Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places - Loss & Destruction

Historic England

Death, destruction, conflict and disaster have left their markers throughout England. In particular, the impact of war has stimulated a wealth of artistic and architectural creativity dedicated to loss and sacrifice. This gallery of images from the Historic England Archive illustrates a handful of England's famous and lesser-known war memorials.  

England's War Memorials

The public commemoration of war dead did not develop to any great extent in England until the end of the 19th century. The first large scale erection of war memorials dedicated to the ordinary soldier followed the Second Boer War of 1899-1902.

The impact of the First World War resulted in a great age of memorial building. The huge loss of life and the official policy of not repatriating the dead meant that memorials provided the main focus for expressions of grief and remembrance.

It is estimated there are over 100,000 war memorials in the United Kingdom, the precise figure is unknown. They range from familiar crosses, obelisks and statues to less common memorials such as bus shelters, sundials, gardens and park benches. They commemorate individuals, regiments, members of local communities, school alumni, and the unknown.

This gallery of images from the Historic England Archive illustrates a selection of sculptural and architectural monuments that adorn our public spaces and historic buildings.

Guards Crimean War Memorial
Westminster, London

Created by the sculptor John Bell, the Guards Crimean War Memorial was unveiled in 1861. It was the first war memorial to recognise all ranks, rather than a commander.

The memorial honours the 2,162 men of the Brigade of Guards who were killed during the war with Russia between 1854 and 1856.

Standing on a granite pedestal are three bronze figures representing Grenadier, Scots and Coldstream Guardsmen. Above, with outstretched arms is a figure of Honour holding laurel coronets.

In 1914 the memorial was moved northwards and two further statues added to the site, commemorating the wartime nurse Florence Nightingale and the politician Sidney Herbert, who served as Secretary of State for War during the conflict.

Afghan and Zulu War Memorial
Woolwich, London

Photographed before its removal to Larkhill Garrison in Wiltshire, this megalith-like structure was built to commemorate all ranks of the Royal Regiment of Artillery who lost their lives in South Africa and Afghanistan between 1877 and 1881.

Blocks of granite surround a plaque listing the names of the dead officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the Regiment. Flanking the plaque are bronze casts of the kinds of weapons that were encuntered during the conflicts.

The memorial is attributed to the sculptor and former naval officer Count Gleichen, whose mother was half-sister to Queen Victoria. His son Albert was an officer in the Grenadier Guards, who saw service in Sudan, South Africa and the First World War.

Oxfordshire Light Infantry Memorial
St Clements, Oxford

Originally located at St Clements in Oxford, this memorial was unveiled in 1903 to commemorate the men of the 1st Battalion, Oxfordshire Light Infantry who were killed during the South Africa War of 1899-1902, also known as the Second Boer War.

It features the figure of a soldier in pith helmet and South African campaign uniform, holding his rifle in the ready position. It was created by the sculptor John Edward Hyett.

Over the years, the memorial has been relocated several times, having homes at various barracks in and around Oxford.

Otterbourne War Memorial
Otterbourne, Hampshire

Many of England's war memorials are located in adjacent to parish churches and in churchyards. The war memorial at Otterbourne in Hampshire was erected on a triangle of land between the main road through the village and the Church of St Matthew.

The memorial is made of Portland stone and features a Latin cross atop a plinth with decorative scroll brackets. The stepped base features corner columns topped with orbs and has bench seating between.

The memorial's dedication honours those local men who served during the First World War, as well as listing the names of thirty men who were killed.

It was unveiled on 5 December 1920 and was rededicated on 1 November 1987 following its restoration.

Preston War Memorial
Preston, Lancashire

Standing in the heart of the city, Preston War Memorial is listed Grade I for its value as a historic structure and for its architectural and artistic significance.

It was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the leading architect of his generation, and was Scott's earliest Classical design. The sculptural work was created by Henry Alfred Pegram, whose other First World War-related work includes a memorial in Norwich to the nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed by the Germans in 1915.

Preston War Memorial was unveiled on 13 June 1926 by Admiral the Earl Jellicoe at a ceremony attended by around 40,000 people. The whole ceremony was amplified and broadcast around the town centre by loud speakers.

Coventry War Memorial
War Memorial Park, Coventry

In 1919 Coventry's City Council invited the local community to form a committee to discuss a war memorial to commemorate those from the city who had lost their lives during the First World War. As Coventry lacked open space, it was decided that the memorial should be a public park, with gardens, sports facilities and a memorial structure at its centre.

The War Memorial was built to designs by local architect Thomas Francis Tickner and overseen by his partner TRJ Meakin following Tickner's death in 1924. It was formally opened on 8 October by Earl Haig, former Commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force during the war.


The War Memorial's design is that of a tower in a bold and dramatic Art Deco style. It is constructed in reinforced concrete and clad in Portland stone. The original octagonal platform was replaced with a circular one in 2011.

Liverpool Cenotaph
The Plateau, Liverpool

Liverpool Cenotaph was designed by local architect Lionel Bailey Budden. Its form is that of an altar-like rectangular block of Stancliffe stone, thirty-five feet (10.7 metres) long.

The design provides a setting and frame for two large low-relief bronze sculptures on each of its long sides. Created by Liverpool-born sculptor Herbert Tyson Smith, one features ranks of marching men of the armed forces representing 'the march to action of the fighting services'. The other, representing the commemoration of Armistice Day, depicts mourners of all ages laying flowers and wreaths at a coffin with war graves in the background.

Liverpool Cenotaph was unveiled on Armistice Day 1930 immediately before the two minutes' silence, with a crowd of approximately 80,000 people in attendance.

Liverpool Cotton Association War Memorial
Cotton Exchange, Liverpool

The Liverpool Cotton Association War Memorial features a detailed, life-sized bronze figure of an advancing infantryman, sculpted by Francis Derwent Wood.

The memorial was erected by the Liverpool Cotton Association to mark the sacrifice made by those members who lost their lives in the First World War. Some 2,500 members of the association had enlisted, of whom 358 died.

Unveiled on 5 April 1922, the memorial was originally positioned to the front of the colonnade of the Liverpool Cotton Exchange. The names of the fallen were listed on a large plaque in the colonnade.

When the Exchange was re-modelled, the statue was moved to the building's courtyard. It moved again when the Association relocated to new premises on Exchange Flags.

Watford Peace Memorial
Watford, Hertfordshire

Watford Peace Memorial is a simple Portland stone wall with three pedestals supporting figures by the sculptor Mary Pownall Bromet, a former student of Auguste Rodin.

This war memorial is a rarity in that the figures are nudes and it is one of only a few created by a female sculptor.

Bromet had offered plaster figures for a memorial hospital in the town. One figure, titled ‘To the Fallen’ was made in 1914 after attending a casualty’s funeral. ‘To the Wounded’ was made in 1916, followed by ‘Victory’. A public appeal raised funds to have them cast in bronze and these were unveiled on 18 July 1928.

The war memorial at Westfield War Memorial Village
Lancaster, Lancashire

In 1918 the landscape architect Thomas Heyton Mawson started to gather support for a memorial village in Lancaster. It was to be a permanent testament to those members of the local community killed in the First World War, and to provide accommodation and employment for disabled veterans. Set out as a series of streets radiating out from a central war memorial, Westfield War Memorial Village was formally opened on 24 November 1924.

The central war memorial was was unveiled by General Sir Archibald Hunter on 4 August 1926. Created by sculptor Jennie Delahunt, it depicts a soldier giving a drink to a comrade. The figures were modelled on individual veterans, Private Richard Henry Allen of Rochdale and Captain Jack Ward of Walney Island.

Harrow War Memorial Building
Harrow School, Harrow on the Hill, London

A committee was formed in May 1917 to raise funds for a war memorial at Harrow. The architect Sir Herbert Baker produced a design for a shrine and associated building. Work began in 1921 and the completed building was opened by the Prime Minister, the Rt Honourable Stanley Baldwin MP on 3 June 1926.

Pictured here is the room sited above the shrine. It was financed by one of the fund's benefactors, Lady Fitch. Elizabethan panelling and fittings from Brook House in Hackney were used, including an ornate stone fireplace from the reign of Henry V. The teak boards used for the floor were acquired from HMS St Vincent, a warship built at Plymouth in 1815.

644 Old Harovians had been killed during the First World War. One of them was Lady's Fitch's son, nineteen-year-old Second Lieutenant Alexander Fitch, who died in France in September 1918. A lamp over his portrait above the fireplace is kept lit in memory of him and all fallen soldiers.

Royal Artillery Memorial
Westminster, London

The Royal Regiment of Artillery was the single largest unit in the British Army to serve during the First World War. It suffered 49,076 fatalities during the conflict.

The memorial to the Regiment was created by the sculptor and war veteran Charles Sargeant Jagger, and the architect Lionel Pearson. A representation of a 9.2 inch howitzer sits atop a cruciform stone base with stone friezes depicting scenes of active service. The memorial also includes four bronze figures of artillerymen, the one shown here is a driver wearing a waterproof cape.

The Royal Artillery Memorial received a mixed reception when it was unveiled on 18 October 1925, however, it is now considered to be one of the finest memorials erected anywhere after the First World War.

War Memorial of the 24th East Surrey Division
Battersea Park, Wandsworth, London

Created by the sculptor Eric Henri Kennington, this Portland stone memorial comprises the representation of three infantrymen standing with a serpent at their feet, presumably symbolising evil in a Christian context. They are placed upon a circular base featuring twenty unit badges.

The memorial commemorates over 10,000 men who were killed or listed 'missing presumed dead' during service with the 24th Division during the First World War.

One of the figures was modelled on the poet and writer Robert Graves, who served with the Welch Fusiliers, and who was severely injured during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and shell-shocked in 1917.

Wagoners' Memorial
Sledmere, East Riding of Yorkshire

Sir Mark Sykes was a Yorkshire landowner, politician and soldier. In 1912 he began to raise the Wagoners Reserve from the men working at farms across the Yorkshire Wold.

The 1,127 men of the Wagoners Reserve Corps received their call-up papers at the outset of the First World War and were sent to units of the Army Service Corps and the Royal Engineers. Their job was to haul supplies to the trenches and supply depots at the front.

In 1918 Sir Mark designed a monument to the Corps to honour the local farm workers who served in the war. It was created by the Italian anarchist sculptor Carlo Domenico Magnoni and mason Alfred Barr.

Wagoners' Memorial
Sledmere, East Riding of Yorkshire

The Wagoners' Memorial comprises a Portland stone drum beneath a conical canopy and four elaborately carved columns.

The central drum is divided into three sections, each featuring detailed carved scenes in relief. Wagoners are shown working in fields, receiving call-up papers and at work on the front.

The scene shown in this detail depicts fearsome-looking German soldiers committing atrocities by torching a church and murdering a defenseless woman.

Statue of Captain Albert Ball
Nottingham Castle, Nottingham

Albert Ball was one of the First World War's greatest flying aces. He was described by Manfred von Richthofen, The Red Baron, as ‘by far the best English Flying man’.

Within one year Ball had amassed forty-for confirmed 'kills' with another twenty-five unconfirmed. He was the first man in the war to be awarded three Distinguished Service Orders and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. He died during a combat mission, aged just twenty.

A statue to commemorate him was unveiled in his home city of Nottingham on 8 September 1921. It features a bronze representation of Ball and an allegorical figure of 'Air'. The stone plinth features reliefs of SE5 fighter aircraft, the type he flew on his final, fatal mission.

ANZAC Memorial
Weymouth, Dorset

The seaside town of Weymouth has several war memorials on its Esplanade, two of which are dedicated to foreign servicemen who passed through the town before heading overseas, or who were shipped to England following active service.

The one illustrated in this photograph commemorates the ANZACS - soldiers of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. In 1915 200 wounded ANZACS were sent to a camp at Chickerell near Weymouth to convalesce. Many of whom had seen action at Gallipoli in Turkey. By the end of the war, further camps had opened locally and over 105,000 had stayed in the area.

The memorial comprises a triangular obelisk on a square base. The faces are decorated with ANZAC, Australian and New Zealand badges, and on the base are representations of hats and helmets associated with the Corps.

Rather than being an immediate response to the impact of the First World War, the memorial was unveiled on 1 June 2005, the ninetieth anniversary of the arrival of the first ANZACS to Weymouth.

The Cenotaph
Westminster, London

The Cenotaph in Whitehall is England's most recogniseable war memorial. It is the focal point for the nation on Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday.

The word cenotaph derives from the Greek for an empty tomb. The monument in Whitehall was originally intended to honour the absent dead of the First World War but has evolved into a national shrine to the casualties of the First World War and subsequent conflicts.

Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, one of England's greatest architects, the Cenotaph was erected in time for the Armistice Day parade of 1920. Made of Portland stone it features a tomb chest atop a tall shaft. Its only decoration is in the form of suspended laurels, executed by the sculptor Frances Derwent Wood.

The only words on the Cenotaph are inscribed on the north and south sides of the shaft: THE GLORIOUS DEAD.

Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places

England wears its battle scars from thousands of years of conflict and disaster. From Marston Moor, the site of the largest battle ever fought on English soil, to the Oaks Colliery in Barnsley which saw a horrific disaster that changed English law, we think everyone should know about the places that have witnessed England's most important historic events.

Historic England's Irreplaceable campaign, sponsored by specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical, aims to highlight the places that have changed England and the world.

Image: The War Memorial at King's Cross Station, Camden, Greater London
The memorial at King's Cross commemorates the men of the Great Northern Railway killed during the First World War.

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