In a final post about a recent ‘Contemporary Past’ field trip (the 5th), I want to discuss the most modest of the war memorials we encountered. It was also weird: not because its form was in anyway unusual, but because of its eclectic ‘biography’ of associated features.
Listed Grade II by English Heritage, the war memorial at Saighton (Cheshire) was publicly placed in a small restricted pre-existing space, presumably to allow it to be public and central to the village and community, whereas a situation at St Mary’s parish church in Bruera is rather isolated. This miniscule war memorial commemorates the 6 men of the parish who died in the First World War. It takes the form of a small rectangular sandstone tablet situated upon the early 19th-century Old Vicarage garden walls, close to the village primary school at the corner of Saighton Lane.
Note: the PMSA database is inaccurate in describing it as oak framed with a bronze plaque inside. Amusingly, it rather neutrally states “It is assumed that the Parish Council felt that this was an appropriate place for the War Memorial.”
The inscription is odd too: “These for France and England Died” followed by the 6 names in alphabetical order, ending with “Soupir Holy Cross Day 1914”. Is it to be taken that all individuals died at the same location on 14 September 1914?
So what? Well, this memorial is illustrative for my students regarding just how varied and modest in size First World War memorials can be, away from the grandiose memorials of towns and cities that tend to dominate discussion. Furthermore, this modest memorial emphasises the biographies of village commemorative practices, and how war memorials can join, and be augmented by, a complex assemblage of memorial material cultures.
First up, the memorial joins an existing place of roadside devotion: a small crucifixion scene carved on old red sandstone, set into the wall c. 1870. The fact that the wall was that of the vicarage is clearly significant too. The war memorial plaque was added to the right of the cruxifixion scene.
Subsequently, two plaques joined this pairing left of the First World war memorial. One, in light grey stone, states:
THIS GARDEN AND SURROUNDS/ COMMEMORATES/ /THE WOMEN’S INSTITUTE’S GOLDEN JUBILEE. / 1970
The next one, to the right, and slightly lower:
Pump donated by Saighton W.I./ To Commemorate The Year 2000.
So, in addition to the war memorial, the garden in front commemorates the W.I. in key moments: 1970 and the Millennium.
Odder still, in front of these were a number of features – one flower bed in the corner with a low stone curb, and a semi-circular step in front of the crucifixion scene. Then there is the black-painted iron water pump raised over a stone water trough now a flowerbed. Adjacent is a flag-post with the Union flag raised, and there is also a faux-Victorian lamp post. All this is protected by a low black-painted iron fence.
So this modest and odd memorial space has evolved over the last century and a half, from modest crucifixion scene set in the Old Vicarage wall, to be joined by a war memorial, and then somewhat swamped by a W.I. commemorative focus, with the flag-pole, water pump and lamp enhancing this eclectic assemblage.