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BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON

HISTORIC CHURCHES

23

RD ANNUAL EDITION

15

THE CONSERVATION

OF WAR MEMORIAL

INSCRIPTIONS

Frances Moreton and Chris Reynolds

W

AR MEMORIALS

have a unique

poignancy. They

reflect a coming together of

communities which experienced

an unprecedented loss of

loved ones. After World War I

those who lost their lives were

primarily laid to rest overseas

at sites few of their family

and friends would ever have

envisaged visiting. As a result,

groups across the nation came

together and erected monuments,

sculptures, plaques and many

other forms of memorial in place

of the individual gravestone.

These shared memorials were

places to grieve, pay tribute,

remember and commemorate,

both individually and collectively.

Some memorials record just the

fallen, others those who served

as well. Many were subsequently

added to after later conflicts.

As the nation marks the

centenary of World War I,

attention has focussed on events

occurring at memorials such

as those found in churches

and churchyards around the

UK. With over two thirds of

our war memorials associated

with that conflict, there is huge

interest in ensuring they are

preserved as a fitting tribute

to those they commemorate.

To help communities repair

them there are a number of

ongoing, and one-off programmes

offering support, guidance and

funding. War Memorials Trust (WMT)

runs a number of grant schemes which

support repair and conservation work

alongside offering advice and guidance

on best conservation practice and day-

to-day management of war memorials.

WMT is a partner in the First World War

Memorials Programme through which

the government is making additional

one-off funding of £2 million available

to support grants towards war

memorial repair and conservation.

While this article will focus

on a key issue facing many

war memorial custodians

– repairing and conserving

inscriptions – a wide array of

works can be eligible for financial

and other support (see Further

Information).

As the majority of war

memorials were constructed by

local committees without any

central influence, inscription

styles and designs vary greatly.

However, the most common

form is incised lettering

carved or cut into the stone.

Inscriptions of this type become

less legible over time as a result

of weathering, deterioration of

materials and biological growth.

Incised inscriptions were

occasionally painted or gilded

as part of the original design,

either for artistic or practical

reasons. Over time, paint or

gilding can come away leaving

an inconsistent appearance. It

is sometimes necessary to carry

out paint analysis because the

darkened appearance of incised

letters is sometimes the result

of a build-up of dirt rather than

evidence of a historic finish.

A popular alternative to

incising individual letters was to

cut back the stone to leave the

lettering standing proud (carved

in relief), as seen on the Tutbury

war memorial in St Mary’s

Church, Staffordshire (page 16). This style

of lettering is often highly decorative and

should be carefully managed to avoid

damage because more exposed elements

are prone to weathering.

Detail of Devizes and Roundway war memorial, Wiltshire: with

the aid of a WMT grant bronze plaques in the same style as the

existing were added recording the names of the fallen post-1939

(Photo: Jonathan Taylor)