Recently, on a field trip with level 5 ‘Contemporary Past’ students, I visited St Peter’s church, Plemstall. (see this earlier post about the skeletons on an extramural tomb chest).

We were intent on exploring the churchyard and church in search of war memorialisation. We then realised that the ground of the churchyard extension had just been prepared for a fresh burial, with the digger present in the adjacent field. Entering the church, we met the churchwarden who told us we were very welcome to look around but that we must hurry since a funeral was on its way. We rapidly explored and departed, passing the hearse as we drove on the main road east of Mickle Trafford heading for our next destination. This was the first time when a student-led field trip interacted with a funeral, and we made a quiet and respectful departure having seen what we needed to see and without causing any disruption to proceedings.

As stated, in St Peter’s, we had been looking for the war memorial to compare and contrast with others visited, including Great Barrow and Waverton. We were rather astounded by an odd, distinctive, rustic wooden memorial on the north wall of the church.

Now some provisos before proceeding. On this blog, I haven’t written about an intramural war memorial before and this one is very distinctive in its form and ornament. I’m not really helped much here by the available online materials I can find. Of particular note, Pevsner records the war memorial was carved by the incumbent, the Rev. Joseph Hooker Toogood, but has nothing (and nothing generous) to say about it. That’s all I’ve been able to find out! This fortifies me to try and write a short account of it but I welcome comments regarding details and parallels. Also please note: My photograph was rushed and not particularly good, but you can find a better image on this website together with a full transcription of the names of those who died, and below, those who served: Carl’s Cam.

This wall-mounted wood-carved monument is constructed as if a mash-up between an altar and a skeuomorphic stone memorial tablet. It is also a mashup of neo-Classical and neo-Gothic themes, evoking aspects of the ancient and medieval past in a fashion that resembles many late 19th-century monuments. It is a completely and overtly Anglican Christian monument in its artist, location and symbolism.

The crucifixion scene breaks the classical pediment above. Meanwhile, long-winged angels frame the scene, on top of the statues in niches.

Its comprehensiveness is also to be recognised: with the names of the Fallen in three columns of 6 preceded with the ‘headline’ inscription:

TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND IN GRATEFUL; REMEMBRANCE OF THOSE OF THIS PARISH/ WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE GRAVE WAR 1914 – 1919,

leading a longer procession of those that served, prefaced by:

ALSO THESE WHO SERVED.

Below is the added line augmented on the raised border:

ALSO THOSE WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR 1939 – 45

followed on the same line and in the same-sized font by the two names of those that perished.

Framing this plaque are the aforementioned two saintly figures in ‘rustic style’: St Nicholas to the left, St George to the right. Each is beneath an oak-leaf arcade.

Below and central are two lines of Latin text I couldn’t readily discern due to my poor-quality photograph and the gothic script deployed.

Notably the dates beneath each saint, marking the beginning and end of the conflict, contrast with those of the tablet: rather than 1914 – 19, the dates are AD 1914 and 1918. I suspect this denotes the different function of the dates, with 1914-19 denoting the dates of death and service, while 1914-1918 bracket the actual conflict that is the subject of commemoration.

With the students, I was able to discuss how war memorials might be within or outside churches, or elsewhere in the community (roadside or market square, for instance). Within churches, they can occupy porches, towers, aisles or separate chapels, and take a myriad of forms.

Yet for Plemstall, a fully and overtly Christian memorial has been constructed opposite the main entrance. Christian sacrificial themes of the crucifixion itself, the flanking angels, and the figures of St Nicholas (left) and St George (right) (the latter slaying a rather pathetically small snaky dragon) foster an enduring envisioning of the sacrifices in the ‘Great War’. We also discussed the contrasting deployments of date.

The squeezing in of two additional names for the Second World War was also worthy of note as one particular strategy for making the monument live on and honouring both conflicts. Although this is one of the most abrupt addition the biography of the monument, with the names of two parishioners who died in the Second World War appended below.

The Christological significance of the medium is also worthy of note, especially as the carver was the incumbent: I hadn’t realised that at the time.

In summary, rather than an outdoor memorial as encountered in neighbouring parish churches, within the isolated church of St Peter’s, Plemstall, my students and I encountered a war memorial that reveals an especially close-knit relationship between the Anglican church and the commemoration of the war dead.

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