National Recording Project

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Detail from: Memorial to 158 Squadron by Peter W. Naylor, 2009

OLDHAM WAR MEMORIAL

Summary

Type War Memorial

     Bronze group of five soldiers in full equipment climbing out of a dugout and launching an attack. Surmounted by standing figure. The whole on a rectangular base which serves to house books containing the roll of honour of the 10th and 24th Battallions, Manchester Regiment. The pedestal has two bronze doors at either side.
     Plans to erect a memorial to those Oldhamers who had died fighting in the First World War began to be organised shortly after the war had ended. Oldham had provided large numbers of fighting men - including one of the Pals' regiments - and suffered considerable losses. A target of £20,000 was set to provide a memorial and scholarships for children whose fathers had been killed in the war. Any remaining money was to go the Oldham Royal Infirmary. There was a strong initial response to the memorial fund and by June 1919 some £9,000 had been raised. Albert Toft was commissioned to provide the memorial. Toft was an established sculptor whose war memorials, including the Welsh National Memorial for the South African War, were well known and commended. The project made good progress. The composition proposed by Toft was complex and dynamic, depicting soldiers making their way along the trenches in order to go into battle. The main standing figure, having climbed out of the trenches, was shown calling on his comrades to advance. It was much admired, Importantly, Toft intended it to be seen from all sides. By 1922 the figures had gone to the foundry. A major dispute, however, arose over the siting of the memorial.In planning the memorial the committee had assumed that a suitable site would be provided by the council. Initially it appears that the preferred location for a memorial was the old Market Place but doubts began to be expressed about its suitability, in part because the intended site was occupied by public lavatories. Alternative sites began to be considered including a site in front of St Mary's church, almost directly opposite the town hall. The latter site, although in the centre of the town, was problematic because it was close to a large public house. An approach to the Oldham Brewery Company to purchase the pub, the Greaves Arms Hotel, was rejected. Over a number of months arguments in the council and the press tested the attributes of possible sites including the main promenade in Alexandra Park and the open land next to the public library on Union Street. There was still a strong feeling for the site by the parish church and a canvas frame was erected there to provide a clearer idea of the space required. Toft's views on an alternative site shifted before he finally declared himself in favour of placing the memorial on the promenade in Alexandra Park. He was evidently keen to ensure that it could be seen easily from all sides. But the council overruled the sculptor, finally deciding that the memorial would be placed in front of St Mary's and next to the Greaves Arms Hotel. Oldham's principal war memorial was unveiled by General Sir Ian Hamilton in April 1923 before a crowd estimated at over 10,000. William Temple, Bishop of Manchester, provided the dedication. The interior of the pedestal contained a chamber in which were placed books containing the local roll of honour, and a space in which people could pray. The chamber was originally entered through two substantial bronze doors and exited through a similar pair of doors. The memorial itself was widely praised. The location, however, remained contentious and complaints were voiced that it was not respected by the customers of the neighbouring public house. After the Second World War it was decided to incorporate a Book of Remembrance into the base of the original memorial as a tribute to those who had died in the recent war. The book's pages were turned automatically. This addition was unveiled in 1955. But it was the location of the memorial, next to a busy town-centre pub, which continued to be the focus for complaints.
     Men of 1st, 10th and 24th Battalions, Manchester Regiment who fell in WWI.

Inscriptions

Over doors: MORS JANUA VITAE, 1914-1918 (death is the gate of life) Opposite side: TO GOD BE THE PRAISE

Contributor details

Contributor Role
Toft, Albert Sculptor

Element details

Part of work Material Dimensions
Statuary Bronze 430cm high
Pedestal Granite 384cm high

PMSA recording information

Reference Region
MR/OLD17 MR
General condition Good
Surface condition
  • Previous treatments
Structural condition
  • None
Vandalism
  • None
Road Church Lane
Precise location At side of Oldham Parish Church, next to Greaves Arms
A-Z ref p. 153 F6
OS ref SD927048
Date of design 1919-23
Year of unveiling 1923
Unveiling details 28 April 1923
Commissioned by Oldham War Memorial Committee
Duty of care Oldham MBC
Listing status II
At risk? Not at risk

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