South Elmsall War Memorial – Update

Today i have formally issued South Elmsall Town Council my letter outlining my thoughts on the issue of South Elmsall and Moorthorpe War Memorial. In it i agree entirely with the O’Marr family that the spelling mistake should be corrected and supply the council with evidence to prove that they are in a position to legally do so. I also recommend potential avenues for funding and lay out my plan to have the monument formally assessed and nationally listed (something i have already agreed in principle with Historic England). Please get in touch if you have any objections or if you also have evidence to show your own family member is missing from the monument or their name or rank is incorrect. Please see my letter in full, below:

Dear Councillors,

I am writing to you regards my previous correspondence about the South Elmsall and Moorthorpe War Memorial. As you may be aware a local resident, Megan O’Marr, contacted me to ask for assistance with having an error on the memorial corrected, the family have since contacted yourselves, the Royal British Legion and our constituency Member of Parliament, Jon Trickett. The reason that the O’Marr family contacted myself initially is that they were aware of my passion for our local heritage and that i have a background in conservation matters, through my masters degree programme in the archaeology of buildings at the University of York, i am also a member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. There appears to be some confusion within the Parish council about what it (as the local authority) has the right and the duty to do, in regards the conservation and alteration of the memorial. In short, the Parish council has the right to carry out alterations, corrections and maintenance of the memorial, as per the War Memorials (Local Authorities’ Powers) Act 1923 and later Acts. I would personally argue that South Elmsall Town Council has a moral duty to ensure that the information on the memorial is correct, as it is a historic record and should be accurate, even if this means that the Parish council needs to make corrections (something which it absolutely has the right to do). I have since undertaken research into the memorial and discovered evidence that you will have an interest in:

The South Elmsall War Memorial Committee

The body responsible for the war memorial was the South Elmsall War Memorial Committee. The South Elmsall War Memorial Committee met monthly (often more) at the Miners’ Institute (on Barnsley Road in Moorthorpe). Minutes from the meeting were published locally in the South Elmsall & Hemsworth Express newspaper, as were public notices. I have a full copy of the actual minutes taken at the meetings, should you wish to see them. The Chairman of the committee was Mr Arthur Smith (chair of South Elmsall Parish Council), the secretary was Mr R. S. Greenwood. Principally the money for the war memorial was raised via public subscriptions, though noted local landowners were heavily involved in the raising of funds through various means. Correspondence with Mrs S. J. Warde-Aldam exists and Captain and Mrs Addy (of the Carlton Main Colliery Company) were also were heavily involved in the committee.

The Issue of Ownership

The War Memorial Committee, which was created to oversee the project, eventually secured land from the Carlton Main Colliery Company, with the deeds to the land being handed over to the committee immediately prior to the unveiling of the memorial. The deeds to the land on which the memorial stands were presented by Captain Addy (of Brierley Hall) on behalf of the colliery company. In the July following the dedication of the memorial South Elmsall Parish Council decided, at their monthly meeting, to write a letter to the colliery company to “thank them officially for the indenture they made to the council…” in “…conveying the land situate at the bottom of Dearne Street to the council…” However, it was noted that Councillor Winterburn (then responsible for the war memorial project) had not yet received the deeds which had been given to the War Memorial Committee by Captain Addy on the day of the unveiling. The issue of ownership was settled in September 1923, when at another meeting of the Parish council the issue of adding railings to the memorial site was raised, with it being suggested that “the Parish council might undertake this work, in view of the fact that the site now belonged to them for all time…”

The War Memorials (Local Authorities’ Powers) Act 1923, which was given Royal Assent on the 16th of July 1923 (just days after the dedication of the memorial in South Elmsall), gave local authorities the power to maintain and repair war memorials and ultimately gives the power but does not place a duty on a local authority (either Parish or Civil Councils) to maintain any memorials that do not have a known and proven ownership. The Act (and subsequent Acts) also gives local authorities the power to restore and adapt memorials (including to make corrections and additions at a later date in subsequent conflicts and wars) and even to move a memorial, depending on it’s listed status. The Imperial War Museum register confirms that the monument (ref 29180) was last surveyed by Wakefield Metropolitan District Council in 1999 and is not listed. The Conservation Officer of Wakefield Metropolitan District Council has confirmed that South Elmsall and Moorthorpe War Memorial is not currently listed. Wakefield Metropolitan District Council have confirmed that they do not own the memorial, or the site on which it stands, neither does the Highways Agency, as the site is not on the adopted highway. The erection of local war memorials was normally overseen by a committee, which was often wound up once the memorial had been dedicated. It appears to me that unless the Parish council can find some later transfer of ownership of the site and responsibility for the monument, South Elmsall Town Council (the successor to South Elmsall Parish Council) own the site upon which the memorial stands.

The Monument

The war memorial is primarily an elaborate market-style stone cross, atop a stone pillar, mounted on a four tiered stone base. The plinth is hexagonal in shape, with marble panels fitted into recesses, inscribed with the names of the fallen. The original architects for the scheme were Messrs. Walker & Thompson, who in February 1923 agreed to cease the contract with the War Memorial Committee and the balance on payments was settled. The new architect to see the project through was Mr Bond of Grantham, with the monument to be erected by Messrs. Bowmans & Co. of Stamford. At the last moment the committee were so overjoyed by the workmanship that they agreed to pay an extra £15 to £20 to have the names on the memorial engraved in an ‘old English’ font. The contract for laying down granite chipping around the base of the memorial and “any other minor work necessary” was given to Mr Ernest Fox of South Elmsall. As of September 1923 the committee reported that they were a mere £22 from settling all outstanding costs from the scheme. The costs were publicly reported to have totaled £412 10s.

The Case of the O’Marr Family

The public at the time would have been fully aware of where to go and who to contact regarding the scheme, due to the public consultation via the local press. By March of 1923 the War Memorial Committee were still publicly calling for the public to submit names to the memorial for inscription, with only 85 names being put forward by family members so far. Again in March the council made the public aware that they had concerns over how few names had been submitted. In April the council issued a public notice that names of lost soldiers and seamen needed to be submitted by the end of the month, with a full list of names already submitted by the public being provided in the local newspaper, time was allowed for the public to make the committee aware of any mistakes or omissions, in fact the committee positively begged for the public to come forward on the matter. It is without question that South Elmsall Parish Council (now South Elmsall Town Council) went to great lengths to consult publicly with the families of lost soldiers and seamen when the memorial was being planned.

An apparent lack of involvement on the part of the Catholic church appears to point to there having been some issue, also hinted to at the committee meeting, when the news of the Catholic non-involvement in the dedication ceremony was read aloud. Unlike the Church of England, Methodists and Primitive Methodists, who sent official representation to the dedication and to publicly give prayers, the local Catholic church attended the dedication but played no formal part in the service. The Rev. H. F. Elwood provided the dedication and prayers were offered by the Rev. R. Jones (Wesleyan) and the Rev. G. H. Smith (Primitive Methodist). According to the families’ own oral history the O’ Marr’s were a Catholic family at the time of the memorial being constructed. It is worth noting that this was against the backdrop of unrest in Ireland, with the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921 there were ongoing troubles between the IRA and British Army, all feeding into anti-Catholic sentiment in England and life must have been difficult in Catholic communities in rural Parishes. In April 1923 the committee published a list of names in the local newspaper of servicemen who had been killed in the war, submitted by the family and friends of those who had fallen. On that very list William is also listed as Gunner W. O. Marr. It can only be assumed that the O’ Marr family either allowed the mistake to be replicated on the memorial, or somehow missed the notice in the newspaper, though why it was not corrected immediately after the unveiling if they missed the error in the newspaper is a mystery considering the family had links to Dearne Street, where the memorial stands. The fact that the family listed their name as Marr on the 1911 census also adds to the mystery, though the family maintain that they have always been the O’Marr family. I personally am of the opinion that this mistake should now be rectified, on behalf of the family.

The Correction to the Memorial and General Conservation

Funding for the repair and conservation of war memorials is available from Historic England, via the War Memorials Trust. Grants are available for between £300 and £30,000 and for up to 75% of eligible costs, criteria do apply. I recommend that South Elmsall Town Council approach the War Memorials Trust for more information and to check eligibility. The O’Marr family have also indicated to myself that they would be happy to contribute an affordable amount to any works. I am also pretty certain that the local community and other bodies may be receptive to a public fundraising initiative, given the cause. I have already secured an agreement in principle from Andrew Schoolar, on behalf of Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, that Wakefield Metropolitan District Council would not oppose a sensitive alteration to the monument inscription. I have also received confirmation from Historic England that they would also not oppose a correction to the inscription on the memorial provided that “any works are sensitive to the special interest of the memorial” and that South Elmsall Town Council seek advice on making such alterations from the War Memorial Trust prior to engaging works. I also recommend contacting South Kirkby and Moorthorpe Town Council for their consent as a formality as the monument also dedicates Moorthorpe residents. I can recommend conservation specialists should you wish me to do so.

The Issue of Listed Status

In 2014 Historic England began actively pursuing the listing (the National Heritage List for England) of free standing war memorials around the United Kingdom, to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, as part of a five year, Government funded scheme (through the Department for Culture Media and Sport. The memorial was last assessed by Wakefield Metropolitan District Council in 1999. In my personal opinion the fact that Wakefield Metropolitan District Council does not appear to have assessed the fabric of the memorial for approaching two decades is not good enough. Having discussed the memorial with Historic England they are keen for the memorial to be assessed for listing. Victoria Ellis, of Historic England, has seen the evidence i have collected and agrees that the monument meets criteria for assessment and has invited me to submit the paperwork to do so. This makes it imperative that any sensitive alteration to the inscription is made now, as it may prove difficult to obtain consent when the memorial is listed. Please let me know your intentions on the matter of the alteration as soon as possible, with this in mind.

I hope that this letter provides you with the evidence you need to go ahead with the alteration and that you will welcome my decision to work with Historic England to list the memorial in the near future, for the preservation and legacy of the lost souls commemorated on it. If you wish to discuss the matter further or see my notes and documents on the matter please get in touch. As a formality and a courtesy i have sent a copy of this document to South Kirkby and Moorthorpe Town Council, Jon Trickett MP and the O’Marr family.

Sincerely yours,

Matthew Thomas

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