I have previously commented on the variety and character of present-day roadside memorials; an important component of our contemporary memorial landscapes.
Roadside memorials can be elaborate and multimedia or they can be modest and simple. From complex shrines down to a single bouquet of flowers, they punctuate our lanes and roads, our streets and our verges. Most memorialise a single event/death/person, but sometimes they can commemorate more ‘public’ events for which many people who didn’t know the deceased personally can share in: celebrities or disasters involving many victims and fatalities.
The most elaborate I’ve come across is the Manx ‘Fairy Bridge’ where many people both ‘pay their respects’ to the fairies and pray for those in peril, and honour those who have passed on.
Roadside memorials are ever-changing – accumulating and being removed – even sometimes shifting location and media as time moves on from the events they aim to commemorate. They also need to be understood in context: part of a spectrum of roadside deposition from fly tipping and casual littering to a variety of different kinds of memorialisation, as discussed here.
Indeed, some memorials are inherently ambiguous in their form and character. It is often unclear whether they represent the places of death or sites beside roadsides chosen to dispose of deceased’s ashes – or both!
Roadside memorials can also be in dangerous locations, hence the charity RoadPeace’s attempts to shift memorialisation to cenotaphs in public spaces that take forward the tradition of war memorialisation in Britain’s contemporary landscape.
Some of the most formal memorials are those of police officers who have died in the line of duty, as discussed for Leeds.
A Welsh Memorial
I recently discussed a tragic death of a young person in North Wales, and I have just encountered another. This simple roadside memorial on the side of a Welsh lane is associated with a similarly untimely teenage death. Road traffic accidents are the most common form of untimely death for younger people in the UK. This individual was presumably a pedestrian hit at night on a country road by a single vehicle. The deceased was a local young man who died only aged 17 in June 2012.
The memorial is set against a drystone wall with fields behind, and framed by plantings of daffodils and other flowers the memorial is clearly carefully tended. What struck me was its simplicity and well-maintained integrity; despite being inches from the ruts where cars overtake each other on a single lane road.
As such, it is able to populate and appropriate the space adjacent to the field boundary in a modestly sized and yet prominent fashion. Its character – a simple wooden cross with a black plaque upon it in the Welsh language is modest. In addition, the form it takes must be one of the temporary crosses one can buy to mark graves in cemeteries and churchyards until a permanent gravestone has been purchased and installed. In this sense, we are looking at a cenotaph, but also a distinctive arrested temporality at play in this memorial – permanent and yet impermanent, alluding to the grave and yet distinctly cenotaphic.