First World War memorial, 1917, by Eric Gill.
Reasons for Designation
Bisham War Memorial, situated at the junction of Marlow Road and Temple Lane, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: as an eloquent witness to the tragic impact of world events on this community, and the sacrifices it made in the conflicts of the C20;
* Architectural interest: by the nationally renowned sculptor, Eric Gill, in the form of a Calvary depicting a crucified but triumphant Christ executed in Portland stone;
* Sculptural interest: as a good example of Eric Gill’s newly resolute, Romanesque style figure of Christ that had emerged from Gill’s reaction to mass bereavement caused by the war;
* Historic association: as an expression in war memorial form of Eric Gill’s belief that faith in the resurrection and in redemption would be of comfort to the bereaved;
* Group value: with Bisham Abbey scheduled monument.
The principal figure in the provision of a war memorial for Bisham was Lady Maisie Kelly, the sister of Lieutenant Commander Frederick Septimus Kelly DSC of Bisham Grange, who had died aged 35 during the last days of the Battle of the Somme. Lady Kelly was determined to commemorate her brother through a commission for Bisham, and the project expanded to ensure it included the names of those 14 from Bisham who had died in the war.
Frederick Kelly had fought with the Naval Division at Gallipoli (during which time he was awarded the DSC) and on the Western Front. He was buried near to where he died, in Martinsart Cemetery. He was Australian, and had attended Eton and Balliol College, Oxford. He was a popular society figure, talented pianist and celebrated, award-winning oarsman. He went to Gallipoli in March 1915 alongside Rupert Brooke, who became his friend. Brooke died of septicaemia in April 1915 while they were travelling. Kelly attended his funeral, and began to compose an elegy in his memory. Kelly was twice wounded in Gallipoli, where he was decorated, but he died on the Somme, on 13 November 1916. Kelly’s diaries for 1907-1915 exist in the National Library of Australia.
Eric Gill’s association with Bisham appears to go back to at least 1914, when he executed a headstone in memory of Malcolm Powell for the churchyard (destroyed during the Second World War in an air raid). Gill also made a brass plaque in c 1917 to the memory of Lt Kelly, which is inside Eton College antechapel. This commission may well have come from Lady Kelly, who then used Gill again for the village war memorial. Lady Kelly appears to have invited Eric Gill to design the memorial as early as August 1917, when they met at Bisham for discussions.
Eric Gill (1882-1940) was one of the most celebrated lettercutters, engravers, typographers and sculptors of his time. Before the First World War he built his reputation on his work as a lettercutter and engraver, but began to sculpt in 1909, preferring the unconventional direct carving style of practice. After the First World War he was commissioned to design war memorials including those at Briantspuddle, Chirk, Leeds University, South Harting and Trumpington. His work later included large architectural sculptures, including figures for the exterior of Broadcasting House and a large relief entitled The Creation of Adam at the League of Nations Palace, Geneva.
Gill favoured a site in Bisham village where a cross already stood. He then made a model of a crucifix in March 1919 and had finished the final work in Portland stone by June 1919, partly in situ (Collins, 1998 pp106-07). Collins (1998 p21) states that the triumphant image of Christ was introduced by Gill in his work in 1918-9; a powerful Christ, not a dying or suffering figure. This resurrected Christ, that has conquered death, was intended as spiritual comfort to the bereaved.
The memorial was unveiled 18 June 1919 following an evening service in All Saints’ Church (which also contains a war memorial) conducted by the vicar and the Bishop of Buckingham.
Seven Second World War names were later added to the memorial, and it was re-dedicated in 1950.
The memorial suffered partial demolition after it was knocked down by an army crane in c 1960 but was subsequently restored to its original appearance.
MATERIALS: Portland stone.
DESCRIPTION: the memorial takes the form of a calvary, with a canopied figure of the crucified Christ, his feet supported on a small ledge. It stands c1.8m high. The shaft tapers and is chamfered, and almost rounded at the bottom, in towards a narrower, circular section that stands atop the base.
The memorial’s defining feature is the distinctive Romanesque figure of Christ. It is a triumphant figure, not a suffering or victimised Christ. The head, arms and torso are strong and stiff, with much definition to the biceps. The legs are swathed in elegantly-folding wrappings from his waist down. The nails in the hands and feet are chunky, the legs part and bend slightly, the toes just protruding across the edge of the ledge. The wound in the left side of the abdomen is visibly depicted. A crown of thorns is worn around the head.
At the canopy, above the figure of Christ, is the inscription: INRI. The front face of the shaft reads: JESU/ MY/ STRENGTH/ AND MY/ REDEEMER. The right side of the shaft reads: REMEMBER/ F S KELLY DSC/ BISHAM GRANGE/ + NOV. 13. 1916/ REMEMBER LIKEWISE HIS/ COMRADES IN/ ARMS OF THIS/ COUNTRYSIDE (NAMES in date order).
On the left side of the shaft the inscription reads: ERECTED/ IN MEMORY OF/ A MOST BELOVED/ BROTHER/ LIEUT. COMMDR./ FREDERICK SEP-/ TIMUS KELLY/ DSC/ HOOD BATTLN./ RYL. NAVAL DIVN./ WHO FELL AT THE/ TAKING OF BEAU-/ COURT SUR ANCRE/ AFTER SERVING/ THROUGHOUT/ THE GALLIPOLI/ CAMPAIGN/ REMEMBER/ ALSO (seven Second World War names in date order).
On the base the inscription from Shakespeare’s Henry V reads: HERE WAS/ A ROYAL FELLOWSHIP/ OF DEATH.
This List entry has been amended to add the source for War Memorials Online. This source was not used in the compilation of this List entry but is added here as a guide for further reading, 10 January 2017.