Manchester Cenotaph

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The Cenotaph
United Kingdom
MC-View from Town Hall-3.jpg
Manchester Cenotaph in 2017, in its new location by the town hall
For casualties of the First World War (modified to include the Second World War and later conflicts)
Unveiled 12 July 1924; 92 years ago (1924-07-12)
Location 53°28′43″N 2°14′34″W / 53.4787°N 2.2429°W / 53.4787; -2.2429Coordinates: 53°28′43″N 2°14′34″W / 53.4787°N 2.2429°W / 53.4787; -2.2429
St Peter's Square, Manchester, England
Designed by Edwin Lutyens
Listed Building – Grade II*
Official name Manchester War Memorial
Designated 3 September 1974
Reference no. 1270697

Manchester Cenotaph is a First World War memorial, with additions for later conflicts, by Sir Edwin Lutyens in St Peter's Square in the centre of Manchester, England. Manchester was late in commissioning a war memorial compared to most British towns and cities—the city council did not convene a war memorial committee until 1922. The committee quickly raised £10,000 but finding a suitable location for the monument proved controversial. The preferred site in Albert Square, requiring the removal and relocation of several statues, was opposed by the city's artistic community. The next choice was Piccadilly Gardens, an area ripe for development, but in the interests of expediency, the council chose St Peter's Square, although it already contained a memorial cross to the former St Peter's Church. Negotiations to move the cross were unsuccessful and the war memorial was built with the cross in situ.

The choice of architect was initially to be decided by an open competition, but the war memorial committee was criticised in the local press when it reserved the right to overrule the result. It abandoned the competition and approached Lutyens, who produced a variation of his design for his cenotaph in London. The memorial consists of a central cenotaph and a Stone of Remembrance flanked by twin obelisks, all features characteristic of Lutyens' war memorials. The cenotaph is topped by an effigy of a fallen soldier and decorated with relief carvings of the imperial crown, Manchester's coat of arms and inscriptions commemorating the dead. The structures, based on classical architecture, use abstract, ecumenical shapes rather than overt religious symbolism. The memorial was unveiled on on 12 July 1924 by the Earl of Derby, assisted by Mrs Bingle, a local resident whose three sons died in the war. The memorial cost cost £6,940 and the remaining funds were used to provide hospital beds.

In 2014, Manchester City Council dismantled the memorial and reconstructed it at the opposite end of St Peter's Square next to Manchester Town Hall to make room for the expanded Metrolink tram network. The memorial is a grade II* listed structure. In 2015, Historic England recognised Lutyens' war memorials as a national collection and all were listed, had their listing upgraded or their list entries expanded.


In the aftermath of the First World War and its unprecedented casualties, thousands of war memorials were built across Britain. Virtually all towns and cities erected some form of memorial to commemorate their fallen. During the war, only London provided more recruits to the British Army than Manchester. The Manchester Regiment and the Lancashire Fusiliers, which largely recruited from the city and towns to the north, were swollen by pals battalions drawn from local employers, social groups, and neighbourhoods.[1] By the end of the war, more than 13,000 men of the Manchester Regiment, including more than 4,000 from the pals battalions and 13,600 Lancashire Fusiliers had been killed. An estimated 22,000 Mancunians were killed and 55,000 wounded.[2]


Many towns and cities began erecting war memorials shortly after the armistice, but Manchester did not get underway until 1922. As a result of pressure from the local branch of the Royal British Legion, the city council formed a war memorial committee, chaired by the mayor, to explore options for commemorations.[3] The committee raised £10,000 in subscriptions and donors were told local firms would benefit from its construction as unemployment was increasing in the city.[4]

Three potential sites were considered for the memorial: Albert Square, Piccadilly Gardens and St Peter's Square. Albert Square, supported by the Royal British Legion in a letter to the city council dated 11 April 1923, emerged as the favourite. The site proved controversial after the artistic community led the objections to the removal and relocation of statues in the square, which would have been required to create a suitable space for the war memorial. King George V consented to the relocation of the memorial to his German grandfather, Prince Albert, but objections persisted and the city architect estimated the cost of relocating the statues at £8,400. The city council voted to reject Albert Square and identified Piccadilly Gardens as its second choice. The city council was considering building an art gallery on the open space left after the old infirmary was demolished in Piccadilly and siting the memorial in front of it was supported by the Art Gallery Committee.[4] As nothing was decided, any plans for the area would have delayed the war memorial project further and the council settled on St Peter's Square.[5][6][7]

Lutyens' original cenotaph, on Whitehall in London

More controversy surrounded the choice of architect. The Manchester Art Federation and other bodies petitioned the city council to hold an open competition, to which the council agreed. The war memorial committee appointed Percy Worthington, a local architect, as the assessor for the competition but attracted severe criticism in the local press when it reserved the right to veto Worthington's choice. After further debate, the competition was abandoned and a subcommittee approached Sir Edwin Lutyens.[8]


Lutyens, described by Historic England as "the leading English architect of his generation" was amongst the most prominent designers of war memorials in Britain.[9] Before the war, he had established his reputation designing country houses for wealthy patrons but the war had a profound effect on him and from 1917 onwards he dedicated much of his time to memorialising the casualties. The Stone of Remembrance that he designed in 1917 appears in all large Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) cemeteries and in several of his civic memorials, including Manchester's.[9] His cenotaph on Whitehall in London became the focus for national Remembrance Sunday commemorations and one of the most influential designs for war memorials in Britain. Manchester's cenotaph, a close replica, is one of seven in England based on it.[9][10]

Lutyens designed the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, the largest British war memorial in the world, for the IWGC in 1928.[11] Around the same time he designed his only other commission in Manchester, the former Midland Bank premises at 100 King Street.[12]


The cenotaph in its original "cluttered" location; in the foreground is the cross marking the site of the former St Peter's Church and in the background the Midland Hotel.

Manchester's war memorial is a cenotaph, flanked by twin obelisks, and a Stone of Remembrance, all in Portland stone on a raised coved platform.[9][13] The memorial covers an area of approximately 93 feet (28 metres) by 53 feet (16 metres).[6] The cenotaph is 42 feet (13 metres) high made from 160 long tons (160,000 kilograms) of Portland stone. The pylon is surmounted by a sculpture of an unknown soldier, partially covered by his greatcoat, lying on a catafalque. The pylon rises from the base in diminishing stages, narrowing as it rises. Below the catafalque, on the front and rear, are moulded swords and imperial crowns, and to the sides are Manchester's coat of arms surrounded by laurel wreaths. The cenotaph bears inscriptions below the coat of arms: "TO THE HONOURED MEMORY OF THOSE WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES FOR THEIR COUNTRY" (on the north-west side) and "O LORD GOD OF OUR FATHERS KEEP THIS/FOREVER IN THE IMAGINATION OF THE THOUGHTS OF THE HEART OF THY PEOPLE" (on the south east).[9][14][15][6] Identical, 23-foot (7-metre) high obelisks stand either side of the cenotaph[16][17] and the Stone of Remembrance is set in front. The stone, a monolith in the shape of an altar, is 12 feet (3.7 metres) long and curved so slightly as to barely be visible (entasis); it is devoid of decoration and inscribed, "THEIR NAME LIVETH FOR EVERMORE".[18][19]

Lutyens' design, with flanking objects, recumbent figure and a Stone of Remembrance set in front of the cenotaph is reminiscent of his earlier cenotaph in Southampton. While many First World War memorials feature sculpture or overt religious symbolism, Manchester's, like many of his memorials, uses abstract and ecumenical shapes inspired by classical architecture. Its effigy of the unknown soldier raised high on the pylon rather than at eye level is reminiscent of ancient tower tombs. The sculpture's position high above eye level gives the soldier anonymity, complimenting the abstract shapes of the structures and allowing an onlooker to project an image of their own choosing onto it.[20][21][22][23]

The Pevsner City Guide to Manchester described the cenotaph as one of the few impressive war memorials in Manchester but lamented its original cluttered setting and its proximity to overhead wires.[15] The cenotaph, obelisks, and stone are features typical of Lutyens' war memorial work, although Manchester's is one of only two with flanking obelisks, the other being Northampton War Memorial, where the obelisks flank a stone.[6][16][24]


Temple Moore's memorial cross to the former St Peter's Church, which occupied the site intended for the war memorial

St Peter's Square already housed a memorial cross by Temple Moore marking the location of the former St Peter's Church, which was demolished in 1907. The church trustees and the Bishop of Manchester had consented to relocating the cross to accommodate the war memorial, but the trustees reversed their decision by the time building work commenced. Lutyens agreed for the work to continue with the cross in situ.[5][15][25] Negotiations about relocating it recommenced after the unveiling ceremony but the trustees remained reluctant and after further discussion Lutyens said he did not object to it remaining.[4] According to Tim Skelton, author of Lutyens and the Great War (2008), "the heated discussions resulted in a compromise that clearly show[ed]" as Moore's cross "severely impinged on the setting of the memorial and appear[ed] to be an integral part of it".[25]

Despite the war memorial committee's promise that local labour would be used, the monument was built by Nine Elms Stone Masonry Works of London at a cost of £6,940 (1924). It was unveiled on 12 July 1924 by Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby, whose family had been involved in politics for generations, and who held various public offices during the war including Secretary of State for War. He was assisted by Mrs Bingle, a local woman from Rylance Street, Ancoats, who lost three sons in the war. Two years earlier, Lord Derby had unveiled Lutyens' Rochdale Cenotaph, 10 miles (16 km) away.[9][3][26] The memorial was unveiled in front of a large crowd and guard of honour from the Manchester Regiment and ex-servicemen. The service was led by the Dean of Manchester, the Very Reverend Gough McCormick, and the Baptist minister, Reverend John Edward Roberts, of Union Chapel on Oxford Road. Mrs Bingle represented "the mothers and wives of Manchester who had made sacrifices greater than life itself". She wore the eight medals awarded to her dead sons: Sergeant Ernest Bingle aged 34 and Gunner Charles Bingle aged 27 of the Royal Garrison Artillery, and Corporal Nelson Bingle aged 21 of the Royal Engineers. All were killed in 1918—Nelson in March and Ernest and Charles in May. Several dignitaries gave speeches including the lord mayor and Lord Derby, who remarked that the memorial was not only a tribute to the dead but a warning as to the cost of war. After the unveiling, a procession of women laid flowers around the base of the memorial.[27][28] The remainder of the £10,000 raised by the war memorial committee was used to provide hospital beds for ex-servicemen and their families.[25] The suitability of St Peter's Square re-emerged in 1925 during discussions about the proposed art gallery and consideration was given to moving the cenotaph to Piccadilly.[4]

A marble plaque, added nearby and dedicated to "Our Italian Comrades 1915–1918" was removed during the Second World War but later returned. In 1949 the dates for World War II were added and the surrounding area was made into a garden of remembrance designed by the city architect, L. C. Howitt.[15] Another plaque was added later to commemorate the Korean War.[9][26]

In March 2011 Manchester City Council began consultations on moving the cenotaph to an alternative site in the square to allow for expansion of the Metrolink tram network. The plans had a mixed reception. Some objections were made by the public but there was support from veterans, church, and heritage groups. The cenotaph's relocation was approved in 2012, and in January 2014 it was dismantled before it was cleaned and restored. In 2014 it was reconstructed in a new memorial garden on the opposite side of the square aligned with the southern entrance to Manchester Town Hall. The garden opened to the public in September 2014. The cenotaph was damaged in the first week when skateboarders began using the area as a skatepark. Repairs costing £4,000 started shortly afterwards, and extra security measures (including 24-hour CCTV) were put in place.[29][30][31][32]

The cenotaph was designated a grade II listed structure on 12 February 1985.[9] Listed status provides legal protection from demolition or modification; grade II is applied to about 92% of listed structures of "special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them". It was upgraded in 1994 to grade II*, which is reserved for "particularly important buildings of more than special interest" and applied to about 5.5% of listed buildings. In November 2015, as part of commemorations for the centenary of the First World War, Lutyens' war memorials were recognised as a "national collection" and all his free-standing memorials in England were listed or had their listing status reviewed and National Heritage List for England list entries were updated and expanded.[33][34]

See also[edit]




  1. ^ O'Neil, pp. 17–18.
  2. ^ O'Neil, pp. 90–91.
  3. ^ a b Skelton, p. 63.
  4. ^ a b c d "Cenotaph". National Recording Project. Public Monuments and Sculpture Association. Retrieved 18 March 2017. 
  5. ^ a b Hartwell (2004) p. 332.
  6. ^ a b c d Boorman (2005), pp. 112–113.
  7. ^ Skelton, pp. 63–64.
  8. ^ Skelton, pp. 64–65.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Historic England. "Manchester War Memorial (1270697)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 23 October 2016. 
  10. ^ Borg, pp. 74–75.
  11. ^ "Thiepval Memorial". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 29 March 2016. 
  12. ^ Historic England. "Midland Bank (1219241)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 29 March 2017. 
  13. ^ Corke, p. 55.
  14. ^ Wyke, pp. 130–132
  15. ^ a b c d Hartwell (2002), p. 202.
  16. ^ a b Barnes, p. 118.
  17. ^ Boorman (1988), pp. 123–124.
  18. ^ Ridley, p. 278.
  19. ^ Skelton, p. 24.
  20. ^ Winter, pp. 102–104.
  21. ^ Borg, p. 96.
  22. ^ Amery et al., p. 148.
  23. ^ King, p. 139.
  24. ^ Borg, p. 88.
  25. ^ a b c Skelton, p. 65.
  26. ^ a b "Manchester Cenotaph". War Memorials Register. Imperial War Museums. Retrieved 13 March 2017. 
  27. ^ "Manchester Memorial Bereaved mother assists in unveilling ceremony". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. 14 July 1924. p. 5.   – via British Newspaper Archive (subscription required)
  28. ^ Simpson, pp. 104–105.
  29. ^ "Manchester's cenotaph 'could be moved'". BBC News. 8 March 2011. 
  30. ^ "Workmen start on cenotaph relocation". Manchester Evening News. 25 January 2014. Retrieved 13 March 2017. 
  31. ^ "Fury as bizarre graffiti daubed on bench at newly restored cenotaph". Manchester Evening News. 30 September 2014. Retrieved 13 March 2017. 
  32. ^ "Manchester's cenotaph to be monitored by 24-hour CCTV after £4,000 damage". Manchester Evening News. 6 October 2014. Retrieved 13 March 2017. 
  33. ^ "The Listing and Grading of War Memorials" (PDF). Historic England. July 2015. p. 2. Retrieved 10 February 2017. 
  34. ^ "National Collection of Lutyens' War Memorials Listed". Historic England. 7 November 2015. Retrieved 1 February 2016.