‘The Lesson’ Sculpture by Franta Belsky in Bethnal Green

A statue featuring a mother and child was unveiled on a housing estate in Bethnal Green in 1959. Called ‘The Lesson’ is a sculpture created by Franta Belsky. The child is taking it’s first waddling steps whilst the mother holds his arms, guiding the toddler along.

Installed at the corner Turin Street and Gosset Street. It stands adjacent to Eversley House on the Avebury Estate. It is now Grade II listed. This was part of a programme to bring art and culture into the East End. An old news clip from it’s installation captures some of the local thoughts at the time. It revealed a mixed range of views. “It’s only been up a few hours and their all climbing all over it” said one women referring to the local children’s interest. “I’ll give it a month and I don’t think it’ll be as it is now”.

Newsreel from 1959 revealing the new statue by Franta Belsky in Bethnal Green

Franta Belsky Sculptor

Franta Belsky (1921 – 2000) was the sculptor. From Brno in the former Czechoslovakia. The son of eminent economist Joseph Belsky. He fled to England in 1939 after the German invasion of his country. Returning to Prague after the war, he learnt that many of his relations had died in the holocaust. He returned to England in 1948 this time to escape the communist takeover.

Whilst in England war broke out and Belsky volunteered for the Czech army. He went to France and took part in the evacuation at Dunkirk. Five weeks after what remained of that army were inspected by Winston Churchill himself. Belsky vowed to make a statue of him as he saw him in that moment. It was something that he would indeed do years later in 1968. That statue was placed in Fulton, Missouri. It was where Churchill had made his famous ‘iron curtain’ speech in 1946.

‘The Lesson’ as it stands in 2020

Bethnal Green Sculpture

The Lesson sculpture in Bethnal Green was part of a scheme launched by the London County Council (LCC). The plan was to set aside an annual budget for the commissioning and acquiring of art. It was bought and placed in housing estates, schools and other public places. ‘Lesson’ had originally been exhibited in 1957 at the LCC open air exhibition at Holland Park. In total two cast concrete versions were acquired. The first was installed at the Avebury Housing Estate and the second at the former Rosa Bassett School in Wandworth.

The positioning of ‘Lesson’ in an East End housing estate would have suited Belsky well. Speaking of his desire to create public art, he said, “you have to humanise the environment. A housing estate does not only need newspaper kiosks and bus-stop shelters but something that gives it spirit.”

‘The Lesson’ by Franta Belsky stands on an estate in Bethnal Green

‘The Lesson’ is a sculpture by Franta Belsky. It can be found on the corner of Turin Street and Gossett Street in Bethnal Green. It is Grade II listed


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