An Appreciation by John Gill
The memorial to the memory of those men who fell during the First World War at St Paul’s Church was originally sited at the West Street end of the cloister to the south of the church. At least 25 years ago it was taken down and moved to the basement while the cloister was redecorated; it was never reinstalled. The PCC decided to restore the shrine as research has shown it to be a rare example of its type and in remarkably good condition.
The memorial is a modest construction of stained wood with glazed panels. Though the Cross, which is placed centrally on the memorial, is present, the original figure of Christ, the corpus, is missing, perhaps removed for safe keeping.
The corpus will be replaced when the shrine is renovated. One of the panes of glass on the two framed lists of those who fell was broken and has been removed.
There are 52 names on the memorial, inscribed on paper in 2 rows of 26; the initial letters of all the names, having been inscribed in red ink, are faded and in some cases barely legible. The frames are in the form of lockable doors to facilitate access for updating. The structure is in generally good condition, though the horizontal ledge at the base, on which small vases of flowers rested, is in need of replacement. The whole is in need of general refurbishment. The following text is carved in the wood of the memorial and is in good condition:
GRANT THEM O LORD, AND LET
LIGHT PERPETUAL SHINE UPON THEM
The date of its construction, 1916, explains the absence of any reference to The Great War or the dates of the war.
In assessing the continuing value of the memorial it is important to note that its modest construction is not the result of limited ambition or funding at the time of its making. It is a typical example of the street shrine, about which much has been written in recent years, and a positive response to the advice given to local churches and councils by A E Benson, President of the Civic Arts Association, to commission modest memorials from local craftsmen.
It was constructed and installed in December 1916, at the mid-point of The Great War, and had the function of both regularly up-dated notice board and memorial. Other similar shrines noted the names of men in the order of their conscription, a small red cross marking those who had died.
The memorial at St Paul’s bears the names of those who died and, very probably, in chronological order of their deaths. When the shrine was first installed, 23 young men in the parish had already perished and their names were the first to be listed – sadly other names were added at regular intervals until the conclusion of the war in 1918. The list was rewritten by a calligrapher, Katherine Leigh in 1926. At this time the Parish Council would have made a decision not to replace the shrine, but to maintain it; many similar shrines were replaced by stone tablets or brass plaques.
Restoring the Memorial
Both the National Inventory of War Memorials and the War Memorials Trust discourage the disposal or relocation of memorials unless they are damaged beyond repair or at risk. Even when a new memorial is commissioned – not the case here – it is advisable to preserve the original, unless it is damaged beyond repair, as it is a ‘historic document’. It is the opinion of Dr Catherine Moriarty, previously Registrar of War Memorials at the Imperial War Museum that street shrines, like that at St Paul’s, are comparatively rare, having been replaced or disposed of and that the few surviving examples are at risk and in need of conservation.
The memorial presented a wonderful opportunity for the church to work with the best local crafts-people, wood-carvers and calligraphers, to refurbish and re-present in a new informative context. The calligrapher Gerald Fleuss at The Edward Johnston Foundation in Ditchling, was commissioned to re-inscribe the names, and a local craftsman, Mr David McBain, was engaged to repair the fabric of the memorial.
The restored memorial was re-dedicated by
the Parish Priest, Fr Robert Fayers, in the presence of
the Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Councillor Ann Norman,
accompanied by children from Middle Street School,
at 2.30 pm on Wednesday 11th November 2009.