The Eleanor Cross, Sledmere 


Many of the early memorials were designed by notable architects of the early 1920s.  In York we celebrate the work of Sir Edwin Lutyens and Walter Henry Brierley.  Jay Winter who studied these designs said that that they sought to be conservative in style looking to be 'noble, uplifting, tragic and enduringly sad.'  On the memorials we looked at for our project we identified styles that tended to be classical, medieval, arts and crafts or modernist.  When we looked at these styles we tried to think about what was being communicated. 

Sir Edwin Lutyens used the classical style to create the design for the North Eastern Railway memorial in central York.  We looked at this memorial on two of our field trips.  The memorial is very conservative and has a clean obelisk rising from a three-sided wall bearing names of the fallen.  Each end of the wall has a classical urn, a symbol often used on grave memorials of the late Victorian period.  The memorial is also draped with wreaths and a garland.  The wreaths are a classical symbol of strength and respect.  Classical architecture also intended to create a sense of peace and rest for those who had fallen and those who stood before the memorial in remembrance.  

During the research for our film we also visited the Sykes memorial at Sledmere, a small village on the Yorkshire Wolds dominated by the family seat and great house of the Sykes family.  There are two memorials located on the main road here which contrast with the conservatism of the York memorial.  The most famous memorial at Sledmere is referred to as the Waggoners' memorial.  This was created in 1919 to remember the losses of the working men of the Wolds.  It is carved in an almost cartoon style with panels telling the story of the agricultural workers who enlisted up and fought in the war, depicting the honourable working men in conflict with a terrible foe.  The second memorial is the re-used tower representing a medieval Eleanor cross that stands in the village.  It is dedicated to Sir Mark Sykes and his friends who fell during the war.  They are represented as medieval knights, symbolic of a chivalrous and noble sacrifice.  The use of medieval symbolism also reaches back to the past as stable and reassuring those who are remembering that those who were lost will not be forgotten.


We found similar medieval symbolism and styles in our research in the field in the stained glass designs at Cawood, Heslington and Dunnington, the cross at Acaster Selby, the tablet at Elvington and the altar rails at Holy Trinity Micklegate. The Cawood methodist memorial features a wheeled cross, and these too became a popular choice for memorial stones.    The war memorial at St Oswald's Church also features a wheeled cross, and was designed by the York firm of architects Brierley and Rutherford and erected in 1920.  This also reflects a retreat from the present into a more rustic past.  

A particularly interesting memorial in York can be found at Nether Poppleton on the banks of the River Ouse.  This is cairn is formed by a rough pyramid of stones originally standing around 1.5 metres high from the base with a bronze plaque  containing eleven names from the First World War and one from World War Two fastened into the recess.  The idea of a cairn has a resonance with some of the rarer burial markers of the time.  It suggests a sense of timelessness reaching back to a time gone by, an ancient marker created by people adding stones.