John Shaw looks at why the North Eastern Railway War memorial at Station Rise should be cleaned

NEXT month, it will be 100 years since Lutyens’ War Memorial on Station Rise in York was unveiled.

Initially, the design met with criticism from The Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society (hereafter YAYAS) as to the potential harm the initial design would make to the city walls (it involved the cutting-back of the earthen rampart) but as a memorial it quickly became established as a landmark in the city’s railway estate.

That the society (YAYAS) is now keen to encourage a rolling programme to give the memorial a new lease of life shows how attitudes change over time.

York Press: York's war memorial at Station Rise - should it be cleaned?York's war memorial at Station Rise - should it be cleaned?

Recently, Dr Duncan Marks of York Civic Trust wrote a thoughtful article on what can be done, or indeed if it should be done to prevent the memorial decaying yet further.

Dr Marks makes a series of salient points in his short article but he did not stress the slight difference in this particular case; namely the siting of the memorial.

The memorial is in a prominent location and is seen by all who pass en route to the railway station.

Its current rather drab state provides a vista in stark contrast to the famous view of the Minster and walls seen in the opposite direction.

Many of those with a view (such as Dr Bill Fawcett and John Ives) have pointed out that cleaning it would be a pointless exercise and would therefore have to be continuously performed every year.

Where I would plead a ‘special case’ here is an aesthetic judgement, viz the prominent location and a significant member of a select group of buildings such as the 1906 NER Headquarters, the 1841 Railway Station, the 1853 Station Hotel and, outside the city wall, the statue of George Leeman.

As many are aware, the memorial was subjected to an abrasive cleaning process which disrupted the outer skin of the Portland Stone.

Is there a 21st century method to clean what remains? Lutyens’ most famous memorial, the Cenotaph in Whitehall is subjected to an annual clean each year ahead of the Remembrance Service in November.

Again, a memorial in a prominent location. A quick search online provides some information as to how this is done.

Is the York memorial seen as ‘too far gone’ or can a modern technique be applied here?

As a prelude to any action if it were to be taken, YAYAS commissioned a report from Rook Heritage Consulting.

York Press: How the Daily Mirror reported the unveiling in 1924How the Daily Mirror reported the unveiling in 1924

In it, Alaina Schmisseur detailed the condition of the pointing and the surface of the stone. She also reported the level sections of the memorial retaining water, unavoidable in the case of Lutyens’ design. Alaina Schmisseur concluded that:

“It is currently in poor cosmetic condition and moderately stable physical condition, with areas of heavy soiling, lichen growth, and areas of missing pointing. The memorial assemblage retains standing water at ground level due to poor drainage and surrounding hard standings. This contributes to the overall dampness of the stonework and accelerates biological growth. The memorial is in need of regularly scheduled preventive maintenance.”

That last sentence is the most daunting: the solution regardless of cost, is "regularly scheduled preventative maintenance".

The question I would argue is: does the city/Network Rail/The Lutyens Society/The Railway Heritage Trust have funding to hire an annual contract to perform an annual round of cleaning to the memorial?

As far as I am aware, Network Rail have been made aware, but experience tells me that it’s best to have a possible solution before any approach is made.

A co-ordinated approach with all concerned agencies (and I am including the Lutyens Trust) is the only possible solution towards possible funding.

The purpose of this article is to encourage the willingness to undertake what would be an endless task; I would conclude that to do nothing will merely leave our descendants with a grey/black meaningless assemblage of stone on the way out of York’s historic core.

John Shaw is chairman of The Yorkshire Architectural & York Archaeological Society


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