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.
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 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’, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Click here to find out more about our Special Collections, Heritage and Archives
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hopton_Wood_stone (01/02/2022)
 Reproduced by Kind permission of the Sheffield Telegraph