First World War memorial by Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, 1925, with later inscriptions.
Reasons for Designation
York City War Memorial, situated in the War Memorial Garden on Leeman Road, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: as an eloquent witness to the tragic impacts of world events on this community, and the sacrifices it made in the conflicts of the C20;
* Architect: by the nationally renowned architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens (1869-1944), who designed 58 war memorials at home and abroad including the Cenotaph in Whitehall;
* Design quality: a simple yet elegant cross;
* Group value: with gate piers and gates (together listed Grade II) that enclose the war memorial garden also designed by Lutyens, and within sight of the North Eastern Railway Company War Memorial (Grade II*) similarly by Lutyens.
The great wave of memorial building after the First World War resulted in thousands of commemorative monuments being raised both at home and on the battlefield. Lutyens was the most outstanding designer to work in this field. This is one of 15 War Crosses designed by Lutyens, sharing a broadly similar design. The earliest to be erected was at Miserden, Gloucestershire, in 1920; York was the latest. The memorial, commemorating 1,162 servicemen from York who died fighting during the First World War, had a controversial history that meant that six years elapsed between the opening of a memorial fund in August 1919 and the unveiling of the memorial on 25 June 1925. Various ideas such as a new City Hall and a nursing home had been considered before a public meeting on 14 January 1920 decided that there should be a permanent memorial rather than a building with a community use.
After a plan for a memorial garden with an archway and cenotaph had been prepared by the City Engineer it was agreed to appoint Lutyens, who had recently been appointed to design a memorial in the city for the North Eastern Railway Company (NER). He was given a budget of £2,000 and visited York on 12 August 1920 to review nine potential sites, accompanied by the Lord Mayor and City Engineer.
The architect’s preferred site was a former cholera burial ground outside the city walls but the committee chose his alternative – in the moat inside the City Wall near Lendal Bridge. His submitted scheme was for a Stone of Remembrance (which he had designed for the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission) raised upon a high platform. It was approved by the War Memorial Committee on 24 June 1920 and at a public meeting on 25 November.
Despite such endorsement the memorial became enveloped in the controversy surrounding the North Eastern Railway Company Memorial which was also close to the city walls and within sight of the intended City Memorial location. There was also a feeling that the former (which had a budget of £20,000) would overshadow the latter. The opposition was led by the York Archaeological Society (YAS) and the Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society (YAYAS).
The proximity to the city walls meant that the construction of both memorials required the consent of the Ancient Monuments Board, which was duly given following a meeting at the NER offices on 8 July 1922. However, there was growing local disquiet about the location of the City Memorial and, aware that YAYAS had called a public meeting about the matter on 3 May 1923, the War Memorial Committee announced that it was prepared to reconsider the matter. Lutyens’ assistant, AJ Thomas, visited York on 3 August to look at an alternative site called Walkers Paddock on Leeman Road, which had originally been suggested by a member of the public in 1921 and which, in a twist of fate, was owned by the NER.
The site was duly approved and donated to the city by the railway company. Lutyens prepared a revised scheme for a cross and Stone of Remembrance but the lowest tender cost of £2,446 11s 8d was considerably in excess of the £1,100 in the Memorial Fund. It was therefore decided to omit the Stone and for the Council to undertake the work using its own staff. The memorial was unveiled by the Duke of York, and dedicated by the Archbishop of York, on 25 June 1925 at a ceremony attended by great crowds. Earlier that day the Duchess of York had unveiled the Five Sisters Window in York Minster, as a memorial to 1,450 women “of the Empire” who had died during the First World War.
Despite the concerns over costs there was £400 remaining in the Fund following the memorial’s completion and Lutyens was commissioned to design pillars and entrance gates for the Memorial Garden within which the City memorial stands. An inscription to commemorate the fallen of the Second World War was added at a later date.
Sir Edwin Lutyens OM RA (1869-1944) was the leading English architect of his generation. Before the First World War his reputation rested on his country houses and his work at New Delhi, but during and after the war he became the pre-eminent architect for war memorials in England, France and the British Empire. While the Cenotaph in Whitehall (London) had the most influence on other war memorials, the Thiepval Arch was the most influential on other forms of architecture. He designed the Stone of Remembrance which was placed in all Imperial War Graves Commission cemeteries and some cemeteries in England, including some with which he was not otherwise associated.
MATERIALS: Portland stone.
DESCRIPTION: the memorial stands in the War Memorial Gardens, overlooking the River Ouse and St Mary’s Abbey to the north. It comprises the War Cross design by Sir Edwin Lutyens, a slender tapering cross c10m tall. The lozenge-sectioned shaft and short cross arms are linked to the base by stop chamfers and torus moulding. The base consists of four stepped rectangular blocks of unequal heights standing upon a square, undercut platform which, in turn, stands upon two further square blocks and two square, shallow steps.
The dedicatory inscription is carved into the south face of the largest block of the base, reading TO/ THE CITIZENS/ OF/ YORK/ 1914 – 1918/ 1939 – 1945. On the opposite face is carved THEIR NAME/ LIVETH/ FOR EVERMORE.
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, 1 February 2017.