National Recording Project


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

Birkenhead War Memorial (The Cenotaph)


Type War Memorial , War Memorial

     The Boumphreys give an excellent description of the cenotaph. The memorial 'consists of a simple rectangular cenotaph, flanked by flagstaffs and set upon a paved plateau' On the longer sides of the main body, 'above a strongly moulded base, are applied panels bearing the names of the Birkenhead men who fell in the war. On each of the shorter sides, a female mourning figure carved in relief is enclosed within an architectural frame. In one case the figure holds a replica of the Next of Kin Medallion, in another a wreath of immortelles and a palm branch. Surmounting both the names and the figures is a frieze being decorated with carved festoons of laurel. A band of Laurel leaves also encircles the base mouldings under the panels. Above each name panel are the inscriptions. 'Below the panels on each of these two fronts the four shields of the British Empire in the War, the Royal Navy, Army, Air Force and Merchant Service are represented by symbolic crests mounted in circular plaques. The Civic Arms of Birkenhead are embossed upon oval escutcheons above the figure panels and below the latter the dates 1914 - 1919 are incised. A sarcophagus form is given to the top on the cenotaph, which has capping of green Westmoreland Stone. The base of the whole is raised upon three broad steps that afford a place on which wreaths and floral tributes may be laid. Finally, two flagstaffs flanking the monument on the north-east and south-west sides respectively have been conceived as features complementary to central mass, the cast metal base of each rests on Portland Stone steps and is decorated with festoons of immortelles, the shafts are painted orange vermilion and the finials are guilded. A pendant bearing the Cross of St. George will be flown from each flagstaff'.(1)
     The cenotaph was a gift of subscribers to the town. Commemorated are local men who died in the "Great War". The erection of a war memorial was a typical feature of the so-called "roaring twenties". After the war, it seemed to be a necessity to focus the mourning on a mutual memorial. There was a War Memorial Executive Committee (Chairman: Councillor Mrs. Mary Mercer, J.P.; Town Clerk: Mr. E.W. Tame; Treasurer: Mr. Thomas Sumner; Secretary: Miss B.M. Truman; and twenty-two further members). In his competition report, Budden describes his ideas of the piece (these were reprinted in The Builder): 'It is felt that under existing conditions the ideal position for a war memorial in Hamilton square would be on the side of the square, immediately facing the Town Hall. The design would fit this latter position as well as the one for which it has been specifically prepared, and for that reason it has been alternatively indicated by dotted lines on the block plan opposite the Town Hall. Its erection in such a position would involve the moving of the Laird statue, which might either be placed to the right or left of its present station or be transferred to the site already prospectively allocated to the war memorial. 'A rectangular mass with battered sides is raised upon a heavily moulded base and crowned by a sarcophagus top. To his mass there are applied on the north-east and south-west sides respectively three panels, which are surmounted by laurel extended, are incised the names of the fallen. Experimental tests have been carried out with names of the size and in the position shown and they have been found to be easily legible, at a distance of 15 ft. and 8 ft. above the eye level. Above the panels, on the north-west side of the main mass itself there is the inscription. Below the panels on each of the two fronts are the four shields of the empire in War - the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Merchant Service - each represented by official crests mounted on the shields. 'On its south-east and north-west sides the main mass of the monument is marked by two mourning figures carved in relief, above which the civic arms of Birkenhead are embossed upon oval escutcheons, and below which the date 1914-1918 are incised. As the occasion has appeared emphatically not to be one for the employment of flamboyant and restless sculpture and as moreover, the conditions particularly require that statuary, should be reduced to a minimum, these figures alone are introduced into the design and are intended to be given a restrained and dignified treatment. The total estimated cost of the memorial, including layout of site and drainage, is £3,932.'(2) The unveiling of the Cenotaph in Birkenhead has been watched by a crowd of some 20,000 people. The ceremony was "full of pathos and sad reflection", as it is described in the Birkenhead News, "one's more sorrowful thoughts were not left without a bright tinge of hope." The memorial was seen as "a symbolic monument, touching in its simplicity, beautiful in form, and yet, with a quiet dignity of its own."


Above the panels on the side towards the Town Hall: IN MEMORY OF THE MEN OF BIRKENHEAD / WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE GREAT WAR Opposite side: ALL THESE WERE HONOURED IN THEIR GENERATIONS AND WERE THE GLORY OF THEIR TIMES (Ecclesiastics: Chapter 44, Verse 7) On the longer sides of the main body are listed the names of one thousand two hundred and ninety three Birkenhead men who fell in the War. Above front seat ledge: 1939-1945 / THE BOOK OF REMEMBERANCE MAY BE INSPECTED IN THE TOWN HALL Back, above plaque: ALL THESE WERE HONOURED IN THEIR GENERATION / AND WERE THE GLORY OF THEIR TIMES.

Contributor details

Contributor Role
Clegg and Sons of Chester, Henry A. Builder
Smith, H. Tyson Sculptor
Smith, H. Tyson Letter carver
Budden, Lionel Designer
Davies, Mr. Joseph Builder
Company, Ltd., Liverpool Artificial Stone Builder
Rutherford and Co. Ltd., A. Builder

Element details

Part of work Material Dimensions
Cenotaph Portland stone 600cm high approx
Panels & figures Green Westmoreland stone None

PMSA recording information

Reference Region
General condition Good
Surface condition
Structural condition
Road Hamilton Square
Precise location None
A-Z ref 1D 85
OS ref None

Sorry, we have no precise geographical information for this item.

Date of design None
Year of unveiling 1925
Unveiling details 5 July 1925
Commissioned by None
Duty of care Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council
Listing status II
At risk? Not at risk

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