In previous blog-posts, I’ve reflected on contemporary commemoration of the dead alongside the commemoration of the historic landscape within country parks as follows:

Building on these discussions, I want to address a further publicly accessible environment. As part of my second-year ‘Contemporary Past’ and the MA ‘Landscapes and Memory’ modules, over the last year I’ve taken field trips to the Countess of Chester Country Park. My choice of location to visit this park is because of its proximity to the University of Chester and easily accessible on foot without problems given the COVID-related restrictions on minibus use.

What is surprising is that, despite it being a relatively small country park, long and thin and sandwiched between the Shropshire Union Canal to the west and both modern housing and the Countess of Chester hospital to the east, the landscape is replete with a range of material cultures and memorials that constitute it as a publicly accessible landscape of memory. I want to discuss 9 memorial strands running through a space established and managed by The Land Trust.

1. Commemorating the Countess of Chester

The Countess of Chester (Camilla) opened the country park in 2014. A spy-hole sculpture allows you to see the assembled elements of an eagle sculpture located beside one of the two main pedestrian entrances on the south side of the park. Through the opening, one can see a wood-carved raptor! The plaque on the spy-hole sculpture commemorates the opening ceremony. The royal family, the country park’s origins and opening, and its wildlife, are commemorated materially and given somatic and ocular power by fostering engagement and views through one piece of art to another. It reminds me of this piece of megalithic art at the Severn Valley Country Park.

2. Commemorating Life – the Sculpture on Approach

Leisure time is commemorated through the entrance sculpture. Cross-generational walking is evoked through a child and adult figure holding hands, the younger one seemingly straining to break free and explore the open space.

3. Commemorating Conservation

Wooden sculptures around the country park depict animal species to be spied when visiting. There is also a woodland trail. Nature itself is thus the focus of commemoration. The revitalisation of the landscape is reified through art, including interactive dimensions such as bug houses.

4. Commemorating Walking

Waymarkers, leaflets and even bins are also drawn into the landscape of recreation’s commemorative dimensions, with logos, text and colour-coded trails.

5. Seated Memories

In addition there is at least one memorial bench and the ‘friendly bench’ beside the start of the Poppy Trail. As with all sponsored elements, plaques commemorate its own establishment. We’ll come to a bench memorialising a dog, Silva, below.

6. Commemorating War

Linking the country park through to Upton war memorial, the Poppy Trail is a series of wood-carved floral sculptures, each bearing two names of individuals who were killed in the Great War from the parish. These constitute 14 names on 7 gigantic ‘poppies’, while the 15th name appears singly on an 8th ‘poppy’ beside a memorial bench at the start of the trail. More information on the Poppy Trail is here. There are also other sundry poppy depositions, including upon one of the bin shelters.

On the side of a rubbish bin canopy

7. Houndscapes of Memory

Country parks are not simply landscapes for human communion with nature, they are houndscapes. Dogs on leads, dogs off leads, but also dead dogs remembered. Among the country park trails is a Silva Trail. The two-mile trail commemorates a hound (a German Shepherd Collie cross) who died by drowning having fallen into the brook in the country park. Beside a memorial bench, prominently located beside the main path through the park, Aleta Doran, widow of my former colleague and friend, Dr John Doran, created the mosaic commemorating Silva. The bee (Manchester’s symbol) and colour scheme (predominantly blue and white) represents the dog-owners’ Mancunian affinities and City associations: indeed, the dog Silva named after Manchester City captain David Silva. For more information, check out the Cheshire Live story here.

8. Commemorating Commonwealth

An arboreal commemorative dimension is the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, honouring the Queen but also the Commonwealth through trees.

9. Life for a Life

Finally, we come to the Life for a Life memorial forest. What is striking is that this is a completely open space running parallel to the stream on the lower, western, side of the country park. As well as having no clear boundaries, the trees are evenly spaced and comprise a variety of species including oaks and birch.

As well as a variety of personalised memorials, some are marked ‘reserved’. A few are associated with floral offerings.

In addition, the entire space is dedicated to another patron, the late 6th Duke of Westminster. A tree-shaped sculpture bearing the phrase ‘Life for a Life’ and marking the memorial wood’s official opening by Gerald Grosvenor stands between the two plantings.

Conclusion

Each of these themes is far from unique: the materialities and spatialities of memorialisation relate to, and sometimes explicitly reference, broader phenomena across the UK and beyond. However, considering them together, entangled within one space, they constitute the country park as a complex landscape of memory. Incorporating paths, waymarkers, interpretation panels, sculptures, benches and a memorial woodlands, this space for the living is inextricably bound up with the commemoration of its own origins and patrons, and its relationships with the dead.