I’m increasingly interested in war memorials that draw their commemorative power through close spatial and visual association with historic and heritage monuments. As well as becoming listed monuments in their own right, such memorials connect to senses of locality and community through their prominent public location but also their association with landmarks that embody past and place.
One striking example is the war memorial gates at Cilgerran Castle managed by Cadw and the National Trust. The village of Cilgerran is dominated by this striking medieval fortification, overlooking the River Teifi south-east of Cardigan.
Cilgerran Council erected new gates for the castle, cleared out the towers and cleaned up the grounds in 1925. By 1930 the decision was made to create a war memorial plaque for the gates and by 1931 the castle was re-opened to the public. Three years later in 1934 the castle was registered as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and in 1938 it was purchased and immediately donated to the state by Mrs Colby. A memorial plaque to those of the parish who lost their lives in the Second World War was appended to the side wall next to the gates in 1957.
The result is that every visitor approaching Cilgerran Castle and before they buy their tickets/show their passes, must encounter striking gates with 4 plaques, marking out a biography for the place and its memorialisation.
- The furthest, on the left post of the foot entrance, commemorates the gifting of the castle to the nation by the widow Mrs Colby. The plaque was a condition of the gifting, remembering her late husband John Vaughan Colby;
- Then on the right of the foot entrance and left of the carriage entrance, there is a war memorial plaque with a biblical quotation and an alphabetical listing the names of those who died in the First World War. There is now a wreath positioned below;
- To the right of the main gate is a third plaque with a potted history of the medieval castle.
- Appended to the wall on the right is a smaller plaque listing those of the parish who died in the Second World War. The biblical quotation is identical to that on the First World War memorial plaque, a citation linking their shared commemorative purposes: ‘Come from the four winds on breath and breathe upon these slain so they may live’. Again, there is now a wreath positioned below.
Therefore, rather than the church or churchyard, the main street or any other location within the village, the castle was regarded as the primary location to draw attention for the community and for visitors, to those that gave their lives for King and Country. Simultaneously, the space memorialises the gift of the castle to the nation, making the plaque, gates and castle itself, an extended memorial simultaneously to the war dead and the husband of the castle’s donor.
Nowadays, one might add further layers of commemoration to the approach: the National Trust and Cadw insignia on the gift shop just within the gates…
Hilling, J.B. 1992. Cilgerran Castle. St Dogmaels Abbey. Pentre Ifan Burial Chamber. Carreg Coetan Arthur Burial Chamber. Cardiff: Cadw.