MEMBERS of the Royton branch of the Royal British Legion are exploring ways of bringing home a local war memorial that was discovered in a barn in Worcestershire.
They need to raise £10,000 to purchase the First World War memorial which was from the former Heyside Congregational Church on Hebron Street.
The members had been alerted to the distinctive bronze war memorial, which weighs more than 50kg, being for sale on the website of War and Son in Herefordshire.
But after contacting the War Memorial Trust, the Trust telephoned medal and military antiques specialists from Leominster, who agreed to put a halt to the war memorial being sold.
Steve Nuwar, from War and Son, said: “It would be our wish to see the memorial return to its rightful home.
“We would be prepared to offer a special price, nearer our cost, of £10,000, a reduction of £5,000 from our asking price when on the website.
“The item has been removed from the web and not offered for sale in our shop and is secured safely for the time being.”
Steve’s father David, who owns the business which recently featured on the popular television series History Hunters, added: “It is a beautiful piece of work, one of the nicest things I have ever bought.
“The sculptor was one of the top men in the country in his day which makes it extra special.”
David added he bought the war memorial from a private individual – it was placed on the landing at his home.
“He told me he had purchased it from a reclamation firm and the story goes it was found in a barn in Kidderminster, though we cannot confirm this,” he explained.
David pointed out the war memorial is lucky to have survived because many are melted down for their metal content.
He continued: “We have a history of reuniting items and this deserves to be seen, admired and appreciated.
“Hopefully going forward people won’t be so cavalier with their history because, once it has been lost, it is gone forever.”
Maria Hanley, committee member of the Royton branch of RBL, is delighted by the positive response from War and Son and is now looking at ways of raising the money, possibly by setting up a JustGiving page.
“It is wonderful news War and Son have withdrawn the war memorial from sale. We are now looking at ways to raise the money and bring it home,” she explained.
Maria and co-researcher Andrew Spence are in the process of compiling a comprehensive record of more than 500 names which appear on the Royton’s roll of honour.
She said: “We became aware of a local memorial for sale on the website of War and Son which was described as being from ‘Blackshaw Lane School’, we were somewhat intrigued as the school has been open for more than 120 years and already has a WW1 memorial.
“We contacted the War Memorial Trust and local councillor Stephen Bashforth to discuss the situation, not knowing where it came from, but after studying the names, realised that in fact that only 11 of the men attended the school and 18 appear on the town memorial.
“Due to the current situation with the virus, we have struggled to find information. After searching through our own archives, trawling the internet, and making numerous phone calls, by pure luck we found an entry in a local history book, which confirmed that the memorial was from Heyside Congregational Church, Hebron Street, Royton, and paid for by public subscription.
“Through our research we have found a postcard depicting the memorial which, although unnamed, is identical to the one which is for sale. It is on the family tree of one of the fallen mentioned and the man doing the research is the great nephew of the deceased. He has been living in Australia since the 1970s and was not aware that the memorial had not been looked after since being moved from the demolished church.
“On this postcard it seems to be on a marble background and we also found a cutting from Varley’s Royton Annual of 1924 which is about the unveiling of the memorial on September 23, 1923 and describes the memorial as being on a green marble background.”
The memorial was originally in Heyside Congregational Church which, after storm damage to the roof in the 1970s, was demolished and the congregation moved into the Sunday school next door.
It was then apparently put at the side of the stage on a trolley for ease of movement. There were also two white marble plaques from WW2 honouring the men from the church which were also moved into the Sunday school.
“We were told that, unfortunately, these had become damaged with debris from the roof falling in,” Maria explained.
When the Congregational Church closed its doors in 2017, what was left of a dwindling elderly congregation moved to join their sister church in Shaw.
It was left to a small group of elderly parishioners to clear the building. They were unaware of the correct procedure which should have been followed to ensure memorials were preserved and kept in the local community, out of respect to the men of the church who had given their lives in the wars.
Maria, who added it is not illegal to buy or sell war memorials, said: “The temporary shared vicar had already retired and left the area and they thought that they were doing what was best and felt pressurised as the building needed emptying as quickly as possible for the new purchasers to take over.
“A house-clearance firm was hired to remove remaining items in the church including both war memorials.
“They cannot remember who the clearance people were and paid in cash and have no receipt.”
Steve Nuwar described the “breathtaking” memorial as the work of acclaimed sculptor Richard Reginald Goulden.
It depicts a female figure of Victory holding a palm frond and wreathed in laurel, carved with the dates 1914 and 1918 to the cross with the raised lettering: “To The Glory of God in Loving Memory of These Our Brothers Who to Save Us Resisted Even Unto Death”, with the names of those fallen at the base with sculptor RR Goulden’s signature in bottom right.
Goulden, who won a scholarship to study at what is now the Royal College of Art and served with the Royal Engineers in France during WWI.
After demobilisation in July 1919, Goulden executed a large number of public war memorials including those at Dover, Kingston-upon-Thames, Gateshead, Great Malvern, Reigate, Redhill, St John’s Church Hackney, The Bank of England, The Supreme Court, Middlesex Guildhall War Memorial, Bromsgrove, Surbiton, St Michael Cornhill, Shaw and Crompton and the Royal Army Medical Corps Memorial at Millbank.
- Maria and Andrew are also appealing for information about the Second World War memorial, which was also disposed of as part of the same house clearance.
They have no record of what it looked like and anybody with any photos or details can email firstname.lastname@example.org