Memorial to the Crew of the German Warship SMS Grosser Kurfürst


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Appx NGR - TR2121236513
Statutory Address:
Cheriton Road Cemetery, Cheriton Road, Folkestone, CT20 1DF


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Statutory Address:
Cheriton Road Cemetery, Cheriton Road, Folkestone, CT20 1DF

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

Location Description:
Appx NGR - TR2121236513
Folkestone and Hythe (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Memorial by Eduard Lürssen, 1881.

Reasons for Designation

The Memorial to the Crew of the SMS Grosser Kurfürst, which stands in Cheriton Road Cemetery, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:

* as an eloquent witness to the tragic sinking of the SMS Grosser Kurfürst (National Heritage List for England entry 1466825) in the English Channel in 1878 and the profound impact this event had on the people of Folkestone.

Architectural interest:

* as an unusual example of a funerary monument in England by the eminent German sculptor, Eduard Lürssen, featuring high-quality carvings of iconography associated with the German Imperial Navy.


The SMS Grosser Kurfürst was a German Preussen-class ironclad ship that sank on its maiden voyage on 31 May 1878 during training manoeuvres in the English Channel following an accidental collision with the German frigate SMS König Wilhelm. Fishing vessels launched from nearby Folkestone and Sandgate came to the aid of the Grosser Kurfürst, but the ship sank rapidly and lost up to 284 of the 500 men on board. Many of the dead were brought ashore at Folkestone and interred in Cheriton Road Cemetery.

The proceeds of a collection among the officers and men of the German Navy enabled the German Government to purchase a large plot of land in the cemetery and to commission the sculptor, Professor Eduard Lürssen (1840-1891), to design a stone monument to memorialise all those who were killed when the ship sank.

Lürssen was born in Kiel, Germany in 1840. He was one of a family of sculptors which included his brother, A Luerssen, and his son. He studied sculpture at the Berlin Academy of Arts between 1861 and 1865, and later travelled widely across Europe for academic study before becoming a professor at the Bauakademie, Berlin. Lürssen specialised in busts, medals, and funerary monuments.

The memorial was shipped from Germany and erected by local undertaker and builder Mr George Prebble in January 1881. An inauguration ceremony took place in the cemetery on 13 June 1881 and was attended by the crew of the German frigate Niobe, British military and Coast Guard personnel, the Reverend M Woodward and the Reverend C J Ridsdale.

At the beginning of the First World War, many people in Folkestone believed the town would be immune from attacks by Germany due to the aid they had given to the Grosser Kurfürst in 1878 and the subsequent hosting of funerals for its crew. Folkestone was indeed left alone for several years while other towns on the Kent coast were shelled or bombed, until an aerial bombardment of Folkestone finally took place on 25 May 1917.


Memorial by Eduard Lürssen of 1881.

MATERIALS: granite; white sandstone; gilding.

DESCRIPTION: the memorial stands in the north east quadrant of Cheriton Road Cemetery, facing Cheriton Road to the north.The memorial takes the form of a tapering obelisk on a square base, both of white sandstone, supported by a two-step granite plinth.

The obelisk is partially shrouded by a carving of the flag of the German Imperial Navy. The north face of the obelisk bears a gilded coat of arms depicting the Imperial Eagle on an anchor with the Prussian Eagle on an escutcheon in the centre. Below the coat of arms a dedicatory inscription in gilded lettering reads: DEM ANDENKEN/ AN DIE AM/ 31. MAI 1878 MIT S.M.S./ GROSSER KURFÜRST/ UNTERGEGANGENEN/ KAMERADEN/ DIE DEUTSCHE MARINE. [To the memory of the comrades in the German Navy who went down with the S.M.S. Grosser Kurfürst on 31 May 1878.]

Beneath the obelisk, each of the four corners of the square base is adorned with a lion head and scroll-work representing the figurehead of a ship. The four sides of the base each feature a palm leaf and wreath motif, and the base is encircled by carved oak leaf garlands.

The east, south and west faces of the obelisk originally bore inscriptions listing the names of over 100 of the ship's crew who were buried in the cemetery. These inscriptions were removed during renovation works to the memorial in 1924, having become illegible over time. Newspaper records from that year indicate that the intention was to replace the names on bronze plates fixed to the sides of the obelisk, but it is unclear if this work was ever undertaken.


Books and journals
George, M, George, C, Dover and Folkestone During the Great War, (2008), 63-64
War Memorials Register, accessed 8 January 2020 from
"Das Denkmal von Folkestone." Die Gartenlaube, (51) 1880, p843-844.
"The German Monument." Folkestone Express, 8 January 1881, p5.
"The German Monument." Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate, and Cheriton Herald, 7 June 1924, p5.
"The Grosser Kurfurst Monument." Folkestone Express, 11 December 1880, p5.
"The Grosser Kurfürst." The Daily News, 19 October 1880, p6.
"The Inauguration of the Grosser Kurfurst Monument." Folkestone Express, 18 June 1881, p8.


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

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