History of Upton's War Memorial

Largely gleened from the Minute Book kept at the CRO. Compiled by Des Robertson

The idea of the Upton War Memorial was first publicly discussed at a meeting held in the village school room on 21st March 1919. The meeting was presided over by Sir John Frost of Upton Lawn who was at the time the Mayor of Chester. He opened the meeting by pointing out that as much as the memorial given to the Parish Church by Mr & Mrs Simpson was appreciated, it was the widely recognised wish of the residents of Upton to establish a memorial, apart from that, to remember the twenty men from Upton who had lost their lives in the service of their country during the Great War.

After some discussion it was resolved to set up a committee to oversee the erection of a memorial to record the names of those who had fallen and to endow a cot in the Chester Royal Infirmary which, as a voluntary hospital always in need of funds, was at that time advertising for donations as memorials to loved ones. Sir John Frost was elected to chair the committee, together with seventeen others – significantly all men!!!!!.

At the first meeting of the Upton War Memorial Committee on 26th March 1919, Chester architect Philip H Lockwood (who attended by the invitation of Sir John Frost) submitted an initial design for the proposed memorial in the shape of a Celtic Cross. Sir John Frost offered a gift of land opposite the Wheatsheaf Hotel at the end of Smoke Street (now Upton Lane) as a site for the memorial.

The Committee inspected the proposed site and agreed that there was a need to alter the road to accommodate the memorial and to move a ventilation shaft. Philip Lockwood was instructed to prepare ground plans and mark out the site. A sub committee was formed to consider the delicate matter of the memorial’s inscription .

At the next meeting on 13th June 1919 it was reported that the Rural District Council had agreed to move the ventilation shaft and carry out the proposed alterations to the road to accommodate the War Memorial. Philip Lockwood submitted an estimate of £343/10/- from William Haswell, stonemason of the Kaleyard, for the erection of the memorial, its lettering, paving and all concrete work. Lockwood advised that a further £100 should be allowed for foundations and oak fencing The committee considered this estimate and asked Lockwood to obtain a second estimate.

This was obtained from another local firm, H.A.Clegg & Sons. This came to £285 (with another £100 to be allowed for foundations and fencing). No immediate decision on the estimates was taken by the committee members. However they did draw up a circular letter seeking donations from all the residents in the parish and appointed district collectors.

On 15th September 1919 it was reported to the committee that donations and promises of donations totalling £475 – a sum which exceeded the estimated costs by £90.

Mr A.Tyrer then suggested that consideration should be given to placing the memorial in a more central position in the parish. He proposed the Cross (ie: at the junction of four roads where the memorial now stands). He offered £100 towards the cost (on the condition that the donation was devoted entirely to the memorial fund, and not to the hospital or any other project). It was agreed that an approach be made to Sir Philip Egerton, who owned the land at the Cross, to ask if he would agree to make land available for the site of the memorial. At a meeting of all subscribers on 7th November 1919 it was announced that the sum of £586 which had so far been received or promised would be sufficient to cover the cost of the erection of the memorial (any outstanding balances would be given to the Royal Infirmary) and that Sir Philip Egerton had agreed to give land at the Cross for the site of the memorial.

The choice of site was left to the subscribers. They were pleased to accept the Egerton offer as the site at the Cross was, parish wise, a more central one. It also meant that Mr Tyrer’s offer of £100 would be available.

Sir John Frost was thanked for his original offer of land. It was also suggested that Sir Philip Egerton be approached to ask if he would agree to an inscription on the memorial recording the fact that the donation of the land was in memory of his two sons who had lost their lives in the Great War.

In what was probably a response to the committee’s attempts to explore ways to try and reduce costs Philip Lockwood produced alternative designs for the memorial, most likely in the shape of some variety of cenotaph, obelisk or column. The designs provoked much discussion which resulted in a resolution being passed that the initial design, that of a Celtic Cross of Darley Vale stone some 14 feet high including base and steps be adopted. It would now seem that funds would just cover the cost of the memorial so the decision to provide a cot or furnish a ward at the Royal Infirmary was rescinded.

In the meantime the laying out of the site was to be left to the committee. It was decided to adopt an island site. Total costs would now amount to £590 (£240 to Cleggs for the memorial plus £211 for the wall and £39 for flag laying plus £100 for foundations and fencing) Lockwood was asked to obtain lower estimates for the wall and flag laying. The island site would also involve a diversion of the road. The Rural District Council provisionally agreed to this.

However at the next meeting on 24th March 1920 it was reported that although Sir Philip Egerton had agreed to the suggested inscription on the memorial in memory of his two sons and the need for extra land for the island site for the memorial, the Rural District Council could not now agree to the diversion of the road on account of the costs involved.

However the RDC agreed that they would cut back the corner to create a site for the monument. This involved the hedges on each side being reduced in size, a piece of land 5 yards in depth being cut off the corner extending to where the hedge ended by the front gate of Upton Cross, the home of Mr James Thorburn. It was suggested that these proposals would improve what was becoming an increasingly dangerous corner for the steadily growing volume of motor traffic and at the same time provide a site for the War Memorial.

Mr Thorburn was, however, none too pleased!!!!!!!!

He met with the Council in connection with the Committee’s application. He argued that, whilst supporting the idea of the memorial, the reduction of the hedge would adequately solve the real problem, that of enabling motorists to see the road ahead. He argued that the other proposals would damage his property and would be expensive for ratepayers. Furthermore he thought that another war memorial was quite unnecessary as there was already a war memorial in the Parish Church. In his opinion the money collected should be given as a memorial to the Royal Infirmary. Mr Thorburn did agree that if the project was proceeded with and the RDC were content with the cutting down of his hedge he would agree to the surplus soil being deposited in the dell on his land.

The Committee sought a meeting with Mr Thorburn. As a result of this meeting Mr Thorburn was co-opted onto the Upton War Memorial Committee !!!!!!! Following further discussions plans were drawn up to proceed with the “easing off “ of the corner and that the memorial would be sited on a raised bank on the corner itself, with wall and steps in front of it and a temporary oak fence behind, with a holly hedge planted in front of the fence.

A sketch of the proposed plan for the memorial site was put to Sir Philip Egerton together with an explanation as to why the costs involved would not allow an island site for the memorial. There is no doubt that he would have preferred an island site as it would have made the inscription in his sons memory more accessible.

The work proceeded according to plan and the unveiling ceremony, an important occasion in the life of Upton Village and especially so for the relatives of those who had fallen, was fixed for 13th February 1921. The service was conducted jointly by the Rev. Wilfred Sparling, the Vicar of Upton and the Rev. Alfred Hills who as well as being the leading Non-Conformist minister in Chester had also served in France with the YMCA during the Great War. Their joint participation gave the service an ecumenical dimension. The address was delivered by Bishop Mercer with Sir Philip Egerton performing the actual unveiling ceremony.

The War Memorial Committee continued to hold occasional meetings over the next year to “wind up business”. It was agreed, that after all the accounts had been settled and other expenses had been met, that the balance should go to the Royal Infirmary.

However in early 1922 it was learnt that Birch Cullimore were only going to charge for stamps and expenses in respect of the conveyance of land to the Upton Parish Council. This meant a remaining balance that amounted to £180. The Committee called a meeting of subscribers for 3rd March 1922 for the purpose of reconsidering the proposal to pay any outstanding balance to the hospital. After much discussion it was decided unanimously that the sum of £120 be vested in Upton Parish Council as trustees, to be used by them as trustees for the upkeep of the memorial and that the balance should go to the Royal Infirmary .

The Charity Commission had to be consulted about the trust deal. As a result of this consultation exercise a special meeting of subscribers was held on 15th June 1922 to discuss the outcome of the meeting with the Charity Commission.

It was agreed to rescind the decision to vest funds in the Upton Parish Council as the trustees nominated by the subscribers and sign over to the Charity Commission the £120 for the upkeep of the memorial on the terms of a trust deed which would be executed by the Charity Commission. Sir John Frost and Messrs Dean and Beckett signed the Declaration of Trust on behalf of the subscribers. The Parish Council was to act as “Local Trustees” with the authority to make requests to the Charity Commission to draw on the fund. This was the last recorded meeting of the War Memorial Committee.

It seems, unfortunately, that for one reason or another the upkeep of the memorial became somewhat neglected. The increasingly unkempt state of the memorial site was brought into focus as the preparations for the coronation of George VI in 1937 got under way in Upton. The Upton branch of the British Legion was approached to undertake to “keep the Memorial in order for £3 per anum”.

The British Legion declined to take on the responsibility for the War Memorial site. They considered the suggested fee of £3 per anum as inadequate due to the extent of restoration work involved and the continuing work involved in the upkeep of the site.

The Parish Council agreed to take on the work and regular cleaning took place at the rate offered to the British Legion. By the autumn of 1939 the fencing was in a bad state of repair and the Chairperson of the Council, Mr Morris, personally arranged for its removal and, significantly for the times, for the provision of barbed wire to replace the fence!!!.

After the Second World War the Parish Council, in common with the practice nationwide, decided to add the names of local men who had fallen together with an inscription. Clegg’s estimated that the cost of inserting a new stone would come to £38. No provision had been made in council estimates for this work so an envelope appeal for contributions towards the cost was launched. The Upton villagers responded to the extent that £59/3/6 was raised which more than covered the cost of the new stone. There is no record as to how the surplus was spent but five years later MM (Military Medal) was, with War Office authorization, added after Corporal Knowles’ name.

The new stone was unveiled and dedicated in a service conducted by ministers from Upton’s churches and Chapels on 13th May 1948 in the presence of the next of kin of the fallen, members of the British Legion, councilors, military commanders and the Chief of Staff of Western Command together with the people of Upton Village.

By 1957 the junction where the memorial was sited was causing considerable problems for the ever continuing increase in traffic. The plans that the County Council drew up to tackle the traffic problems at the Cross were complicated by the fact that to improve the corner the memorial would have to be moved back. The site adjoining the memorial was now being developed for housing. To move the memorial would mean siting it on a spot that would take it within the housing development. However Thomas Warrington & Sons the contractors were agreeable to reserving a plot of land for the memorial behind its existing site.

The Upton Parish Council agreed to a request from the County Council’s surveyor that the memorial could be moved back but insisted that this should be done at no cost to the parish. In due course the memorial was moved and matters such as the planting of the site, hedge and front kerb were dealt with.

The Upton Parish Council, on the recommendation of its architect insisted on a six months delay before accepting responsibility for the re-sited memorial. In the 1957-58 financial year the County Council approved expenditure of £3 on maintenance of the memorial

The story of the Upton War memorial comes up to date in 1997 when on the instructions of Upton Parish Council it was cleaned and refurbished. The cost involved was some £1,300. This was partly offset by drawing on the balance of around £350 in the fund with the Charity Commissioners. This closed the account which had, over the years, been accumulating small amounts of interest. It had been a deliberate policy not to draw on the Trust Funds retaining them for any emergency expenditure providing the County Council continued to approve revenue account expenditure on the memorial. However in terms of the cost of the cleaning and refurbishment of the memorial it would have been difficult to totally justify the County Council’s expenditure when Trust Funds were still available to Upton Parish Council.

The appearance of the Upton War Memorial is now that which impressed people over eighty years ago. As well as remembering those from the village who made the ultimate sacrifice during the course of two world wars it also reflects the dreams and the aspirations, the energy and the generosity of spirit of those Upton people who have, over the years, made the Upton War Memorial the reality it is today.