example of this and we are delighted to support this exciting project alongside our partners at the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Richmond Civic Trust Fund. I look forward to the opening of the exhibition and all the fantastic work that the National Archives will carry out on this project in the future.”

Helen Baker, East Twickenham Centennial Chair, said:

“We were so excited to discover the story of our First World War Belgian refugees. We’ve been thrilled to win the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, not to mention Richmond Council and Richmond Civic Trust. Together they will help us share this story with everyone across the Borough to make sure it is never forgotten.”

Stuart Hobley, Head of HLF London, added:

“The impact of the First World War was far reaching, touching and shaping every corner of the UK and beyond. With this funding we are enabling even more communities like those involved in the ‘Belgian Refugee Project’ to explore the continuing legacy of this conflict and help people to broaden their understanding of how it has shaped our modern world.”

For more information visit the Civic Pride Fund page or alternatively call 020 8487 5259 or email

HLF is providing grants of between £3,000 and £10,000 enabling communities and groups right across the UK to explore, conserve and share their First World War heritage and deepen their understanding of the impact of the conflict. To find out how to apply for funding visit HLF.

To find out how to apply for a Richmond Civic Trust Grant call 020 7582 5117 or email

Updated: 15 March 2017