On a recent field trip I revisited, and visited for the first time, some west Cheshire war memorials with my ‘Contemporary Past’ second-year students. My blog from last year about the earlier field trip is here. Meanwhile, I’ve recently discussed the military dedication of the garden of remembrance in the churchyard extension at Great Barrow.
Here, I turn to the Waverton war memorial (IWM 9890). English Heritage attribute it Listed Grade II with details here.
National inventories, compiled by volunteers and/or varying in the date of creation and the detail provided, are valuable but sometimes also frustrating. Waverton’s war memorial is a case in point. Situated in the grounds of St Peter’s church, Waverton, this is an unpresuming war memorial: this was the very reason of our visit. In many regards it is a toned-down monument in a modest, orderly grid-layout churchyard.
The IWM describe it as a ‘simple Celtic cross on a square plinth with a three-stepped base’. The English Heritage entry adds mention of the tapering shaft and that it is composed of sandstone. The IWM describe the inscription as:
ERECTED BY THE PARISHIONERS OF/ WAVERTON AND HATTON IN/ GRATEFUL MEMORY OF THESE MEN/ WHO DIED FOR THEIR COUNTRY/ 1914 – 1919/ (NAMES)/
ALSO/ IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF/ THESE MEN/ WHO DIED FOR THEIR COUNTRY/ 1939 – 1945/ (NAMES)
They describe the inscription as legible and commemorating 13 names from the First World War and 2 from the Second World War.
The monument cost £110 by public sponsorship (details not recorded) and was unveiled by the Bishop of Chester 31 May 1920.
In justifying its designation, English Heritage state it to be: “an eloquent witness to the tragic impact of world events on the local community, and the sacrifice it made in the conflicts of the C20.” in regards its historical interest. In architectural terms, it is “a tall and imposing war memorial cross decorated with carved interlace patterns, in the Celtic style.” It possesses a ‘group value’ along with the church and sundial.
The nature of these online records afford a range of valuable information regarding these memorials, but from an ‘archaeodeath’ perspective – considering these as traces of memorialisation in the early 20th century and their subsequent life-histories, they leave a lot of key points difficult to discern or completely omitted. I’ve discussed this before regarding a range of different memorials, but here I want to group theme around form and ornament, text, materiality, biography and spatial setting.
Form and ornament
The formal description is fine, although the IWM entry does not describe the interlace ornamentation on the cross. The EH listed does describe it as low-relief ‘Celtic interlace’ on the cross-head only, although this common misuse of interlace as ‘Celtic’ deserves mention.
Both descriptions omit to mention that the ‘Celtic’ nature of the cross is that it is a ‘circle-headed’ cross and that, in addition to the interlace on the cross, the circle is ornamented with beading. Neither entry that the ends of the cross-arms are also ornamented with interlace.
These are basic observations lacking about the texts.
First, the entries do not state the obvious: the inscriptions are upon the plinth.
Second, the original 1920 memorial text is carved into the west-facing, public side of the monument facing the principal N-S path in the churchyard running south from the western front of the church and the main churchyard entrance. In this position, the monument and its text also look westwards to the churchyard boundary and beyond.
Third, the implications of the position of the Second World War text isn’t described, but it is actually on the opposing, east-facing, side of the plinth. This is pretty standard, but means that the Second World War names are additional, and more difficult to see: only discerned by standing on other adjoining grave-plots.
Fourth, while described as ‘legible’ by the IWM entry, without oblique lighting, the Second World War memorial inscription on the east face is actually rather difficult to discern against the patination of the stone.
As you can see from the photographs above and below, even the west-facing inscription is difficult to discern from a distance, making it one of the most illegible texts on any war memorial I’ve ever seen.
As usual, the re-dedication date and ceremony is not mentioned.
These entries are intent on describing the permanent dimensions of the memorial, but they fail to mention any detail of its material qualities. Describing it as ‘sandstone’ isn’t sufficient, since this doesn’t give a sense of its colour and precise texture and its notable patina of lichens. At a superficial glance, this certainly appeared different from the old red sandstone of war memorials in neighbouring parishes, and I’m left wondering why.
The monument’s biography – age and successions of uses – is not mentioned by either entry: the addition of Second World War names is simply taken as ‘given’.
The entries do not attend the fluctuating ephemeral material cultures of remembrance services. Since I visited just over 2 months after the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, it was interesting to see the arrangement of wreaths had been placed on the south-side of the monument, tucked up against the next gravestone, and not really visible anymore. Meanwhile, the individual crosses were facing the main path: westwards.
As mentioned above, the war memorial is prominently placed within the churchyard on the main path south from the church. However, what is notable is that this memorial doesn’t sit in a liminal position on the edge of the churchyard, but among the graves! Indeed, the burial plots come right up to the very edge of the monument.
This is a very different arrangement from, and thus contrasting relations with, other war memorials positioned on the edges of churchyards by lychgates, or indeed in separate areas adjoining the churchyard but separate from it. Moreover, there is no formally demarcated space around the memorial, unlike others that can possess substantial pavements and fenced areas for crowds to gather at remembrance services. This is therefore a notable distinction between Waverton and many other neighbouring monuments.
Finally, what isn’t mentioned is the grouping of the war memorial with other, private, war graves. At Waverton, it is notable that the grave immediately to the south commemorates someone killed in the Second World War as part of a family gravestone with overt martial symbolism – a wreath over a cross. Close proximity to the war memorial might well have been deliberate, and afforded a close relationship between the mourned individual and the broader context of their ‘sacrifice’.
War memorials are a valuable part of our historic environment of interest and value to local communities and researchers alike. National inventories are valuable but seductive: they afford a sense of a ‘completed’ recorded. A short visit as part of a student field trip can yield how misleading this is and how easy it can be for new insights and basic observations to be made that are not in the records. This fact says much about the lack of attention to detail and blinkered approach to data-recording that inventories exhibit. Multiple strands of evidence are missing regarding in the formal structuring of national inventories can miss so much. So, it is amazing what important and additional observations can be added to the official records of First World War memorials by a keen-eyed set of visitors talking about a monument together.
This unpresupposing memorial superficially appears to have little to say, or might be regarded as just ‘typical’. Yet, by being placed within, not at the edge of, the churchyard, this high cross dominates the churchyard space and is positioned so that graves come to press up close to it. Moreover, its medieval allusions are apparent in its interlaced and beaded circle-headed cross. Meanwhile, it bears a text that is only discernible in raking sunlight.
Because of these qualities, this simple monument constructs a very different relationship to surrounding graves and to the churchyard and church, as well as the wider community. It is safely protected within, not public-facing outside, the churchyard environment. This affords little ceremonial space, but it does make the memorial a close-knit part of the mortuary space.
This is exactly what I mean about an archaeological perspective on the contemporary past. It isn’t necessarily about different ideas or methods, but about an eye for detail and allowing local memorials to speak to regional, national and global stories of conflict commemoration in the 20th and 21st centuries through multiple facets of their materials, spaces and biographies.
This is what I say to my students and why I encourage them that we can tackle 20th-century war memorials, early medieval sculpture and prehistoric mortuary practice on an equal footing as the archaeology of death and memory.
It’s great to read about the close observations and interpretations of Waverton memorial cross resulting from the class visit, with acute observations about limitations of national inventories and how much more there is to be understood. I’d like to touch on some of the reasons why those inventories are the way they are.
IWM’s War Memorials Register has been built up over many years through voluntary contributions. It’s an amazing example of a crowd-sourced archive that is arguably ground-breaking in its approach to gathering information of such broad geographic scope in the historic environment. There is more material in the museum collections than can make it into the online records, and depending on who, how and when data were collected, the online entries can be quite variable.
The List entries on the National Heritage List for England are also very variable, given the lengthy history of designation in the UK and how the List has been compiled over the years. Nevertheless, the List exists specifically in relation to a suite of legislation and other instruments (such as Historic England’s ability to ‘register’ parks/gardens/cemeteries). Its purpose is to record which heritage assets (to use the jargon) benefit from the protection afforded by that suite of legislation. Thus an entry for a listed building, like Waverton memorial cross, speaks only to the monument’s architectural and historic special interest in the national context, as the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and DCMS Principles of Selection for Listing Buildings (November 2018) stipulate.
I’d say it’s less to do with a “lack of attention to detail and blinkered approach to data-recording that inventories exhibit.” and more to do with issues like historical contingency, the affordances (or lack of) of technology, the requirements (and non-requirements) of legislation.
Listed during the First World War centenary period, Waverton has a modern List entry (which does include information about where the inscriptions are, I checked as that’s not usually something missed in modern List entries!).
Thank you for posting this corrective. I think my point is that both the online databases I consulted in writing this post have problems matching their strict and rather limited fields for data-creation to the complex variability of war memorials. Also, perhaps it might be said there is a tension between the data recording process and the wide range of functions they purport to serve as digital online resources. This is both practically restrictive and it might also be seen as ethically problematic if the databases are deployed without an awareness of these problems. To be fair, the online overview of the List makes a brief and clear statement about the variability of the information kept and its very restricted remit in relation to legislation. This is appreciated, but it remains in tension with its asserted function a publicly searchable database of heritage assets that purports to give (for modern records) a ‘qualitative and detailed description’. The IWM database was indeed created by voluntary contributions on a massive scale, and the website makes clear to promote future additional information (i.e. it is an ongoing project). Still, it presents itself to the public without qualification regarding the nature of the evidence on the front of the platform (but please correct me if I’m wrong). Both databases present themselves with an air of definitive character and authoritative content that I’m disputing based on my brief observations together with my students. I’d be keen to read publicly available statements and evaluations regarding the limitations of these online databases, especially regarding spatial, material and biographical details. Regarding Waverton: apologies for my error. I’ve corrected my blog-post to make clear the List does mention the faces which contain text, but the point I was making related to the relationship of the texts in relation to the immediate churchyard environment: namely, that this monument strikingly lacks any context: it is situated in a double-sized grave-plot with only the NS path free from graves (i.e. very different from other monuments of comparable height and position). The fact that neither register contain any potential to record even a basic statement about ‘setting’ beyond ‘location’ is one of the points I was trying to present. Still, your points are valid and add important context to be post: thank you!
My pleasure. I fear I’m sailing far too close to the wind of authorised heritage discourse than your very interesting blog posts on war memorials should encourage in me. But…let’s now talk about setting. Briefly, it’s not my specialist area. In Planning terms, the setting of a heritage asset is defined by the National Planning Policy Framework. Here’s the reading; https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/gpa3-setting-of-heritage-assets/heag180-gpa3-setting-heritage-assets/ Setting and curtilage are different, and in Planning terms setting is also separate from character and context.
Setting doesn’t feature in List entries per se, because List entries aren’t the place to determine either the setting or the curtilage of the listed feature. List entries can include Group Value, if there is any, and location, and, in relation to the listing criterion of Architectural interest, design aspects may be relevant too, to the feature’s significance in the national context.
Moving away from setting, because I don’t want to get myself in a tangle about the difference between its role in Planning and the spatial relationships that I think you have in mind when considering Waverton memorial (and others), it’s notable just how many churchyard war memorials are placed within burial plots and alongside graves (that is, not in pride of place at entrances/lych-gates, on high streets and so on). I regret that I can’t give you any good figures on this…but given how many I’ve looked at over the past 4+ years I’m interested in the motivations behind this. A metaphorical way of burying the dead? Enabling the Fallen to be associated with those family and friends who lived longer lives and were buried at home? The influence of local clergy? I’m sure the list could go on.
I defer to you about issues of planning and criteria, but I’m shocked that railings and pavements are not seen as part of the monument itself. Maybe this simply shows my lack of understanding of listing and what constitutes a ‘monument’ in traditional terms.
Honestly, in my (limited) engagement with war memorials in Devon, Cheshire and N. Wales, I cannot consciously recall any that mirror what I saw at Waverton. This is news to me and it is worthy of a study, if there isn’t already one.
Railings and pavements, walls and other features could well be seen as part of the memorial, and be listed accordingly. But because listing can only be in terms of the relevant legislation and the criteria expressed in the Principles of Selection, all these elements have to be looked at in that context. Take a look at the List entry for Oldham war memorial for an example of a complex site with multiple parts: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1210137
I’ll try to dig out further cemetery examples that Waverton reminds me of. Urchfont springs to mind, although the neighbouring graves aren’t quite so cheek-by-jowl, and the war memorial in Urmston Jewish Cemetery is an excellent example. Lemington is another. Let me put my thinking cap on and go over some old files. Various of Ninian Comper’s probably fit the bill, and there’s an architect also designing interior war memorials, very interesting suite of work.