The Merchant Navy Memorial, First World War section


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Trinity Square Gardens, Trinity Square, Tower Hill, London, EC3N 4DR


© Crown Copyright and database right 2021. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2021. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1260087.pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 04-Dec-2021 at 16:28:30.


Statutory Address:
Trinity Square Gardens, Trinity Square, Tower Hill, London, EC3N 4DR

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Tower Hamlets (London Borough)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


First World War memorial by Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens to the missing of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleet, 1928.

Reasons for Designation

The Merchant Navy Memorial, First World War section, situated in Trinity Square Gardens on Tower Hill, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons: * Historic interest: as an eloquent witness to the service of the men and women of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets, and the sacrifices they made in the First World War; * Architect: a First World War memorial by the nationally renowned architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens (1869-1944), who designed 58 memorials at home and abroad including the Cenotaph in Whitehall; * Architectural interest: an exceptional memorial of considerable size and complexity in the form of an elegant Doric temple; * Sculptural interest: sculpture by Sir William Reid-Dick (1879-1961); * Group value: with the adjacent The Merchant Navy Memorial, Second World War section (Grade II*-listed) and the listed buildings and scheduled area of the Tower of London.


During the First World War, a duty of the Merchant Navy was to be a supply service of the Royal Navy. This role included troop transportation, delivering supplies to the armed forces, shipping raw materials to overseas factories and bringing back the completed products, including munitions, and supplying personnel and ships for military service. It was also vital that the Merchant Navy continued its peacetime role, supplying food and goods to the home nation, import and export shipping, and that the fishing fleet continued to bring catches into British ports.

Losses to civilian shipping were high from the outset of the First World War, but peaked in 1917 following the German government’s announcement of unrestricted submarine warfare. The Ministry of Shipping was responsible for establishing preventative measures to deal with the underwater threat. These included the convoy system, in which warships were employed as escorts to merchant fleets. Nevertheless, 3,305 merchant ships were lost during the First World War, at the loss of some 17,000 lives. These included individuals from around the Empire, manning the diverse vessels of the merchant fleet.

A memorial was commissioned by the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission, and was intended for a site on the bank of the River Thames at Temple Steps. Lutyens, the Commission’s Principal Architect, designed a 16.45m high memorial consisting of two massive piers linked at high level by a deep beam supported by two Doric columns. The piers had alternating arches of a similar style to those in the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval, France which Lutyens was designing at around the same time.

Approval was duly received from the London County Council but the fledgling Royal Fine Arts Commission (RFAC) objected in a letter dated 7 June 1926. The Commission cited two reasons: that it would require the demolition of an arch designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, the creator of The Embankment; and that it would be preferable if the memorial was built east of Tower Bridge, where it would be seen by ocean going vessels which were unable to travel west of Tower Bridge.

Both Lutyens and Sir Fabian Ware, the Vice-Chairman of the Imperial War Graves Commission, were unhappy but their attempts to persuade the RFAC to reconsider the matter were unsuccessful. A new site was chosen at Tower Green, further from the river but still west of Tower Bridge.

It was subsequently discovered that a statute dating back to the time of King George III meant that the trustees who owned the land could not give full approval to the Commission’s proposals. This necessitated the passing of a special Act of Parliament, the Mercantile Marine Memorial Act, which received Royal Assent on 29 June 1927. The memorial was constructed by Holloway Brothers (London) Ltd, and commemorates some 12,000 named casualties. It was unveiled on 12 December 1928 by Queen Mary, deputising for King George V who was ill. The ceremony was transmitted live on radio and was the Queen’s first broadcast.

Following the Second World War, the memorial was extended to a design by Sir Edward Maufe (1882-1974), with sculpture by Sir Charles Wheeler (1892-1974). This is separately listed at Grade II*. The combined memorials commemorate some 35,755 named individuals who have no known grave but the sea.

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 in some cemeteries in England, including some with which he was not otherwise associated.

Sir William Reid-Dick (1879–1961), sculptor, studied at the Glasgow School of Art. By 1908 he was studio assistant to E Whitney Smith in London. Having served with the Royal Engineers in the First World War, his reputation for monumental sculpture was established, following war memorials at Bushey and Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire (both Grade II-listed), with major commissions including the Kitchener Memorial Chapel in St Paul’s Cathedral and works such as the lion on the Menin Gate (1927), as well as other architectural work and portraiture.


MATERIALS: Portland stone with bronze plaques, wrought iron gates.

DESCRIPTION: the memorial stands on the southern side of Trinity Square Gardens, next to the Tower of London and oriented east-west on Tower Hill. It is surrounded by a number of designated buildings and structures.

The memorial, raised on a platform above street level, is in the form of a temple of three bays. Each bay is formed of piers and columns in the long side walls, flanking the central open space. The piers forming the bays have external round arch curved niches in Portland stone, and are clad in rectangular bronze panels laid in a stretcher bond pattern and giving the appearance of rusticated walling. These panels bear the names of the missing, arranged by vessel.

The entablature with cornice is of the Doric order. The low pitched roof with side parapets and capped with a low, flat, circular dome has pedimented gable ends over the entrance arches to the east and west ends. Bronze security spikes are fixed in the wall openings to the southern elevation. To the centre is a square, stepped, attic, reminiscent of the original design for the York City Memorial but surmounted by a drum rather than a War Stone.

The principal dedicatory inscription, in bronze, on the front (south) side of the central attic reads 1914-1918/ TO THE GLORY OF GOD/ AND TO THE HONOUR OF/ TWELVE THOUSAND/ OF THE MERCHANT NAVY/ AND FISHING FLEETS/ WHO HAVE NO GRAVE BUT THE SEA. Elaborate bronze swagged wreaths are set to either side. On the north side is carved 1914 – 1918.

The temple is floored with black and white chequerboard stone paving. A flight of five stone steps, with iron gates, leads up from the street at either end of the temple and from the platform further steps lead down into the garden and Second World War memorial below, on the north side.

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, 17 February 2017.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 3 March 2021 to update the name


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Skelton, T, Gliddon, G, Lutyens and the Great War, (2008), 94-5, 172
Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tower Hill Memorial, accessed 03/09/2015 from
Sarah Crellin, ‘Dick, Sir William Reid (1879–1961)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006, accessed 03/09/2015 from
War Memorials Online, accessed 17 February 2017 from
War Memorials Register, accessed 03/09/2015 from


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Reference: IOE01/12099/15
Rights: © Mr Richard Hodgson. Source: Historic England Archive
Archive image, may not represent current condition of site.
To view this image please use Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or Edge.

Your Contributions

Do you know more about this entry?

The following information has been contributed by users volunteering for our Enriching The List project. For small corrections to the List Entry please see our Minor Amendments procedure.

The information and images below are the opinion of the contributor, are not part of the official entry and do not represent the official position of Historic England. We have not checked that the contributions below are factually accurate. Please see our terms and conditions. If you wish to report an issue with a contribution or have a question please email [email protected].