In our investigations into the Victoria Station one structure appeared on old photographs that deserved further investigation.
This was an elegant memorial that stood at the entrance of the railway station. The classical portico, with colonnade, contained nine columns with the names of workers of the Great Central Railway who died in World War One.
The names of 1,304 men were inscribed on tablets of French marble, and the memorial was unveiled by Earl Haig on Wednesday 9th August 1922. He had commanded the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front from late 1915 until the end of the war.
Sheffield had been chosen for the memorial because it was the centre of the railway’s operations. About 8,000 people turned up for the ceremony, including hundreds of relatives of the fallen.
Haig inspected a guard of honour composed of over 200 ex-servicemen employees who had gained decorations for gallantry in the field.
“The day will come when we in our turn will have passed on, but these stones will still stand as evidence of the splendid sacrifice and glorious achievement of the 1,300 brave and gallant men whose names they bear.”
The ceremony was presided by Lord Faringdon, chairman of the Great Central Railway, who said the memorial had been subscribed by no fewer than 3,000 shareholders and servants of the company as far afield as Canada, India, Australia, and Africa. He pointed out that over 10,000 employees had gone to war.
Canon Houghton dedicated the memorial, after which wreaths of remembrance were laid, and the service closed with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem.
They would have been forgiven that the future of the memorial was secured. However, within two years the marble had crumbled, and some names were already illegible.
In 1925, the London North Eastern Railway (LNER), which had absorbed the Great Central Railway, graciously replaced the tablets with Kupron bronze plaques. The memorial stood on its own until 1938 when LNER improved the station, extending the booking hall, so that the memorial became its eastern wall. (I presume the memorial was reversed and the tablets were relocated inside).
It remained until the Victoria Station’s closure in 1970 and might have been lost with subsequent demolition.
A handful of survivors campaigned for it to be saved and the bronze tablets were re-erected (somewhat hidden) underneath Wicker Arch, where it was rededicated in November 1971. The magnificent portico, in which they had stood, was sadly lost).
The decline of The Wicker is well publicised, and the memorial suffered from neglect and vandalism. Various locations were suggested as an alternative site, but it was the owners of the Royal Victoria Holiday Inn (the former Victoria Station railway hotel) that offered it a permanent home.
With support of the hotel, sponsors and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Great Central Railway Society organised rescue of the plaques and relocation to its new home, almost on the site of the original memorial.
It was rededicated on Remembrance Day 2008 and remains outside the Royal Victoria Crowne Plaza. A Roll of Honour for all the men listed, collated by the Great Central Railway Society, can be found inside the hotel.
© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.