Playing a part in the story of a restored First World War memorial

30th October 2018

We are delighted to announce that the marble war memorial which was discovered in a back garden in Bristol has been cleaned and carefully fitted in place for a big unveil by the Lord Mayor of Bristol on Wednesday 7th November 2018 – 11am at St John’s Church Bristol.

In 2013, a home owner stumbled across a huge slab of stone covered in algae and lichen whilst rummaging through the undergrowth of his garden in Bristol. This was no ordinary lump of stone; it was in fact a marble memorial to the employees of The Avonside Engine Company Ltd who served during the First World War.

John Penny, a well-known Bristol historian and founding member of the Fishponds Local History Society, was contacted about the discovery, he immediately shared the information with Clive Burlton from the Bristol Great War Network. On closer inspection the inscriptions revealed an unusual feature. The memorial not only listed the nine employees who were killed, but also the names of 77 other employees who served in the forces, with a cross marked against the names of the 17 who were injured.

“I had only just taken up a temporary role as researcher for the Moved by Conflict exhibition which ran at the M Shed Museum from October 2014 to early March 2015,” explains Clive Burlton. I contacted the curators and they immediately agreed that if possible, the memorial should be displayed in the exhibition.”

Research revealed that The Avonside Engine Company was a locomotives manufacturer based in Avon Street St. Phillips from 1864 until it moved to new premises in Filwood Road, Fishponds in 1905. During the First World War, nearly half of the employees served in the Forces, whilst the remainder were employed in the production of shells, locomotives and other war work.

The memorial to the employees was originally unveiled at the Filwood Road site in February 1921 and in 1934 the Avonside Engine Company closed and was bought by the Hunslet Engine Company in Leeds. The Filwood Road site was demolished some years later and it remains a mystery as to how and why the memorial landed up a-mile down the road in someone’s back garden in Fishponds.

In the summer of 2014, the memorial was carefully removed from the back garden by Cliveden Conservation and placed in temporary store. Conservator, Andrew Hebden then undertook the painstaking task of cleaning the stone to reveal its former white marble self and delivered the memorial for the exhibition.

At the end of the Moved by Conflict exhibition, the ownership of the memorial transferred to St John’s Church in Lodge Causeway, where the memorial was delivered in 2015. Three years on and with the formal ‘Faculty’ now in place, the memorial was installed on an internal wall in the church on 18th October 2018. Using specialist lifting equipment, conservators, Dieter Eichhorn and Al Deane from Cliveden Conservation moved and fitted the monument in place.

Thanks to a grant from Historic England’s Heritage Schools Programme, most of the costs of installation have been met.

Our Bath Workshop Manager, Tom Flemons, said:

“It has been lovely to see this project through; from the original discovery and collection, the cleaning and conservation and finally installation. A great honour to be part of this story.”
The latest chapter in the story of the memorial ends on Wednesday 7th November 2018, when Rev. Jordan Ling will re-dedicate the memorial at a service in St John’s Church at 11am, aided by the Lord Mayor of Bristol and local schoolchildren who will perform the unveiling.”

A final word from the homeowner, “It’s really good to know the memorial has found a proper home and that the Fishponds people named will again be remembered.”