First World War memorial, dedicated on 25 December 1917, designed by S Slingsby Stallwood.
Reasons for Designation
St Giles’ war shrine, which is situated in St Giles’ churchyard, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as an eloquent witness to the tragic impact of world events on the local community, and the sacrifice it made during the First World War;
* as an example of an early First World War memorial which was erected before the end of the conflict.
* a well-executed Calvary cross memorial demonstrating fine craftsmanship and use of good quality materials;
* designed by notable architect Spencer Slingsby Stallwood, with sculptural work undertaken by the nationally important firm Messers HH Marytn and Co Ltd.
* with the Grade II-listed Church of 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. This was the result of both the huge impact on communities of the loss of three quarters of a million British lives, and also 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. However, this trend had its roots not in the wake of the war but in the midst of the conflict.
As the war progressed and the number of casualties increased memorials were already being built to remember the dead and those still serving on the battlefields abroad. These took the form of private memorials to family members but also a growing number were being erected by, or on behalf of, local communities. The earliest known example of a community memorial is thought to be the War Memorial in Rawtenstall Cemetery, Lancashire (Grade II). Erected in September 1915 at the instigation of Councillor Carrie Whitehead, the intention is clearly inscribed on the memorial for it to act as “some comfort to those who lost men very dear to them.” Another form of early First World War community memorial was the street shrine. This practice originated in the East End of London, but was soon adopted in other towns to commemorate those from a particular street. In some instances these shrines also included relatives from other streets, while some covered whole districts. Surviving examples include those in Eton Street (erected October 1916) and Sharp Street (erected May 1917) in Kingston upon Hull. The erection of memorials in the midst of the conflict was considered controversial by some but by 1917 the desire among communities for some form of commemoration was clear.
The parish of St Giles in Reading is an example of one such community which chose to erect a memorial before the end of the First World War as a permanent testament to the on-going sacrifice being made by members of the local community during the conflict. In 1916 the vicar of the Church of St Giles, Reverend F C J Gillmor, expressed his desire to erect a war shrine in the parish. This aspiration was realised in the following year and the memorial was dedicated by the Bishop of Oxford on 25 December 1917. It was designed by architect S Slingsby Stallwood and the memorial itself was constructed by Messrs Samuel Elliott and Sons Ltd of Caversham at a cost of about £30. The figure of Christ was carved by Messrs Martyn of Cheltenham.
While the memorial was erected with the date of the start of war carved into the shaft a space was left for the end date of the war; this was carved into the wood later. No names were included on the memorial. A contemporary news article stated that this was due to the large numbers from the parish “whose visible connection with St Giles’ has been severed by their sacrifice in the war” (Reading Mercury, 1917). Instead a book was in preparation to record the names of those who had died.
Spencer Slingsby Stallwood (1842/3-1922) set up in independent practice in Folkestone, Kent in 1873. He was later appointed Diocesan Surveyor of Berkshire, and practised in Reading. He had close ties to St Giles’ Church, at the time the memorial was erected he had been a churchwarden at the church for 21 years. Stallwood also designed two Grade II-listed war memorials in Littlewick Green, Maidenhead and Cold Ash, West Berkshire; both are Calvary crosses and were erected following the end of the war.
Messrs HH Martyn and Co Ltd of Cheltenham (active 1888-1971) specialised in the design and production of sculptures and ecclesiastical furnishings. A prolific and important firm, during the First World War the works were turned over to aircraft manufacture. By 1920 the company employed more than 1000 workers at its Sunningend Works and in the aftermath of the First World War it designed, or contributed to the design of, many war memorials, a number of which are listed.
First World War memorial, 1917.
MATERIALS: teak, oak
DESCRIPTION: St Giles war memorial is located outside the Church of St Giles (Grade II-listed) to the south of the entrance porch.
Constructed principally from teak the memorial takes the form of a Calvary cross. It consists of an oak figure of Christ, with a nimbus over his head, affixed to the cross beneath a gabled canopy. To the upper arm of the cross is a carved scroll with the monogram INRI. The cross has a tall, square shaft with the dates AD/ 1914/ 1919 carved in relief to the front (south-west face). Attached to either side of the shaft are carved wood panels that are inset to the centre with crenellated detail to the top. The panels are supported at the outer edges by square posts capped by gabled canopies with tracery detail.
The principal inscription is carved into the panels in medieval-style lettering. That to the left has cross patée symbols carved into the top two corners and reads IN/ MEMORY OF/ THOSE WHO/ HAVE GIVEN THEIR LIVES/ FOR THEIR/ KING AND/COUNTRY. That to the right reads GRANT THEM/ O LORD/ ETERNAL/ REST AND/ LET LIGHT/ PERPETUAL/ SHINE UPON/ THEM followed by another cross patée symbol.
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, 22 November 2017.