78 Derngate Archive

Northampton War Memorial

11 Nov
David Walsh

Visitors to 78 Derngate who arrive on foot from the railway station cover a route of great history which includes the site of England’s medieval parliament, the most outstanding Norman church in the county, one of the few buildings that survived The Great Fire of Northampton and numerous other fascinating places, many of which are listed. Most recently, Northampton’s war memorial – also on the route – has had its listing raised to Grade 1; joining the collection of Britain’s most significant buildings and structures.

Temporary wooden cenotaph in Abington Street, Northampton c.1919.
Temporary wooden cenotaph in Abington Street, Northampton c.1919.

Following the First World War, in July 1919 Northampton Council erected a temporary wooden cenotaph in Abington Street. Edwin Lutyens, architect of the Whitehall Cenotaph, was appointed as the designer of a permanent memorial and this was unveiled on 11th November 1926. It is reported that an immense crowd attended the unveiling, including 5,000 local school children. A large procession preceded the event led by survivors of the Battle of Mons, military and civic representatives and nurses from Northampton General Hospital.

Northampton War Memorial, Edwin Lutyens. 1926.
Northampton War Memorial, Edwin Lutyens. 1926.

Located in the churchyard of the Church of All Saints, the memorial is comprised of two tall obelisks, with huge painted stone flags, standing either side of a Stone of Remembrance, a feature which the architect incorporated within a number of his war memorials. The material is Portland stone. Surrounding the memorial is a garden defined by a stone wall and a yew hedge, with gateways to the north and south. Ornamental wrought-iron gates at the entrances hang from gate piers with urn finials above pyramidal blocking courses to the cornices. The stone wall around the garden is finished with a simple chamfered coping. The memorial stands on a paved platform. In the centre, a Stone of Remembrance (designed by Lutyens for the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission) is raised on three steps. On either side, to the north and south, is a tall obelisk, each raised on a tall, square, corniced column of four stages. The columns each stand on a square, undercut, plinth.

Sir Edwin Lutyens, designer of Northampton's war memorial.
Sir Edwin Lutyens, designer of Northampton’s war memorial.

Round arched, curved, niches are let into the principal stage of each column. Very tall painted stone flags, topped with gilded laurel wreaths, flank each obelisk, each draped around the cornice. The northern obelisk is flanked by the Red Ensign (north side) and Union Flag (south side); the southern obelisk by the White Ensign (north side) and RAF Ensign (south side).

Inscriptions are carved into each element of the memorial. A low stone wall on the western side of the garden, running in front of the yew hedge, is inscribed + TO THE MEMORY OF ALL THOSE OF THIS TOWN AND COUNTY WHO SERVED AND DIED IN THE GREAT WAR. Inscriptions commemorating the fallen of the Second World War were added at a later date.

The designation notice for the new listing describes the memorial as “an eloquent witness to the tragic impacts of world events on this community, and the sacrifices it made in the conflicts of the twentieth century”. Roger Bowdler, Director of Listing at Historic England says of the architect, “Lutyens was a key figure in determining how the dead and missing should be commemorated. His designs are admired for the universality of their message. His pure architectural forms are mute symbols of grief, the simple inscriptions weighted with sorrow. These are enduring memorials, which show the power of classical architecture to convey meaning and dignity.”

The memorial is open each Remembrance Sunday but can be viewed from the street at any time. The photographs show the memorial on Remembrance Sunday 2015.

Listing entry: http://www.historicengland.org.uk/…/the-…/list-entry/1191327