On 20 October 1920 the Lichfield Garden of Remembrance by Minster Pool was officially unveiled and the year 2020 commemorates its 100th anniversary.
After the First World War had finally come to a close many councils and corporations looked to provide a lasting memorial to the fallen of their towns and cities. In 1919 Lichfield City Council looked to honour their dead with a memorial and in March 1919 a War Memorial Committee was formed. After a lengthy debate they decided that a permanent memorial, with ornamental gardens, would be the most appropriate, lasting, memorial to the fallen soldiers of Lichfield City.
A site for this was eventually chosen on Bird Street, on ground alongside Lichfield’s Minster Pool which was mainly owned by the City Corporation. Adjustments were also made to gardens belonging to Archdeacon Blakeway and Canon Penny from the Cathedral Close and a wall belonging to Mr Chinn. A sum of £1,200 was raised for the project, mostly from public subscriptions and donations. When the Memorial Committee met in January 1920 however, only 200 people had responded to the appeal for donations which Councillor William Wood said was a ‘paltry return from a city with a population of 9,000 people’.
The designer of both the garden and the memorial was the architect Charles Bateman. At the time of the meeting in March 1919 Bateman explained that it would be a “memorial not only providing a monument to the fallen, but would at the same time prove a great boon to the inhabitants and visitors in providing a ‘garden of rest’, which would add to the amenities of the city in helping adorn its main street and approach, to a fuller view of the glorious Cathedral which made Lichfield known and famous throughout the world”.
Two ornamental urns and the balustrade around the perimeter of the gardens were provided from Shenstone Court, the family home of Lichfield benefactor Sir Richard Cooper and an iron gate was placed at the entrance. The monument facade itself, containing panels of the names of the Lichfield Fallen and sculptures including that of St George and the Dragon, was provided by the notable local stonemasonry firm of Richard Bridgeman and Sons of Quonians Lane, off Dam Street.
Bateman provided an artist’s impression sketch of the proposed memorial which, bearing in mind changes in the treeline and additions of shrubs and plants, is still very recognisable today.
The Garden of Remembrance was officially opened on Wednesday 22 October 1910 by the Mayor of Lichfield, Councillor Henry Hall, of Hall’s the Butchers on Conduit Street, who formally unveiled the memorial. The Lichfield Mercury reported that: “No more impressive and solemn service has ever taken place in Lichfield than that which was witnessed on Wednesday afternoon, when the City’s Memorial to those who went out from within its borders and gave their lives for the service of their King and Country in the Great War was unveiled and dedicated. There was a quiet dignity and reverent spirit about the whole proceedings which touched all hearts”.
At the unveiling of the memorial the service commenced with the singing of the hymn, ‘O God, our Help in Ages Past’, after which the memorial was formally handed over to the Mayor, on behalf of the citizens of Lichfield , by Major Longstaff from Nearfield House, who was the chairman of the Memorial Committee.
The Mayor, in the course of an eloquent speech, said “Major Longstaff, my Lord Bishop, ladies and gentlemen – l feel it a great honour that it ismy privilege to accept on behalf of the Corporation, this beautiful memorial, which it will be our pride to preserve and reverently care for as a tribute of love and affectionate remembrance and a tribute of lasting honour to those citizen heroes who gave their lives for their King and Country. God grant that as we pass by or enter through those gates, and look this memorial, may be inspired to do our duty as our brothers aid their duty to the glory of God and the good of those around us.”
Following the hymn, ‘On the Resurrection Morning’, the Last Post was sounded by the buglers of the local detachment of the 6th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment. Finally came one of the most affecting parts of the whole service – the laying of wreaths at the foot of the monument by relatives and friends, while the band of the 2nd Oxford and Bucks. Light Infantry played Chopin’s March Funebre.
With the singing of the National Anthem, led by the band and combined choirs, a memorable, and never-to-be forgotten service concluded.
Two weeks later in November 1920, the very first Armistice Day Remembrance Day service was held in the newly unveiled Garden of Remembrance.
The Garden’s were opened 100 years ago, and, although the 2020 Remembrance Service will not take place in the usual format, the Garden remains a fitting, and lasting, tribute and memorial to The Fallen of Lichfield.
May They Rest in Peace
Jono Oates 20 October 2020
Sources: The British Newspaper Archive. The Bateman sketch image originally appeared in the Staffordshire Advertiser, but contains no copyright, although courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.
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