Memorial styles have fluctuated over the last three centuries, but overt archaisms are ubiquitous features. For instance, prehistoric, Classical and medieval allusions, as well as post-medieval memorial schemes, are frequently re-deployed in the war memorials of the 20th century. As such, 20th/early 21st-century memorials draw upon a complex entanglement of eclectic memorial forms.
Often these allusions are so commonplace we hardly notice them. Yet overt archaisms allow varied claims to the past to be asserted through the medium of stone. Few are as overt as a landscape monument I recently visited at Attingham Park, Shropshire.
Set within an iron fence on the top of the hill on the edge of the woodland in the deer park, this memorial was raised in the late 1940s to commemorate Thomas Henry – the last owner of Attingham Park. His wife Theresa receives a secondary memroial inscription. Situated on a two-step plinth, the monument is equilateral, with four panels bearing text. It is topped by an urn with symbolic flames emitting from the top. In total, this striking memorial is 1.7m tall.
Upon the railings is a heritage board set up by the National Trust explaining the memorial and showing a black-and-white photograph of the monument, presumably newly constructed, with wreaths lain on its front corners.
My particular interest in this monument is its overt archaism – it superficially resembles a monument of the 18th or early 19th centuries, and bears features more commonly found indoors upon church monuments of this time. Indeed, were its text to be illegible and a heritage sign absent, I wouldn’t have taken it for a mid-20th-century monument at all.
Of equal interest is that it is monument situated to commemorate the final resting place of the cremated dead twofold – husband and wife – separated by over 30 years.
The monument also cites the cremation process and thus the presence of the dead in connection to the monument. This is overt, both via the textual references to the ashes of the couple who died in 1947 and 1972 respectively, but also via its flaming urn.
Cremation thus facilitates burial and commemoration within a parkland context, and creates distinctive archaic and romantic allusions to place, landscape and aristocratic identity via materialising an idealised representation of an ancient cinerary vessel.
On its western, downslope-facing side, below the family crest, it says:
To the memory of
Whose ashes rest here
On the right-hand (north-facing side) we find his biography from birth to his gifting of the estate to the National Trust. As such, his memorial and his ashes are honoured for his life and his legacy:
Born 2 June 1877.
Educated at Radley &
Trinity College Oxford M.A.
Hon. Attache to the British Embassy
Paris 1903-1911 & 1915-1916. Secretary 1919
served with the Shropshire Yeomanry
1914-1918 and with the Home Guard
in the second World War.
Deputy Lieutenant &
Justice of the Peace for Shropshire.
Died 12 June 1947.
He bequeathed his home and estate
to the National Trust as a
gift to the Nation
added distinction to an honoured name.
A generous and careful landlord,
a patron and lover of the Arts,
he studied to leave his inheritance
a thing of beauty
that posterity might enjoy.
Gentle and courteous in bearing
head had a brave heart, a lively mind,
and a genial spirit that delighted in
companionship & hospitality.
His goodness & sincerity were the
evidence of his Christian faith.
He lived beloved & trusted & died
In memory of
Daughter of William and Constanza Hulton
Born at ASOLO, Italy 1890
Died at ATTINGHAM 1972
Whose ashes rest here