On 16 January 1969, a 20-year-old Czechoslovakian student, Jan Palach, staged a one-man protest on Prague’s Wenceslas Square by dousing himself in petrol then setting himself on fire. Three days later, on 19 January, he died of his injuries.
Palach’s protest was against Czechoslovakia’s authoritarian rule, re-imposed after the brief but significant period of liberalization, the Prague Spring, of the previous year.”
Velehrad London is a charity and cultural organisation catering for the expatriate community from the former Czechoslovakia. It is named after a village in Moravia, one of the most important pilgrimmage sites in the Czech republic. Founded by the Catholic Priest, human-rights’ campaigner and dissident Father Jan Lang in 1964 from a house in Notting Hill, its mission is to provide religious, cultural and social support and counselling to emigrees from the former Czechoslavkia.
In 2015, the charity sold its building in Notting Hill, and bought Woolborough House, a large Victorian villa from the 1870’s, on a one-acre plot within the Castelnau Conservation Area in Barnes.The house had been the family home of the Espinosa family since 1913, and has an important place in history as the headquarters of the British Ballet Organisation from 1930. Velehrad’s trustees commissioned IBLA to refurbish and extend the new premises for them, to include a function hall and performance space, classrooms, accommodation for visiting priests, prayer rooms and spaces for meetings and community events.
A memorial to Palach, commissioned by Lang and created by the renowned Czech Sculptor František Bělský, was originally installed in a window niche on the side of the Velehrad house in Notting Hill. This sculpture is now relocated within a new landscaped garden behind the house. It is framed by golden roses, like the one bestowed on the Basilica of Velehrad by Pope John Paul II in 1985, and surrounded by long grasses. The Velehrad community, and other politicians and dignitaries, congregate around the memorial every year for a ceremony, raising a Czech and a Slovak flag in commemoration of Palach’s death.