(Unveiling Winsford War Memorial in 1821, taken by Vowles; © Winsford Archive)
Memorials commemorating those who fell in conflict have been erected throughout history. They became popular during the Victorian period, when it became more difficult to repatriate increasing numbers of casualties from conflicts around the world and urban growth led to overcrowding of churchyards. War memorials became especially prevalent during World War One, when in 1915 repatriation of the dead was banned for the duration of the war to help support public morale. The government then encouraged local communities to form committees to build their own memorials while offering little advice and few restrictions, allowing for a variety of styles of memorial to proliferate.
Exmoor has a wide and interesting range of war memorials. Many of the memorials within the National Park were erected to commemorate those who died during the First and Second World Wars. Some are earlier, dating to the wars in South Africa at the turn of the 20th Century, or commemorate those who died more recently. The monuments each have their own meanings for those who visit them, which has implications for their conservation and future care.
Most of Exmoor's war memorials relate directly to individuals or communities who served and often fell in wars in the 19th and 20th Centuries but some were erected for more uplifting reasons. At St Martin of Tours Church in Elworthy, a plaque advises that the church was renovated in 1921, with the bell cages renewed and the bells re-hung as "a thankoffering for the victorious conclusion of the Great War." Unfortunately, while many memorials of this type have been erected as a thanksgiving when no servicemen originating from their community were killed during the war, this is not the case here; Elworthy church is also home to a plaque commemorating Lance Corporal Walter Sangar of the 26th Bn Royal Fusiliers, who died of wounds in 1917 aged 39 and a gravestone in the churchyard also records that 2nd Lieutenant James Elliott of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment was killed in action in France in 1916.
The most recogniseable war memorials are freestanding and often placed within the public realm or other easily accessable spaces such as churchyards. They can take many forms, including crosses, columns, obelisks, sculptures and stones. A particularly striking example of this is the pink granite war memorial at Lynton outside the Town Hall, which dates from 1920 and takes the form of a ball resting on a tall column (carved with a sword), with a rectangular base bearing the names of casualties killed in World War One. A further inscription has been added to commemorate those who died in World War Two by the installation of a further piece of granite to the front of the base, in the form of an open book. Other freestanding memorials of note are those based at Parracombe (a wheel cross), Wheddon Cross (an obelisk) and Selworthy (a floriated cross).
Other types of war memorials can be much larger. In Dunster, a memorial hall was built in 1921 and takes the form of a brick gabled three-storey mock Tudor building. It was given to the town by Alexander Luttrell, in memory of the town's victims of World War One. Another commemorative gift to the local community was by Charles Hardcastle Abbot, who provided Dulverton with its recreation ground in 1920, again as a memorial to local servicemen killed in the First World War. More unusually, in 2008 a locomotive at Woody Bay Railway Station was dedicated by the Bishop of Exeter to those who served on the railways of the Western Front in the Great War (you can see further details of the train on the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway website).
Many war memorials are housed in buildings, especially places of worship. These can come in a variety of forms and can include tablets or plaques (to individuals or communities), books of remembrance or other, more personalised memorials. A good collection of these can be seen at All Saints Church in Dulverton, where there is a personal plaque to Trooper Charles Baker Simpson who died in South Africa in 1900, as well as wooden memorials to the men of Dulverton parish who died in World Wars One and Two and further individual plaques to servicemen. A book of remembrance is held in a wooden case. The local community also has associations with the HMS Dulverton and the battle ensign flown by the ship during the Gulf War is held in the church, with an oak tree planted in the churchyard outside by the commanding officer in November 1984. The freestanding stone war memorial situated near the River Barle within the village was built in 2008 and also commemorates those lost on HMS Dulverton in 1943, together with the fallen from Dulverton parish. Other churches of interest that hold war memorials include St Luke's Church at Simonsbath, which has a three light window depicting St Mary, Christ and St Luke as a memorial of the Great War, St Dubricius' Church at Porlock, which houses an altar rail dedicated to those who died in World War Two and the Church of St Petrock at Timberscombe, which has an organ that was installed to commemorate Major the Hon. Robert Rydar of the 8th Hussars, killed in action at Gauche Wood in France in 1917.
Conservation and Management
A number of organisations are involved in researching, repairing and managing war memorials, each with their own conservation values and philosophy. If you are considering undertaking work on a war memorial, you should first confirm whether it is a designated heritage asset on the National Heritage List for England, as this will affect whether the works will require consent before they can be undertaken. It is also useful to consult your local Historic Building Conservation Officer for advice.
Historic England have also initiated a major project to record the impact of the First World War on England and are also looking for new candidates of war memorials for Listing. For further information, you can visit their First World War: Home Front Legacy pages. You can also follow this link to download their new guidance on the conservation, repair and management of war memorials.
Perhaps the best well known organisation is the War Memorials Trust, who work for the protection and conservation of war memorials in the UK. They provide advice and information relating to war memorials and offer grants towards their repair and conservation, and believe in maintaining the integrity of the historic fabric of each memorial, advising that repairs must be tailored to individual circumstances. The Trust are currently in partnership with SmartWater to run the project In Memoriam 2014, allowing custodians of war memorials to mark those at risk of damage or theft with SmartWater (free of charge) to act as a deterrant and to increase traceability. They are also working with English Heritage on the project War Memorials Online, asking the public to upload pictures of war memorials and log concerns they may have about their conservation. A similar project is run by the Imperial War Museum, which hosts the War Memorials Archive (previously known as the UK National Inventory of War Memorials, or UKNIWM), an invaluable resource for researching these heritage assets.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (or CWGC) commemorates the men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two World Wars, and maintain cemeteries, burial plots and memorials across the globe. You can search their website to find information on any servicemen and find details of where they are commemorated and / or buried. Graveyards within the National Park that have CWGC maintained grave plots include All Saints Churchyard in Dulverton and St John the Baptist Churchyard in Countisbury.
Follow the link to see a complete list of the war memorials recorded on the Historic Environment Record. If you know of any other monuments and want to provide us with further details of them, or if you are thinking of undertaking conservation works on a memorial, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Bibliography and further reading
The War Memorials Archive
Ashley, P (2004); 'Pocket Books: Lest We Forget - War Memorials'. English Heritage.
Corke, J (2005); 'War Memorials in Britain'. Shire Publications Ltd.
Lamacraft, G (2013); 'A Brief History of Dunster'.
Quinlan, M (2005); 'British War Memorials'. Authors OnLine Ltd.