With Contributions from Members of Cirencester Civic Society
Civic Pride and the Battles of the War Memorials in Cirencester
I was photographing the panels on the West face of the parish church porch when two Chinese students asked politely what the significance of the names was. I was surprised that representatives of a culture which reveres its forebears should not recognize a war memorial… but war memorials take many forms. Cirencester has six; the parish church memorial is the most prominent and complex, both in form and history.
Thomas Kingscote was a “Gentleman Usher” to a succession of monarchs, and his wife an aristocrat; at their residence, Watermoor House, a photograph shows them with some guests – including the Prince of Wales. In early 1917 the Kingscotes applied to the church Vestry Council for agreement to erect a “Calvary” in “the Little Churchyard”, then an enclosure around the West face of the porch, as a memorial to “those of Cirencester and district who have fallen or shall hereafter fall in the present war”. They commissioned a design from Ninian Comper, noted for ecclesiastical architecture, and the cross with its inscription from the Book of Lamentations was dedicated by the Bishop of Gloucester on 31 October 1918, even whilst the Great War was still raging. The names of the dead were to be added once fighting ceased.
Such lists of dead had first appeared as memorials some twenty years previously following the South African war when for the first time, civilians who volunteered as a matter of principle had reinforced an army of men who had enlisted for three meals a day. For the burgeoning industrial centres, a memorial to their “citizen soldiers” was an expression of civic pride. During WW1 “Rolls of Honour” displaying the names of local men serving became widespread and these evolved into memorials to the dead and became permanent.
The names of Cirencester’s war dead were inscribed on panels on the West face of the church porch by February 1920. Look closely and you will see two names were added later. Omissions and errors were unavoidable … but at the request of the Kingscotes several of their friends and relatives had been included, and they had no local link other than visits during the hunting season. Objection to this arrangement led to the drawing up of an alternative list limited to those born in Cirencester or living here on enlisting. This lengthy procedure must have been especially cruel for those whose relatives were “missing” or returned sick or wounded and died at home. Some communities argued for a practical memorial such as a playing field; what might people have thought when a winter gale destroyed the cross?
A solution was found when the Bathursts gave Apsley Hall to be an extension of the Memorial Hospital in Sheep Street where X-ray equipment from the war hospital at Bingham Hall could be put to use. Here the alternative “parochial” lists were displayed, funded by public appeal.
A generation later and without controversy, the names of victims of WW2 were incised on the South porch wall.
There will be a follow up article including interesting snippets about some of the people named on the memorial in the February issue.
By Dale Hjort
To find more information on the Cirencester Civic Society, or to join, please go to www.ccsoc.org.uk