This post returns to the contemporary archaeology of memory: exploring memorials and memorial traces in the present-day landscape.
The Severn Valley Country Park comprises 51 hectares reclaimed since 1986 from the mining at Alveley Colliery and opened in 1992. Attracting c. 140,000 visitors per year, it is a beautiful hillside space about the River Severn’s eastern bank with a visitor centre, toilets and tea shop, together with walking trails and cycling paths. There is also a bridge over the Severn from which you can walk up to Highley over the line of the Severn Valley steam railway.
There is a clearly heritage dimension to this post-industrial space, with at least one board explaining the history of the area, as well as a history trail.
However, for this blog post I want to briefly outline its memorial dimensions, which I think fall into three clear categories. In doing so, this post provides another example of how different kinds of memorialisation intersect within country parks built in post-industrial settings:
- the commemoration of people;
- the commemoration of nature;
- the commemoration of mining.
The commemoration of individuals in the country park takes three principal forms:
First, there are vast numbers of memorial benches (including those benches within the memorial orchard, see below) punctuating the steep sloping paths of the country park. Indeed, as is usual in country parks across the UK, their presence cannot be explained by a neat match of utility with remembrance. Instead, benches are not simply where they are needed, but where the dead can acquire the best views out over the river and the valley and where the living can too ‘share’ this experience. Hence the enjoyment and relief of sitting, the views enjoyed by the living – the kinetic and sensorial – as much as the text, are the mechanisms by which memory is achieved to remembering the dead person doing likewise.
The plaques are also interesting for their variety of texts and sizes; some are traditional metal plaques added to the centre of the bench and giving either simple details of name and dates of birth and death, while others show an extended affinity to the area and its mining heritage. Others, however, simply deploy first-names. Many, however, are large and carving only the deceased individual’s (or couple’s) name in false relief, making them more prominent and deliberately vernacular.
One shows a connection to the practice of dog-walking, with a dog pictured and named (‘Candy’) next to the memorial inscription. Others make the connection of the dead to the enjoyment of the space, and the specific place: the deceased’s ‘favourite spot’
The second the memorial orchard beside the Severn. It is unclear whether the trees within this space are memorials, or just the entire space. Nor is it clear whether ashes are permitted for scattering here.
Finally, there is a specific memorial sign to local historical personages and their habitation.
In subsequent posts, I’ll outline how mining heritage and nature are also commemorated inthe coutnry park through art and memorials.