This is not one of my normal slightly irreverant posts but a more serious one to try and spread the word about Parks and Gardens UK’s publication on-line of the first Gazetteer of UK War Memorial Parks and Gardens. It’s amazing it hasn’t been done before, because it seems of such obvious ‘national’ interest, but it has been finally been put together, by volunteers, as part of the Gardening in Wartime project. This is a joint initiative between the Garden Museum and Parks & Gardens UK, which has focussed on the untold story of gardens and gardening during and after the First World War.
This first version of the Gazetteer has over 400 entries on it from across the United Kingdom. We hope it will inspire others at a local level to contribute information about their war memorial parks and gardens for inclusion. You can find the full gazeteer and related articles at:
In today’s post I’m going to highlight a few of the lesser known memorial gardens and landscapes and hope that it will inspire you to take a look yourself…and maybe suggest others which haven’t been included.
The gazeteer is arranged by county, and first on the list is Bedfordshire which contains the amazing Tree Cathedral which was created by Edmund Blyth who purchased Chapel Farm in Whipsnade in 1927 and began planting trees three years later. The layout was planned in the style of a medieval cathedral and created in the spirit of ‘faith, hope and reconciliation’. He continued to plant trees of different types for different areas of the ‘cathedral’ until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The Tree Cathedral survives and its 9.5 acre site is now owned by the National Trust.
Much more typical of memorial gardens, are those at Amersham in Buckinghamshire. Ajoining the parish church there is a central water feature surrounded by flower beds set in landscaped grounds. There is also a wall-mounted memorial tablet commemorating the dead of World War 2.
Such memorial gardens often incorporate statuary, such as here at Broadstone in Dorset with its large figure of a mourning woman. Unusually though she stands not in a rose garden but one that appears to be made up of rhododendrons.
Whilst many of our war memorials are either in or near churches or have strong Christian associations, in Surrey there is a memorial to Muslim members of the armed forces.
It was created in 1915 when the War Office felt the need to respond to German propaganda that suggested Muslim soldiers were not being buried in a respectful way and concordant with their religion. The Muslim Burial Ground is set in Horsell Common, an area of pine trees and near the Shah Jehan mosque, the first purpose built mosque in Britain.
As Surrey Heritage [the former Surrey History Centre, Record Office and Archive etc] point out: “It is a reminder of the significant contribution made by some three million Indian service personnel who fought alongside the Allied troops during the First and Second World Wars. It was…the only designated place of burial for Muslim soldiers who had died at the temporary Indian Army Hospital in Brighton Pavilion.” After falling into considerable disrepair the Grade 2 listed structure was recently restored with the aid of a grant from English Heritage. For more information about this see:
Free standing war memorials are also common across Britain, often containing the names of everyone local who died in conflict, but there are also monuments – statues, plaques, stones, and sometimes even gardens remembering individuals. At Alsager in Cheshire they exist side by side. The laying out of the gardens was funded by public subscription, and the land was given in honour of Henry Percy Harpur, MD Capt. RAMC.
Nor is it just the Great War of 1914-1918 that is commemorated. In Plymouth there is a memorial garden on the Hoe which contains eleven granite war memorials, all from WW2 and later.
On the inner ring are – those of the Polish Navy , Normandy Veterans Association, Falklands War, and Dunkirk Veterans Association. In the outer circle are – Falklands Naval Forces, HMS Gloucester, British Korean War Veterans Association, 1st British Army (WW2), National Malaya and Borneo Veterans Association, Burma Star Association, and the Aden Veterans Association.
At Penlee in Cornwall there is a memorial dedicated to the crew of HMS Penzance which was sunk in 1940.
The funding to purchase the site was raised by public subscription as a memorial to those who fell in World War II. The park has a children’s play area and a sensory garden as well as a chapel of remembrance. The memorial garden, has been recently replanted with sub- tropical plants.
The purchase or rededication of playing fields and/or sports pitches is another common response, and you will find many memorial grounds and sports facilities on the gazeteer. They include this field which was leased by Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge at the end of the 19thc. Recreational facilities were constructed by students between 1908 and 1914, but many of them were then killed in World War 1. The college bought the field as a permanent memorial to them.
A more natural riverside landscape was purchased in 1946 as a memorial at Cockermouth in Cumbria. It too contains a play area and has memorial tablets outlining the history of the site.
Derbyshire is one of the better recorded counties for memorial landscapes. They include a beautiful one at Taddington which is a piece of meadowland, rich in wild plants, containing undulations suggestive of old lead workings, and the High Well, formerly the main source of water for the village. The site was given by Lord Denman and he also gave a shelter with a a seat affording good views over the village and surrounding countryside. On the wall is an inscription “for the enjoyment in public walks and recreation” to commemorate the “termination of the Great War.”
Meanwhile at Ozleworth in Gloucestershire not just a meadow but an entire estate was gifted to the National Trust. Built as a hunting lodge by Sir Nicholas Poyntz between 1544 and 1556 Newark Park was enlarged into a permanent residence in the late-16th century. The grounds comprise the remains of a 16th-century deer park with 18th-century landscaping. The site was given to Trust in 1949 by Mrs C. Power Clutterbuck as a memorial to her son, James, who was killed in Le Bizet in 1917.
At Petts Wood in the London Borough of Bromley the memorial garden is on a much smaller scale and instead of surrounding a historic house, it was laid out next to a new hall that was planned immediately after the end of the Second World war. It was a grass roots community decision to have a communal building as a memorial.
As the website for Trust that still runs the hall and the garden says: “To set up a meeting place for the community was a considerable undertaking as there was absolutely no hope of any private building work being allowed at that time or in the foreseeable future, plus of course, there was no money either.” But ” the people of Petts Wood would not let such ‘trifles’ deter them from their task!”
The land was given by Mr & Mrs Joseph Cast and “money to build and create the hall and gardens was raised by door to door collections and local fund raising events.” The hall was finally finished in 1955 and since then has been “a ‘live monument’ to the fallen of World War II. For more information see:
Of course conflicts have continued intermittently ever since 1945 and those who have died continue to be honoured. The Falklands War Memorial Garden in Gosport was opened in 1984, but the site already had a long and varied history as public open space. Built on reclaimed land the original gardens were laid out in 1924 but were renamed in 1984 and opened by Margaret Thatcher.
The site has been meticulously researched by the Hampshire Gardens Trust and more information can be found at their website:
By now you’ve probably realised that to make my choice of which sites to highlight I’ve merely gone through the gazeteer choosing one garden each from some of the first few counties alphabetically to represent some of the different ways that gardens can be used in commemoration. As I said at the beginning some counties are extremely well researched and represented, others sadly are not.
We are still looking for additional material. New submissions and enquiries can be sent directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. For submissions, please include the garden or park’s address; some details of its history and especially how it came about; and a brief description of its key features, especially any dedication stone. We would also welcome a few photographs.