In 2009, when Philip Laing, a university student, got drunk and urinated on Sheffield’s War Memorial in Barker’s Pool, he didn’t realise he’d suffer the wrath of the city, as well as the rest of the country. He was spared jail and ended up quitting his university course.
Enthusiasm is still felt for the City War Memorial, erected in 1925, “to create a sacred centre where the people of Sheffield may meet on Armistice Day, and where the bereaved can lay their wreaths, and see the flag hoisted half-mast to honour their dead.”
In 1923, the Lord Mayor, F.C. Fenton, launched an appeal, aimed at ratepayers, to fund a memorial already designed by architect Emanuel Vincent Harris, an 80-foot high obelisk, to be sited at the junction of Townhead Street and Church Street.
The plan was abandoned due to being “unsuitable in design and location.”
However, the War Memorial Subcommittee was persuaded to consider a new design in front of the proposed City Hall. It launched a competition to select a more suitable design, restricted to artists working, or with practices, in the city. The contest attracted 34 entries; the winning design chosen by E. Vincent Harris.
The final design was by Charles Canus-Wilson, the architect, with George Alexander responsible for the sculptured designs of the figures.
The Grade II-listed City War Memorial is set on a bronze case, with the sculptures on a granite plinth, into which is set a flagpole, over 100 feet in length and weighing nine tons, with a bronze crown.
The panels on the base, near the Sheffield coat-of-arms, shows emblems of the Royal Navy, the Merchant Navy, the Army and the Royal Flying Corps.
Below these, are insignias to commemorate the Yorkshire Dragoons (Queen’s Own) South Africa 1900-1902, the Royal Engineers, the Tanks Corps, the Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment, the Royal Army Service Corps and the Army Medical Corps.
There are also four figures of four ordinary soldiers, heads bowed, and rifles reversed, standing on a ledge above an octagonal pedestal. It was originally to have had four females standing between the soldiers, but these were lost to save money.
The cost of the memorial was £5,345, funds coming from the Lord Mayor’s Appeal, fund-raising performances at Sheffield’s 44 theatres, music halls and cinemas, collection boxes in shops, the university and schools, a “Flag day” and a contribution from the British War Graves Association.
The bronze was cast by Conrad Parlanty Castings Ltd of Herne Bay, while the flagpole was made by Earle’s Shipbuilders and Engineers, Hull.
The flagpole arrived at The Wicker by rail, occupying six trucks, and was manoeuvred through the streets using steam-tractors during the early hours of the morning. It was designed to be the same height as the City Hall (opened in 1932) and was set 20-feet into the ground for stability.
The City War Memorial was unveiled on 28 October 1925, by Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Charles H. Harington, GBE, KCB, DSO.
During the December Blitz of 1940, a bomb exploded near its base, causing the six-ton bronze base to shift five inches out of position. It was repaired in 1949, parts of the memorial dismantled and taken to Herne Bay at a cost of £680.
In 2005, the memorial was assessed, and a £60,000 programme of essential repairs carried out by Rupert Harris Conservation. The mast was treated for corrosion and repainted, and the crown and ball at the top of the mast re-gilded using 24-carat gold leaf.
Interestingly, the 1940 shrapnel damage remains, kept as a reminder of the memorial’s history and purpose.