The Cold Ash War Memorial is sited outside St. Mark’s Church. It has a carved figure of Christ and encloses two embossed metal plates that commemorate the names of 32 men ‘of the parish’ who lost their lives during the First World War.
Origin of the Cold Ash Memorial
To date, no records have been uncovered to establish the origins of the Cold Ash Memorial. There is no evidence of public funding and it is believed therefore, that it was commissioned and most likely paid for entirely by the then incumbent vicar of St Mark’s Church, Rev. Walter Smith Grindle, who was a great personal benefactor of the church. While Rev. Grindle was Chairman of Cold Ash Parish Council at the time, there is no documentary evidence (letters, minutes, etc) that either the Parish Council or the church authorities were called on to contribute to the cost. Indeed, there is some suggestion that other Parish Councillors wanted to erect a memorial elsewhere in the village. The actions of Rev. Grindle were therefore, very much a fait accomplis.
Local builder, Henry Burgess, constructed the memorial to a design by Spencer Slingsby Stallwood FSA (architect and Diocesan Surveyor for the Archdeaconry of Berkshire). Mr Stallwood also supplied the figure of Christ.
The Cold Ash Memorial is regarded as a well-executed example of a hooded Calvary cross and in 2016 was granted Grade II Listed status for its special architectural or historic interest. Constructed principally in oak, the memorial encloses two embossed metal plates that commemorate the names of 32 men ‘of the parish’ who lost their lives during the First World War.
Being constructed from wood and not stone, the memorial is unique in the district and meant that it was quick to erect; thereby, it was one of the first to appear. The memorial was unveiled on Sunday, 16 February 1919 but sadly, owing to particularly cold and wet weather, most of the dedication ceremony had to be conducted inside the Church; and the weather has been the memorial’s enemy ever since.
The Men of the Memorial
Late in 2013, the newly formed Cold Ash Parish Heritage Group (CAPHG) was seeking a project that would draw its aims and activities to the attention of the local community. With the 100-years anniversary of the start of the First World War arriving the following year, it was decided that the Group would research and report the histories of the 32 persons named on the village war memorial.
Although difficult to read and, as it later transpired, two names that were misspelt, the research was duly completed and the histories were revealed at an exhibition staged by CAPHG over Remembrance weekend 7 – 9 November 2014. As all 32 persons named were men, the exhibition was entitled ‘The Men of the Memorial’.
The exhibition proved popular and was considered such a success that with the 100- years anniversary of the Armistice falling exactly on Remembrance Sunday 11 November 2018, the Group decided that it would repeat the exercise, but on this occasion it would reveal the histories of the 114 persons named on the Parish Roll of Service.
The ‘Men of the Memorial’ material is all in the Memorial Book which is on display inside the church.
There is evidence that over the years, both St Mark’s Parochial Church Council and the Cold Ash Parish Council have carried out periodic maintenance and repairs, with a major overhaul being paid for by the Parish Council in 1994.
It was during the course of the Cold Ash Heritage Group’s research for ‘The Men of the Memorial’ project that the seriously parlous state of repair of the 100-year old war memorial became apparent. Little in the way of maintenance had occurred during the preceding 20 years and elements of the protective lead sheet coverings had been stolen. It was feared that the memorial might simply be left to rot away.
In 2016 the CAPHG’s chief researcher, Mr Peter Seward, applied for and obtained Grade II Listed status for the memorial, which meant there was now a legal liability not to allow further deterioration. While refurbishment could not be enforced, Mr Seward initiated a campaign to raise public interest and funds for the restoration and conservation of the memorial. Questions regarding ownership and the original construction and finishes meant that by the turn of 2018 remedial works still had not commenced.
In April 2018 Mr Seward made a presentation to the Annual Parish Meeting highlighting the poor repair of the memorial. He offered a possible scheme of repair and appealed for funds necessary to complete the work. As a consequence of the meeting the WMAG (War Memorial Action Group) was formed which included representatives from the Parochial Church Council, the Parish Council and the Parish Heritage Group under the Chairmanship of Mr Richard Avens.
A Specification of Works was duly prepared in consultation with Mr Christian Randall (St Mark’s Church RIBA-accredited Conservation Architect) and priced.
Within two years the WMAG had raised sufficient funds and duly applied to the Diocese of Oxford for a Faculty (the Ecclesiastical form of Planning Permission) to carry out the remedial works.
The Chancellor’s Determination dated 6 April 2020 stated:
“The Memorial is in a seriously dilapidated state and further degradation will incur if it is not suitably treated or if treatment is delayed. The continued safety of the structure is questionable since it has been established that the outer legs of its framework have lost contact with and are no longer gaining support from the ground. The proposed conservation work has the full support of the Parochial Church Council and has been recommended for approval (without conditions) by the Diocesan Advisory Committee”.
The work was tendered and carried out in two phases:
Restoration Phase 1 – Repair and Refurbishment of the Christ Figure
Completed by Mark Townsin Antiques of Pangbourne.
Restoration Phase 2 – Restoration and Conservation of the Main Structure
Commenced on 20 April 2020 when J G Restorations Ltd of Swindon removed the entire memorial to their workshop.
During the course of the restoration of the main memorial, the contractors discovered that the original painted timber name panels had been left in placed and had simply been covered over when the embossed metal plates were added. Accordingly, the WMAG sought and was given permission by the Diocese of Oxford to frame and display the name panels inside St Mark’s Church.
Additional War Memorials
It was towards the end of Mr Seward’s research into the names on the Roll of Service that he was made aware of three additional war memorials dedicated to the service personnel of Cold Ash Parish. Two were uncovered hanging in the now defunct Baptist Church in Ashmore Green and the third actually formed part of the boundary fence between the Church and the next-door property. This last memorial comprised two heavy stone tablets: the first, a one metre square black slate back plate, and the second, an interlinking carved white marble scroll engraved with 13 names. The tablets had been formerly displayed on the Cold Ash Primitive Methodist Church (now demolished) but the two plates had become so overgrown they were now integral to the boundary fence against which they had been stood several years earlier for safekeeping.
All three memorials were recovered and refurbished. The first of these, a wooden tablet, commemorates six men of Ashmore Green who fell in the two World Wars. The second is the Parish Roll of Honour for the Second World War and for the first time this memorial includes the names of women.
The Primitive Methodist memorial was severely damaged and discoloured but this was skilfully cleaned and restored completely voluntarily by Mr. Mike Eastham, a retired stonemason and conservationist.
With the recovery of the panels and the three ‘lost’ memorials, the WMAG devised a scheme to display all of the Parish memorials inside St Mark’s Church on a designated ‘Memorial Wall’.
The Rededication of the Memorial
The restored memorial was reinstated in October 2020 and rededicated during a short service held on Remembrance Sunday, 8 November 2020. As had occurred at its dedication, the numbers attending the service were restricted and the ceremony curtailed, on this occasion not by the weather, but as a consequence of the Covid health regulations prevalent at the time.
The conservation work was only made possible by generous private donations (see list of donors below, others gave anonymously) and the dedicated voluntary work of the WMAG members. The Parish Council made a top-up contribution and the Parochial Church Council will pay for rearrangements made to the ‘Memorial Wall’.
Walter & Jenny Barbour : Rowan & Kay Beeson
Rob & Sarah Bruce : Mike Eastham : The Incerti Family
Robert & Penny Pattison : Harry & Rose Ridgewell
The Seward Family : Paul & Marguerite Shave : Peter Wardle
War Memorial Action Group (WMAG) Members
Chairman: Richard B Avens
Technical Adviser: Peter Seward
Treasurer: Fred Davison
Publicity: Marguerite Shave
Parish Council: Dorothy Le Cornu