The Conservation of War Memorials
War memorials stand at the heart of virtually every community in England. Not only are they poignant reminders of the scale of losses endured by ordinary people in two world wars and numerous other armed conflicts, but also collectively they provide a spectacular legacy of 19th and 20th century art and sculpture; the result of a spontaneous, emotional response by bereaved families and communities on a scale which is unlikely ever to be repeated. The sheer variety and diversity of their forms and styles is astonishing, ranging from simple plaques or crosses to statues, windows, gardens, lych gates or whole buildings such as hospitals, chapels and community halls.
The concept of commemorating war dead did not develop to any great extent before the end of the 19th century. Until then war memorials were rare, and were mainly dedicated to individual officers or, occasionally, regiments. The Boer War of 1899-1902 was the first major war following reforms to the British Army which resulted in regiments being recruited from local communities, and with volunteer soldiers. As a result, it was followed by the first large-scale erection of war memorials to the ordinary soldier.
The majority of our war memorials were erected following the First World War when the loss of three quarters of a million British lives left aching gaps at the heart of every community in the country. The official policy of not repatriating the dead meant that war memorials provided a physical focus for the grief of millions of bereaved people. Usually they were paid for by public subscription, but in some cases their cost was met by private donation, and occasionally existing public monuments, such as market crosses, were adopted as the local war memorial.
As a result, it can be difficult to identify legal ownership and responsibility for their maintenance and upkeep. The War Memorials (Local Authorities’ Powers) Act 1923 attempted to address this issue, empowering – but not obliging – local authorities to use public money for the maintenance, repair and protection of war memorials. So although many war memorials are maintained with great care by their local communities or organisations such as the local council, church or branch of the Royal British Legion, others have suffered in various degrees from neglect.
THE NEED FOR REPAIRS AND CONSERVATION WORK
Many of the problems affecting the physical condition of war memorials are similar to those faced by other buildings or forms of public sculpture, including structural instability, general weathering and decay, graffiti and other types of vandalism. Regardless of architectural or sculptural merit, however, the dedication and roll of honour on war memorials have an intrinsic historic value which differentiates them from other types of public monument, forming a repository of communal memory which needs to be preserved for future generations.
Those who take on responsibility for the upkeep of the fabric of war memorials often have little or no experience of the conservation and repair of historic buildings, and do not know who to turn to for advice. Although the local small building firm or monumental mason may have experience in producing new work and carrying out general household repairs, they often lack the specialised knowledge and skill which are essential for good specification and practice in building conservation work.
The primary purpose of a war memorial repair project should be to restrain the process of decay without damaging the character of the memorial, altering the features which give it its historic or architectural interest, or unnecessarily disturbing or destroying historic fabric. The use of inappropriate materials and techniques can cause further problems and long term damage to the fabric of the memorial, so repairs should never be carried out without first analysing the physical characteristics of the memorial and identifying the causes of any defects. Similarly, lack of attention to the detail of the names inscribed on the memorial can inadvertently result in changes to the roll of honour so an accurate record should always be made, supplemented if necessary by archival research, before any repairs to the lettering are carried out.
Before any works begin a method statement should be prepared by a building professional with experience in working with historic buildings, or by the conservators or contractors who are being asked to tender for the work. The method statement should address all those issues which will aid in the correct identification of necessary works, as outlined [below].
FOR PREPARING A METHOD STATEMENT
Heritage grants for the repair and conservation of memorials in England
In recognition of the significance of war memorials at the heart of virtually every community in England and to help ensure that they remain cherished for future generations, English Heritage has been actively involved in a number of initiatives over recent years. Together with the Imperial War Museum, it jointly initiated the establishment of the UK National Inventory of War Memorials in 1989; it contributes towards the cost of employing a Conservation Officer at Friends of War Memorials (FoWM); and it is responsible for the upkeep of six major war memorials in London, including the Cenotaph.
English Heritage’s grant scheme for the repair and conservation of war memorials, which operates in association with FoWM, has been in place since April 2000.
war memorials are eligible?
types of work are eligible?
Grants will not usually be offered towards:
Eligible costs include the cost of the work, professional fees and VAT. Grants are normally paid at a standard rate of 50 per cent of eligible costs, up to a maximum grant of £10,000. Grant is not paid for works which are carried out before an offer has been formally made and accepted.
Grant applications are submitted to FoWM, and are considered by an assessment panel which meets four times per year, whose members include representatives of English Heritage, Friends of War Memorials, the UK National Inventory of War Memorials and the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association.
English Heritage has made a commitment to provide funding of £100,000 per year for the War Memorials Grant Scheme until at least March 2004. Further information and application forms can be obtained from Friends of War Memorials or English Heritage.
Further Information and Useful Contacts (Updated March, 2010)
The War Memorials Trust (formerly the Friends of War Memorials) is a charity established in 1997 with the dedicated task of monitoring the condition of war memorials and promoting awareness, especially amongst the young, of their historical and spiritual significance as part of the national heritage.
Contact: The War Memorials Trust, 42a Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0RE Tel 020 7233 7356 www.war-memorials.com
The UK National Inventory of War Memorials is a research project set up in 1989 with the purpose of creating a new archive holding information on all war memorials throughout the British Isles. They have also produced a booklet entitled The War Memorial Handbook which offers guidance and useful contacts.
Contact: The UK National Inventory of War Memorials, Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London SE1 6HZ Tel 020 7207 9851/9863 www.ukniwm.org.uk
The Public Monuments and Sculpture Association is an association established to bring together individuals and organisations with a mutual interest in public monuments and sculpture. It aims to heighten public awareness of Britain’s monumental heritage, including war memorials, through its publications, activities and campaigns for listing, preservation, protection and restoration.
Contact: Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, 72 Lissenden Mansions, Lissenden Gardens, London NW5 1PR www.pmsa.org.uk
English Heritage For further information on English Heritage Grants for the Repair and Conservation of War Memorials, contact War Memorials Grant Scheme Co-ordinator, English Heritage, 23 Savile Row, London W1S 2ET Tel 020 7973 3715 www.english-heritage.org.uk
To find out if a building is listed, contact your local planning authority or either English Heritage, Cadw or Historic Scotland.
If you wish to have a war memorial considered for listing, you should write giving a full description of the memorial, enclosing good quality photographs of the structure and its immediate setting and a site plan, to one of the following:
- England: The Department of Culture,
Media and Sport, Buildings Monuments and Sites Division 2 (Listing), 2-4 Cockspur
Street, London SW1Y 5DH Tel 020 7211 6200 E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
- Scotland: Listing Section, Historic Scotland, Longmore House, Salisbury Place, Edinburgh EH9 1SH Tel 0131 668 8600
- Wales: Listing Section, Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments, Crown Buildings, Cathays Park, Cardiff CF1 3NQ Tel 029 2050 0200