London’s first Great War memorials

28 Jan

It seems appropriate that the first war memorials to feature on this blog should be the capital’s first. These were erected in Hampstead and Bishopsgate in the summer of 1916, just as conscription and the Battle of the Somme moved manpower and commemoration into a new phase.

Exactly what counts as a war memorial is is debatable. I take it to mean a public memorial to all those from a local area or group (such as a school or church) who died in the conflict. This means that the private plaques that appeared from late 1914 do not count. Also, rolls of honour and ‘war shrines’ listing all who were serving are not war memorials in this sense  – expect to hear more about these in later posts.  These two memorials were not England’s first (as far as I know, that was this one on Canvey Island), but as far as I know they were the capital’s first:

The first Great War memorial in the City of London

The first is the memorial outside St Botolph’s-without-Bishopsgate church, near Liverpool Street station.  Unveiled on 4 August 1916, it commemorates Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, Boy Cornwell, the men of the Honourable Artillery Company, and the dead of Bishopsgate.  It is the last of these that makes it the City of London’s first war memorial (according to Mark Connelly, who knows a lot about these things) as it specifically commemorates the dead of a community rather than an individual family. Although the dead of Bishopsgate are not named on the memorial, they are among those it directly remembers.

The Honourable Artillery Company (confusingly actually an infantry unit) are Territorials based nearby. Kitchener was the Secretary of State for War, famous today for his face appearing on recruiting posters, who had died in June 1916 when the ship taking him to Russia struck a mine. Cornwell was a 16-year-old Boy second class (that was his rank in the Navy) onboard HMS Chester, who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for staying at his post while fatally wounded in the Battle of Jutland in May/June 1916. The combined deaths of the ageing but popular commander and the working-class boy hero had a great impact at the time.

In memory of our Brave Dead of Bishopsgate 1914-1916

The second is a calvary erected outside St Jude’s-on-the-Hill church in Hampstead.  This picture shows it being visited by wounded soldiers in August 1916, although I haven’t been able to place exactly when it was erected.

The memorial at Hampstead (Illustrated War News, 16/8/1916)

The memorial was moved in 1917 and extra plaques erected around it to accommodate the growing list of the local war dead.  The church’s website has a good picture of it in the second home in their post about it and another calvary there. Apparently this wooden calvary is now in a ‘calvary cupboard’ inside the church.

I cannot guarantee that these were definitely the first war memorials of the Great War in London. All I can say is that they are the first that I have seen evidence of – and I’m convinced by Connelly’s statement that the St Botolph’s one was the first in the City of London. The date of August 1916 is significant as conscription and the battle of the Somme drove up the numbers of men both serving and killed. This changed the way that the names of servicemen and the war dead were used in the public arena and pushed war commemoration into more communal settings.


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