Whitehall’s Cenotaph Prepared for First World War Commemorations

Whitehall’s Cenotaph prepared for First World War Commemorations

-         One of the world’s most outstanding war memorials to be repaired -
-         More than £60,000 awarded to restore war memorials around the country -

This summer, English Heritage will prepare the Cenotaph for the forthcoming First World War centenary commemorations.  A schedule of conservation works began at the end of April and will be completed by the end of July. The Cenotaph’s Portland stone is naturally susceptible to weathering and pollution and although English Heritage carries out maintenance every year, a more thorough cleaning is now needed. The Cenotaph is one of 47 statues and monuments in London looked after by English Heritage.

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: “The Cenotaph, like all memorials, marks a place where history breaks through the surface and into our everyday lives. Its austere beauty powerfully reminds us of the millions who died in the terrible events that happened all over the world between 1914 and 1918.  English Heritage is honoured to have direct responsibility for making sure the Cenotaph is in good condition for the commemorations of the next four years.

“We also have a wider ambition, working with the Heritage Lottery Fund, War Memorials Trust and other bodies, to aid the repair of war memorials all over the country. There is money available and we hope that our work here on the Cenotaph will encourage people to come forward for grants and advice.”

The famous British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) produced his design for the Cenotaph within hours of the Peace Treaty marking the formal end of the First World War being signed on 28 June 1919. Intended only as a temporary part of the celebrations which followed, the Cenotaph was originally made of wood and plaster. However, the public reaction to the monument was so strong - the monument was soon piled high with flowers - that Lutyens was commissioned to design a permanent memorial. 

Derived from the Greek, Cenotaph means ‘empty tomb’ – a monument erected in honour of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere. One of the most renowned memorials anywhere in the world, the Whitehall Cenotaph honours the more than 1.1million British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the First World War.

Drawing inspiration from classical architecture, Lutyens designed a Cenotaph whose power lies in its apparent simplicity, typified in the brevity of its inscription: The Glorious Dead. However, the design is more complex than is at first obvious. There are no straight lines.  Instead every surface is subtly curved with the raking verticals meeting at an imaginary point 1,000ft above the ground, designed to bridge the space between Heaven and Earth.

The Cenotaph was unveiled by King George V as he made his way to the ceremony for the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey on 11 November 1920. It quickly became the nation’s focal point when expressing grief and gratitude for the sacrifices of the First World War, and also for the conflicts which followed. It was estimated that within five days more than a million people had filed past, laying 100,000 wreaths. The monument had taken its place in the nation’s heart as a poignant marker of remembrance.

Grants for War Memorials - More Money Available

Since 2004, English Heritage and the Wolfson Foundation have jointly funded a Grants for War Memorials scheme run in partnership with War Memorials Trust. So far £800,000 has been given out for more than 250 projects all over the country and from this year the annual amount available was doubled to £200,000 for the next two years.

Individual grants of £3,000 to £30,000 can be given for up to 75% of costs for repair, conservation, cleaning and work to improve the legibility of inscriptions, along with professional fees and VAT and it is hoped that many more people will come forward to apply for grants in the next few years.

Today, five new grants totalling £60,000 from English Heritage and the Wolfson Foundation, awarded through the Grants for War Memorials Scheme, were announced. They include:

-          £30,000 to the Oldham Liaison of Ex-Service Associations for the repair of a Grade II listed memorial from 1923 in Oldham, Greater Manchester which features a group of soldiers cast in bronze atop a large granite plinth

-          £5,167 to help the restoration of a Grade II listed peace memorial outside Watford Town Hall depicting three men on an inscribed limestone plinth. One man represents “the fallen”, one “the wounded” and one “victory”.

-          £10,000 is to assist with repairs to the Grade II listed Portland stone clock tower in Stockwell, south London which was built to remember local men who never returned from the First World War.


War Memorials Online

English Heritage is also working with the War Memorials Trust on a new online crowd-sourcing database called War Memorials Online. Members of the public are invited to log-in and enter photographs and information about their local war memorials with an emphasis on noting their condition.  War Memorials Online will help to identify which are in need of repair and so assist with the effective distribution of grants from the War Memorials Grant Scheme and other sources.


Grant Schemes

For more information about various different grant schemes for war memorials, please see English Heritage’s website, the War Memorials Trust website and the Heritage Lottery Fund’s website

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