A Brief Introduction to Architect Sir Edwin Lutyens
Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) was a key figure in determining how the dead and missing of the First World War should be commemorated. His designs are admired for the universality of their message of honour and remembrance.
The pure architectural forms of his memorials are mute symbols of grief, the simple inscriptions weighted with sorrow, reminding passers-by that every name is a human story, a loss, a grieving family.
Today, the National Collection of Lutyen’s War Memorials have been listed.Lutyens is widely held to be our greatest architect since Sir Christopher Wren. Before the First World War his reputation rested on his designs for country houses, moving from Arts & Crafts-style country houses to a Neo-Georgian manor. He had set up his architectural practice when he was just 19 years old and was fortunate to meet the celebrated garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll, who introduced him to her wide circle of friends, many becoming his clients. Lutyens became the go-to architect for wealthy Victorians and Edwardians.
As his fame grew, he was appointed in 1912 to design New Delhi, the new capital of India. Soon after in 1917, Lutyens was invited to join a working party advising on the treatment of the war dead on the Western Front and it was his creation of the Cenotaph in Whitehall that brought him the attention of the world. He was appointed principal architect by the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission and in the years directly following the war, the majority of his projects were memorials to the dead and missing, both in England, and abroad.
There had never before, in the history of Britain, been such terrible loss of life in war and there was a profound national yearning to permanently commemorate the dead and missing. Tens of thousands of memorials were erected across the country, all paid for by money raised locally. There was often intense local debate about location and cost, and whether the memorial should be simply monumental, or serve a practical purpose for the community such as a village hall or playing field. Huge emotional crowds turned out at unveilings.
Lutyens designed over fifty war memorials in cities, towns and villages across England, including the Cenotaph in Whitehall. He also designed other commemorative monuments abroad such as the stark and sombre Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval, France and the movingly austere cemeteries on the former Western Front.
His designs are admired for the universality of their message of honour and remembrance, and today fourteen of his war memorials have been honoured and protected by a higher listing status, and one further unusual memorial is listed for the first time. See all of these memorials in the gallery below, and click on the picture to read the full caption:
Memorial to merchant sailors with no known grave but the sea. This massive, nearly 16 metre high memorial, opposite the Tower of London, in the form of a Doric temple commemorates the 3,404 merchant ships and the 17,000 lives lost during the First World War; sailors with no known grave but the sea. Almost 12,000 of these have their names and those of their vessels cast in bronze panels on and within the monument. It was commissioned by the Imperial War Graves Commission and unveiled 12 December 1928 by Queen Mary, deputising for the seriously ill George V; the ceremony transmitted live on radio. The Merchant Navy was the supply service of the Royal Navy, transporting and supplying the armed forces. It also had a vital role in shipping raw materials to keep the country fed and her factories supplied for the production of munitions, clothing etc. The merchant fleet was diverse, both in its vessels – it included fishing boats, and in its crews – many coming from around the Empire. Losses peaked in 1917 when the German government announced unrestricted submarine warfare. Following the Second World War, the memorial was much extended by Sir Edward Maufe (1882-1974) to commemorate nearly 24,000 further lives lost at sea. Photo courtesy of Tim Skelton
The proposal for a memorial to commemorate the 224 fallen of Spalding came from Barbara McLaren, wife of the town’s MP Francis who had been killed in a flying accident on 30 August 1917. Mrs McClaren, Gertrude Jekyll’s niece for whom Lutyens had built a house in London, suggested a cloister garden in the grounds of the local Ayscoughfee Hall. The Hall, dating from the mid-1400s, and its grounds had been bought by the council to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. After much heated local debate about six possible schemes, Lutyens’ was chosen. Along with a clock, he designed a small Tuscan pavilion with a Stone of Remembrance directly in front and a sunken reflecting pool beyond. This austere monolithic‘War Stone’ was one he had originally designed for the Imperial War Graves Commission for cemeteries on the former Western Front, almost always engraved with words chosen by Rudyard Kipling, ‘THEIR NAME LIVETH FOR EVERMORE.’ Within the pavilion are two painted stone flags and panels listing the names of the dead. It was unveiled on 8 June 1922. Photo courtesy of Tim Skelton
This war memorial was one of the first where Lutyens used the principle of a cenotaph – derived from the Greek ‘kenotaphion’ meaning empty tomb. It was under design when he created its more famous successor, the Cenotaph in Whitehall, which first appeared in temporary form made of wood, plaster and painted canvas. After having his first Southampton design rejected on cost grounds, Lutyens designed a cenotaph topped by a stone bier holding a sculpture of a fallen soldier on top of a tall stone pillar. It is combined with his Stone of Remembrance. The Southampton memorial is important as it helped set the context for Lutyens’ later designs, although it is unique among them for the amount of carving – not only the city’s elaborate coat of arms and wreaths with emblems of the armed services but also the pine cones (symbols of eternity) and the two stern lions that guard the bier. At the unveiling on 6 November 1920 the cover encasing the memorial was first pulled away, before the Union Flag was removed to reveal the recumbent soldier. In the months following the dedication, many families campaigned for the names of their dead loved ones to be included – 203 names in total were initially missing. A local stone mason carved them for free, completing the work by 15 November 1921. Over the years, the inscriptions began to erode and, in 2011, green glass panels etched with all the names of the fallen were erected either side of the memorial.
Edwin Lutyens was appointed designer of a new memorial to replace the temporary wooden cenotaph erected in Northampton in 1919. Two tall obelisks, with huge painted stone flags, stand either side of a Stone of Remembrance, a feature which the architect incorporated within a number of his war memorials. An immense crowd attended the unveiling on 11 November 1926, including 5,000 local school children. A large procession preceded the event led by survivors of the Battle of Mons, military and civic representatives and nurses from Northampton General Hospital. Photo courtesy of Tim Skelton
Here again Lutyens lifted a sculpture of a dead soldier lying on a bier to the top of a cenotaph, itself raised on a very tall plinth. This striking Cornish granite memorial was erected close to Rochdale Town Hall, a significant location as it had been the enlisting point for many local soldiers before they went off to war. It was unveiled 26 November 1922. Lutyens’ original scheme was for a bridge. Photo courtesy of Tim Skelton
The British Thomson Houston Company commissioned a War Cross – one of 15 broadly similar Lutyens’ designs characterised by a tall minimalist shaft and a very short cross arm – standing on a circular plinth carved with the 243 names of employees who died in the war. It was positioned immediately outside their factory in Mill Road, Rugby. (The location where Frank Whittle’s ground-breaking prototype jet engine was manufactured in the 1930s). During construction, a time-capsule box containing company artefacts and war records was buried underneath the memorial. It was unveiled on 28 October 1928. The British engineering firm made electric motors, generators, steam turbines and light bulbs. It expanded production during the First World War to provide the Royal Navy with lighting, signalling and radio gear. In 2010, the memorial, plus time-capsule, was relocated 400 metres away due to impending redevelopment, but it is still within the engineering works site. It was re-dedicated 22 July 2010. Photo courtesy of Tim Skelton
War memorial in Gertude Jekyll’s village. If there were any place where it was natural for Lutyens to design a war memorial, it would have to be the Surrey village of Busbridge, home of the celebrated garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll, with whom he collaborated on a number of important house and garden designs. He designed nearby Munstead Wood, her house outside the village. Here in the St John the Baptist churchyard he used a variation of his tall tapered War Cross in Portland stone, standing it on an undercut plinth – another typical Luytens’ design feature. The memorial was unveiled on 23 July 1922. The churchyard also contains three graves designed by Lutyens – of Gertrude Jekyll (together with her brother and sister-in-law), her mother Julia Jekyll and Francis McClaren, husband of her niece, who was killed in a flying accident during the war. Lutyens’ other work in the village is the chancel screen in the church. Photo courtesy of Tim Skelton
The Regiment was raised from the ranks of the civil service. Very much a one-off design, the classic urn contains a scroll with the names of the regiment’s 1,240 dead. The stone base is inscribed with battles they fought and the painted flags were copper, now stone. The memorial was unveiled on 27 January 1924 by HRH The Prince of Wales, the Regiment’s honorary colonel. For many years the memorial stood in the centre of the courtyard of Somerset House on the Strand. This was a significant location as the courtyard had acted as a parade and drill ground for the Regiment. However it was relocated to the riverside terrace overlooking the Thames when the courtyard was renovated in 2002 to make way for the installation of fountains and a Christmas ice-rink. It was re-dedicated on 25 July that year. Photo courtesy of Tim Skelton
One of 15 War Crosses designed by Lutyens, this memorial stands in a wild and beautiful location on The Heugh overlooking Lindesfarne Castle – which Lutyens renovated – with the ruins of Lindesfarne Priory to the south and the Farne Islands in the distance to the east. Lutyens, who waived his fee, chose Doddington stone to be in harmony with the stone of the castle. The memorial was unveiled on 4 June 1922. Hurricane force winds in the winter of 1983-84 damaged the shaft of the cross. The top of the memorial was then replaced. Photo courtesy of Tim Skelton
This memorial was build alongside the Admiralty Building on Horseguards Parade and was unveiled by the Division’s commander on Gallipoli Day (25 April) 1925, the tenth anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. The Division took part in Gallipoli and that campaign, along with others, are inscribed on the monument. Winston Churchill was present. He had founded the Division when it was realised that the Navy had a surplus of enlisted men and not enough ships. It was known as ‘Winston’s Little Army’ and the Division was an anomaly run by the Admiralty – men were allowed to grow beards and the battalions had the names of ships such as Drake and Hood. It eventually came under Army control. When war loomed in 1939, the memorial was dismantled and put in storage to avoid damage during the construction of the Admiralty’s bomb-proof building, the Citadel. In 1951 it was re-erected at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich but, when the college closed in 1998, the memorial was returned to its original Horseguards site and was re-dedicated by the Prince of Wales on 13 November 2003. This was a significant date, commemorating a successful attack by the Division during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The best-known member of the Division was the poet, Rupert Brooke, who died en route to Gallipoli. Part of his poem, ‘The Dead’, is inscribed on a central panel. Photo courtesy of Tim Skelton
The Royal Berkshire Regiment decided from the outset that their memorial, sited outside the regimental barracks, should be a copy of the Cenotaph, abeit reduced in size. Lutyens agreed and made minor changes such as adding an urn on top and painted stone flags on either side. He had designed stone flags for the original Cenotaph, but they had been rejected. This cenotaph is the only one in England that bore them. It was unveiled by the Regiment’s colonel on 13 September 1921 when a roll of honour carrying the names of the dead was placed within the memorial. Photo courtesy of Tim Skelton
One of eight cenotaphs Lutyens designed. The Regiment suffered terrible casualties in the war – 26,000 out of its 40,000 serving soldiers. This memorial, two-thirds the size of the Cenotaph in Whitehall, commemorates the 6,866 officers and men who died. It was unveiled on 30 July 1921. Photo courtesy of Tim Skelton
Sited high on The Cliffs overlooking the Thames Estuary Lutyens’ original design was a cenotaph surmounted by an urn, but this was changed to a simple 11 metre high obelisk with a painted stone Union Flag and a White Ensign, one of six obelisks he designed. It was unveiled 27 November 1921 in front of a large crowd with D Company 6th Essex Regiment forming a guard of honour. A memorial tablet bearing the names of the 1,338 who died was erected at Prittlewell Priory (now part of Southend Museums). Lutyens also designed the garden in front of the memorial. White stone chippings spelling out ‘LEST WE FORGET’ have been added on the lawn at a later date. Photo courtesy of Tim Skelton
Six years of controversy and nine potential sites inspected. This War Cross, commemorating 1,162 servicemen from York who died fighting in the war, had a controversial history that meant six years elapsed between the opening of a memorial fund in 1919 and its unveiling in 1925. Lutyens was designing both the York City memorial and the North-Eastern Railway Company memorial, also in York. There was anxiety that the railway memorial would overshadow the City one, and also the ancient city walls, with opposition led by two local archaeological societies. There was also general disquiet about the City memorial location and about costs. The memorial – which had a bottle, coins and a current newspaper – was finally unveiled by the Duke of York in front of huge crowds on 22 June 1925. Despite cost concerns, £400 remained unspent and so Lutyens was commissioned to design pillars and entrance gates to the Memorial Gardens where the York City memorial stands. Photo courtesy of Tim Skelton
Lutyens only memorial building with a community purpose. Lutyens adapted the stables and North Lodge alongside an 18th-century vicarage (now the listed Gerrards Cross Memorial Centre) to create this painted brick memorial hall. This Hall is Lutyens’ only community building. He had been offered the commission by the local vicar who wanted a memorial that would serve the needs of ex-servicemen and the wider community. The portico contains a tall stone memorial plaque inscribed with 20 names from the First World War. Another 35 were added after the Second World War. Opened on 14 October 1922, it had a billiards room, club room and a kitchen, plus adjacent tennis courts. The Hall remains in active use and is the HQ of the local British Legion. Photo courtesy of Tim Skelton