DescriptionThe war memorial at Southampton was one of the first to use the principle of a cenotaph, which is derived from the Greek word “kenotaphion” (empty tomb). It is thought that Lutyens drew inspiration from a solid bench seat in Gertrude Jekyll’s garden that had always been referred to by Jekyll and her friends as the “Cenotaph of Sigismunda”.
A public meeting shortly after the Armistice led to the formation of a committee to provide the memorial and one of its members who was an architect recommended that Lutyens be approached. He duly visited Southampton on 22 January 1919, rejected the site on Asylum Green that had been proposed and suggested Watts Park as an alternative.
Lutyens’s initial proposal for two cenotaphs in the form of memorial arches flanking a Stone of Remembrance was rejected on grounds of cost and a simpler version, with a stone bier containing a body of a fallen soldier raised high upon a single pylon, was chosen instead.
The memorial is unique amongst those designed by Lutyens for the amount of carving that it contains – not only the cross at the front and the city’s coat of arms, but the two stern lions that guard the bier.
It was a model commission. Sufficient funds were quickly raised and the cenotaph was unveiled on 6 November 1920 by Major General the Rt. Hon. J E B Seeley, CB, CMG, DSO, TD, PC, Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire. The names of the fallen, which were carved directly onto the memorial, had begun to erode and, in 2011, glass panels containing all of the names were placed around the memorial. (Contributor: Peter Skelton)
Also Cited InO’Brien C, Pevsner N, Bailey B & Lloyd DW (2018) Hampshire: South. The Buildings of England. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Pevsner, N. (1962) Hampshire. The Buildings of England. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Butler, A., 1950. The architecture of Sir Edwin Lutyens: the Lutyens memorial series. Vol III: Town and Public Buildings: Memorials: The Metropolitan Cathedral, Liverpool, Country Life: London and Scibners: New York.
ClientImperial War Graves Commission