First World War memorial, designed by Thomas Rayson, unveiled on 13 July 1921, with later additions for the Second World War.
Reasons for Designation
Oxford War Memorial is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: as an eloquent witness to the tragic impact of world events on the local community, and the sacrifices it made in the conflicts of the C20;
* Architectural interest: an ornate and striking fleur-de-lys cross on a pedestal enriched with carved decorative details and fine medieval-style lettering;
* Designer: by the noteworthy designer Thomas Rayson;
* Group value: with the Church of St Giles (Grade I) and many Grade II-listed buildings along St Giles’.
The aftermath of the First World War saw the biggest single wave of public commemoration ever with tens of thousands of memorials erected across England, both as a result of the huge impact the loss of three quarters of a million British lives had on communities and the official policy of not repatriating the dead, which meant that the memorials provided the main focus of the grief felt at this great loss.
The Oxford War Memorial was erected by Oxford City Council at a cost of £1,500 to commemorate the Oxford people who fought and died in the First World War. It plays a significant part in St Giles’ because it forms an end-stop at the N that elegantly balances another vertical structure, the Martyrs’ Memorial (Grade II*), that performs the same function at the S.
John Egerton Thorpe (1874–1961) was generally considered to have designed this memorial with collaboration in “working out” the design from Gilbert Thomas Francis Gardner (1880–1955) and Thomas Rayson (1888–1976). It is, however, argued by Alex Bruce that it was primarily designed by Thomas Rayson, who stated in 1968 that, “There were two other architects, but their pencils didn’t touch it.”
Rayson had, during the war, served as resident engineer at Witney Aerodrome. In 1919 he attracted public notice by winning a competition with his design for the Witney Urban Housing Scheme, and thereafter set up in practice on his own. Subsequently he was to build extensively in Oxfordshire, as well as the SW. He designed memorials at Witney and Woodstock and in conjunction with F H Crossley he designed the Chester memorial (Grade II).
The builders were Wooldridge and Simpson and the carving was by Ernest Field of Oxford. It was unveiled on 13 July 1921 by General Sir Robert Fanshawe, KCB, DSO and was dedicated by the Bishop of Oxford.
Later inscriptions were added to two of the steps to commemorate the Oxford people who fought and died in subsequent wars.
The Oxford War Memorial is situated at the N end of St Giles’ Street and stands to a height of 11.43m, and is made of Clipsham stone. It has a tapering octagonal shaft with a distinctive sculpted cross at the head with fleur-de-lys in the angles, and the ends of the cross are similar in design to the Corinthian order in classical architecture. The shaft stands on an octagonal pedestal, of which the principal side facing the City comprises the only inscription that was originally intended. This is flanked by the arms of the City and the University sculpted in stone, and the other five sides (going anti-clockwise) depict a horn, a cross surrounded by thorns, a St George’s Cross, a bird, and an anchor.
On one of the eight sides of the pedestal a carved plaque carries the inscription in ornate medieval-style carved raised lettering which reads IN / MEMORY / OF / THOSE WHO / FOUGHT AND / THOSE WHO / FELL / 1914–1918.
The octagonal base has seven steps. The second one from the ground is deeper and wider, to accommodate remembrance wreaths. It is also sometimes used as a seat.
The following two inscriptions were added in plain letters to the steps after the Second World War AND / 1939–1945. Below is AND ALL OTHERS WHO HAVE GIVEN THEIR LIVES / IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTRY.
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, 20 February 2017.