The University of Sheffield War Memorial

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Written by Emily Green, University Heritage Collections Manager

In 2021, the University of Sheffield Heritage Collection Office hosted a student placement project and summer internship to produce information panels about the university war memorial. The memorial is situated at the end of a corridor in Firth Court, just outside Firth Hall. The area is a walkthrough for staff and students, but also serves as a high-profile area for events in Firth Hall where staff, students and visitors assemble. The project was devised to enhance the area and provide visitors with information about the university’s heritage including stories relating to students who contributed to the war effort. Some of the information did not make it into the panels as there is an abundance of information relating to its significance still being discovered.  

Information Panels in Firth Court:

Former student Holly Cooke (MA in American History, 2021), completed both placements and has provided an abundance of information about the memorial and personal stories about students and staff who contributed towards the First World War effort. 

All the information was researched and written up by Holly which has been added to two information panels which are now installed around the war memorial. The first panel about the war memorial panel includes information about the Sheffield Pals Battalion and the Lost Generation. The other panel tells stories of four students who made significant contributions towards the war effort. This research was conducted by using the Library’s Special Collections , Heritage and Archive Collections. 

 Memorial History:

The University of Sheffield War Memorial stands as a permanent feature representing part of the university’s heritage. It was unveiled as part of the university’s 21st anniversary on July 2nd 1926 dedicated to commemorate those associated with the university who contributed towards and sadly died during the First World War.

The university war memorial in 2022.

The university war memorial stands at ten-feet tall and is a Grade II listed structure made in Hopton Wood stone which is a type of limestone quarried in Middleton-by-Wirksworth in Derbyshire. The stone has a marble-like quality and is regarded as ‘England’s premier decorative stone’[1], ideal for carving and has a long history of use for memorial and ornamental work.

The memorial was originally installed in the Edgar Allen Library which is now the Rotunda. The Edgar Allen Library was opened by T.R.H. The Prince and Princess of Wales (later King George V and Queen Mary), on the 26th April 1909. The Edgar Allen Library and Rotunda was designed by Sheffield-based architects Gibbs & Flockton who built Firth Court and numerous buildings in Sheffield.

Architect’s drawing of the Edgar Allen Library. Designed by Gibbs & Flockton Architects. University Heritage Collection ID: 853

The memorial’s design and location in the Edgar Allen Library would have been considered as a permanent feature; the neo-Gothic style octagonal architecture of the library including the columns and the Gothic design of the memorial fitted within the interior very well. The memorial was moved to Firth Court in the late 1950s when student numbers increased and the need for a larger, modern library was required. The Edgar Allen Library changed its use into offices when Western Bank Library was opened in 1960.

A photograph taken inside the Edgar Allen Library with the war memorial in situ to the right.

 The architectural structure of the memorial was designed by chartered architect Harold St John Harrison (1894-1989). There is not much information about Mr Harrison, but we did find out that he was Scottish and worked in London. He worked as a lecturer in the Department of Architecture here at the university and married another architect, Gillian Cooke (1989-1974). Harrison and Cooke formed their own architect office on Grays Inn Road in London. They were both members of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) where Cooke was notably the first full female member of RIBA. We do know that Harrison presented designs on English cathedrals where he was considered as an amateur artist and submitted designs of York Minster in 1968 which were rejected.

The memorial was carved by Frank Tory (1848-1939) who was a Sheffield based architectural sculptor whose company, Frank Tory & Sons, enhanced some of Sheffield’s finest late 19th and early 20th century buildings.

Memorial Unveiling:

The memorial was unveiled by the Marquis of Crewe, pictured at the right wearing a robe, who was Chancellor of the university at the time.

A photograph featured in an article documenting the unveiling in the Sheffield Telegraph 03/07/1926.[2]

The ceremony was performed by the Bishop of Sheffield, Rev. L. H. Burrows, who dedicated the memorial to the university in memory of the lives lost during the First World War. Although the university memorial does not include any religious iconography or symbolism, traditionally, war memorials have a history relating to religious ceremonies in respect for the people whose lives are being remembered. The university memorial continues to be respected every Remembrance Sunday where a representative of the university and the armed forces observe the minute’s silence in front of the memorial. Wreaths are left by local military groups to remember those who fought and sadly did not come back. 

Portrait of Robert Offley Ashburton Crewe-Milnes (1858-1944). 2nd Baron Houghton, later Right Hon. The Marquess of Crewe, K.G., P.C. Chancellor of the University 1917-1944. Painted in 1893 by William Carter RA (1863-1939). University Heritage Collection ID: 389

Memorial Design:

The design of the memorial enables it to sit in pillars of elaborate castellated stone so that it bears resemblance to a castle as part of the Gothic design and takes the form of a canopied shrine.
The design supports an alabaster bowl which contains an electric light which sheds a soft radiance on the Book of Remembrance placed under a locked glass door below and placed on a velvet cushion.
Inside the Book of Remembrance 1914 – 1918 is the Roll of Honour – 196 names of the students and staff who fought in the war, specifically from the Sheffield Pals Battalion which formed on the 10th September 1914.

There are engravings of the Yorkshire rose and University of Sheffield Coat of Arms and other Gothic elements which represent the architecture for churches and other religious connotations: with the touch of the Gothic character along with a touch of the Renaissance period.  

The Latin inscription ‘illis gloria nobis libereas’ carved on the front of the memorial reads as: ‘to them the glory, to us the freedom’.
There is a brass plaque placed on the surface next to the Book of Remembrance to highlight the importance of the memorial and to provide information to accompany its new location in Firth Court. This plaque was added after the Second World War.

War Memorial Significance:

We recognise that there is no unifying definition of what a war memorial is; war memorials can vary in iconography and topographical symbolism as there is a wide variety of Western war memorials, they can symbolise wider, national, regional, local histories and cultures, and can be inspired by religion. Representations of war memorials reflect equality in death which came about in 1914-18 where the names of the dead are added alphabetically by last name, not in the order of rank or position. This was an unbiased way to honour all citizens as equals. The university memorial does not include the names of all those who fell as carvings, but the Roll of Honour in the Book of Remembrance enables those to be remembered and acknowledged who are now encased and protected symbolically within the memorial’s shrine-like presence.

The Imperial War Museum has conducted a War Memorial Register to nationally record all war memorials – plaques, stained glass windows, roll of honours and books of remembrance, of which the university memorial has been added to: https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/27822

This is an important contribution towards the register as it secures the status of the university’s memorial and enables it to be recognised as a national memorial. War memorials form an important part of our cultural heritage and reflect the changes towards commemoration, art, and architecture as well as military history and its social significance.

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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hopton_Wood_stone (01/02/2022)

[2] Reproduced by Kind permission of the Sheffield Telegraph 

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