Wellington's Missing Memorials
A wide variety of memorials were unveiled in Wellington in the wake of the First World War. Some monuments, such as the Lych Gate outside All Saints parish church, have become familiar landmarks to generations of townsfolk but other less known commemorations have vanished altogether. Our question is this: where have they gone, and can you help us find them?
Plans for an official memorial to Wellington’s fallen were already being formulated in the final months of the Great War. However, after the conflict finally concluded several schemes came and went before the familiar Lych Gate memorial was eventually unveiled four years later in 1922. A constant theme that found expression among townsfolk in the interim (at various official meetings and in the letters page of the Wellington Journal, Shropshire’s leading newspaper of the era) was that the cottage hospital in Haygate Road should form a central part of any commemoration. The institution was partially converted to an army convalescence facility during the war but the cessation of hostilities triggered a financial crisis when the military left and the compensation paid to the facility ended.
When the scheme for a statue on the Green in Church Street collapsed in mid-1920, the town’s official memorial committee held one final meeting, in order to dissolve itself. At the gathering, the Journal reported as follows:
‘There is a very general feeling in favour of the war memorial taking the form of an endowment to the cottage hospital as recommended as an alternative scheme at the public meeting’.
Taking inspiration, the hospital’s Board of Management launched a fund for the endowment of a memorial bed that October. The wording of the promotional advertisement for the venture sums up the prevailing mood of the time, offering insight into the reasons previous schemes had failed to raise the necessary funding.
“Many however will prefer that their tribute to the memory of the fallen should go direct to the relief of suffering and pain. To these the needs of the cottage hospital must eloquently appeal”.
It proved to be a popular sentiment and money poured in from various sources, securing the immediate future of the facility and enabling it to treat more patients than ever before. Among the most generous donors were the workforces of Sankeys Hadley Castle Works and nearby Ketley Ironworks, where money was collected at the rate of a penny-a-week. Such were their combined efforts, endowed beds were eventually unveiled to remember the fallen of both factories. While those memorials (which presumably took the form of brass plaques) are listed on the Imperial War Museum Register, they appear to have been removed from the hospital by the time of its closure in 1989. Sadly, they are not the only examples of lost Great War memorials in Wellington.
Worthy of Commendation
By April 1921, plans for the Lych Gate outside All Saints parish church were well advanced but, just across the other side of Market Square in Walker Street, another tribute to the fallen was about to be unveiled. A large brass plate, with the names of 130 men, was mounted in the public library as a gift from the members and employees of Wellington Urban District Council. Between them, they had raised nearly 40 shillings for the tribute (around £1700 in modern day terms), an act the Journal described as ‘worthy of high commendation’. Following the library’s move to Larkin Way, we have been unable to trace the memorial and, sadly, it is not the only instance of relocation seemingly leading to a loss.
In 1966, Wellington’s Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist churches merged, the chapel of the latter organisation (which was situated on the corner of Tan Bank and Glebe Street) being sold just over a decade later in 1977. Of the Great War plaques belonging to both institutions, three survive at the modern day Methodist church in New Street but one further brass tablet, dedicated to Surgeon Probationer Maurice Cadman, was not so fortunate. Commemorations to individual men provide the earliest examples of First World War memorials found in Wellington. For the families of those whose bodies were never recovered, they helped to provide a focal point for their grief in the absence of a grave, and there are number of stone memorials in the town cemetery serving a similar purpose. Whether the plaque was eventually entrusted to members of Maurice Cadman’s family, or left lying in storage somewhere and subsequently forgotten, we do not know. However, if anyone is able to shed light on the whereabouts of any of these missing plaques, please get in touch so we can help update the national memorial register and shine new light on this important chapter in the town’s history of remembrance.