From small beginnings to a great day

Paul Clarke, left, and Nick Roberson at the Garden of Remembrance
Paul Clarke, left, and Nick Roberson at the Garden of Remembrance

A project which began almost four years ago by a handful of volunteers with the aim of replacing two stolen statues that formed part of the Todmorden War Memorial is nearing completion, and next month will see new statues erected in the Garden of Remembrance.

A Todmorden Civic Society project, the replicas of the statues originally made for the garden, which is in Centre Vale Park, by sculptor Gilbert Bayes and which were stolen in the early 1990s, come to fruition on Sunday, October 12.

It is a day which along the way has received the support of the Todmorden branch of the Royal British Legion and local councils as well as townspeople and promises to be an occasion of commemoration to remember.

A full miltary parade led by the Lancashire Fusliers Fife and Drum Band under Colonel Eric Davidson will leave Lower George Street, off Halifdax Road, Todmorden, at 1.30pm.

Including representatives from the Royal Lancashire Fusiliers, the Fusiliers Association, local Royal British Legion branches, cadets from the army, navy and air force service branches, former service personnel and the Todmorden Pals group formed to mark the 100th anniversary of the Todmorden Territorials’ march to muster at Rochdale at the beginning of the Great War, it will make its way through the town centre, along Burnley Road and through the park to the Garden of Remembrance, where the statues will be unveiled.

The date has been chosen as it marks the day immediately before the death of the first Todmorden soldier to be killed in the Great War - Private Willie Nelson, of Walsden, who served with the Manchester Regiment in the Britisdh Expeditionary Force sent to France and died in action at Lorges on October 13, 1914.

In 2011, under the stewardship of former chairman Paul Clarke, himself a former soldier in the Royal Artillery, Todmorden Civic Society embarked on a programme aimed at raising funds to replace two Grade II listed statues, stolen from the Garden of Remembrance around twenty years ago.

The statues, entitled “The Lamp of Memory” and “The Shield of Honour” were sculpted by Gilbert Bayes, a well-known sculptor from London, whose parents were originally from Todmorden, and were erected in 1921 to honour the fallen Todmorden soldiers of the First World War.

The project led to stone carver Nick Roberson, a member of The Master Carvers Association being commissioned to work on replica statues using various photographs of the originals, including photos provided by the late Roger Birch.

The cost of the replica statues was £15,000, which was met by a number of successful grant applications, together with collection boxes in shops and businesses around the town, as well as public and private donations. 

Towards the latter stages of the project, the Civic Society was awarded a “Certificate of Recognition” by English Heritage. The award also recognises the additional contribution by the society in initiating further works to the memorial, including structural repairs to the stone steps at the rear of the garden and re-pointing of the memorial wall.

Much of this work was carried out by Calderdale Council’s specialist contractors Bullen Conservation, whilst cleaning of the existing St George statue and repair work to the name tablets was undertaken by Nick Roberson.

Current Civic Society Chairman Darren Midgley said: “What began as a relatively small-scale initiative has turned into something the whole town can be proud of, and for the society to be presented with this Certificate of Recognition is a testament to all the hard work and efforts of our members”. 

Paul Clarke added: “I feel extremely proud of Todmorden Civic Society and the role members have played in replacing the two statues and also the continued role of working with council officers to restore other elements of the war memorial.

“The rededication of the town’s war memorial to coincide with the centenary of the First World War is the culmination of a project to restore civic pride so we can remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

“We may not know their faces or the history of every soldier but their names are embedded in the town’s history and they shall not be forgotten.

“I would also like to thank everyone who has donated to the cost of the project and the grant funding bodies which helped make the project viable, along with Calderdale Council for their commitment and financial contribution which truly completed the project”.

Malcolm Stroud, Chair of TCS from 2003 to 2010, said: “It is very inspiring to see our community coming together to restore this important memorial.

“Our sculptor, Nick has also made a huge personal commitment - and they look great. Well done to all concerned”.

Ian Harvey, Director of Civic Voice, who nominated TCS for the award said: “As the nation commemorates the anniversary of the First World War, national recognition by English Heritage for Todmorden Civic Society is well deserved. As the civic movement across England commences work on a four-year project to record and assess the condition of the nation’s war memorials, this recognition for Todmorden Civic Society will hopefully lead as an inspiration to other communities across England”.

For Todmorden branch of the Royal British Legion, the unveiling, which will be attended by members of the Bayes family and also of Captain R. H. Barker, who led the Todmorden Territorials of the 1/6th Lancashire Fusiliers, who were thrown into the carnage of Gallipoli in 1915 and also served in France and Belgium, Darren Widdup said it was a memorable occasion for three major reasons.

It marked the culmination of the hard work of Todmorden Civic Society, the anniversary of Pte Nelson’s death and the fact that the Garden of Remembrance was originally opened in 1921 by Major (previously Captain) Barker, who played a leading role in the setting up of the British Legion nationally.

Darren Widdup added that during his research for the Civic Society Paul Clarke had detailed fascinating information about the Bayes family, whose line of descent included a strand from the town’s famous Fielden family, also uncovering the fact discovered by the Fielden Society’s Douglas Wilson that the famous poet Laurence Binyon, who wrote one of the poems most closely association with the First World War, “For The Fallen”, also has a line of decent from the Todmorden Fieldens.

At the short service at the Garden of Remembrance, “For The Fallen” will be read by acclaimed actor Barrie Rutter, of Northern Broadsides.

At approximately 2.40pm, the parade will reform and head back through the town to Lower George Street.

Although much of the space at the Garden will be taken up by the special and military guests, Darren said he hoped people would support the event in large numbers.

“We would love people to line the streets and the route through the park for the parade and use the balcony above the Garden of Remembrance and the other entrances to it,” he said.

As well as the Civic Society’s great efforts, he also praised Calderdale Council for its commitment to upgrading the memorials in the Garden.

The march is a major Fusiliers event, with Brigadier Paul Nanson in attendance at the statues unveiling. Todmorden soldier Sgt Major Jamieson Kenworthy, of the modern day Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, will take the parade. on a dat to remember.