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Introduction to Project

At present war memorials in the Blackdown Hills, like all others in the UK, have no special legal protection.

Local parish councils implicitly take on the role of protector of memorials in public spaces, and under the War Memorials (Local Authorities’ Powers) Act of 1923 they have the power to restore memorials, but it is not an obligation. Churches take on responsibility for those within their grounds.

A way for a memorial to acquire some legal protection is for it to be designated a listed building. It then requires planning permission to affect change, and any unpermitted change is an offence with possibility of criminal conviction.

At present only two memorials in the Blackdown Hills AONB are listed buildings, the Whitestaunton Great War Memorial and Upottery village memorial. Whitestaunton is of special interest because it reuses a medieval church spire. Upottery is located in the picturesque public square surrounded by listed buildings.

Whitestaunton Great War Memorial

Whitestaunton Great War Memorial

One may ask why more are not designated listed buildings given their importance. According to English Heritage:

 “there is a presumption in favour of listing all memorials … particularly when inscriptions of casualties are included … discretion is still required , however, with memorials of limited formal or visual interest .. given the numbers of memorials within churchyards and cemeteries, it is no surprise to learn that many monuments of clear significance remain to be identified”

English Heritage Designation Listing Selection Guide: Commemorative Structures, April 2011, p.10

This strongly suggests that many more memorials in the Blackdown Hills could be designated. Given that we estimate there are over 100 memorials in the AONB the two currently listed represent a tiny proportion.

Upottery War Memorial

Upottery War Memorial

Along with listed buildings, county councils in the UK also maintain Historic Environment Records (HERs) which are databases of all sites of historic and archaeological interest for a given county. These are the basic starting point for heritage assets for an area and fulfil a development control and educational role. Inclusion of war memorials in HERs would be beneficial, as they will be flagged when council staff are considering planning applications. Although this will not carry additional legal weight it may be a contributing factor that results in their in-situ preservation or organised relocation.

At present only eight of the memorials in the AONB are included in an HER database, and they are all on the Somerset side. None of the Devon memorials are included in their respective county HER. According to staff at Devon Heritage Centre this is simply because they haven’t been submitted for inclusion, and there is a general presumption for all memorials to be entered.

At the end of the project we will submit all our data to both the Devon and the Somerset HERs. We will also compile a list of memorials suitable for designation as listed buildings.

Cataloguing is a starting point while working towards greater care of memorials at state level, and naturally we support the War Memorials Trust and Daily Telegraph in their continued efforts.

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When undertaking any fieldwork project this early stage tends to be the most exciting – exploring the area, getting to know the people and places you’ll be working with and generally learning as much as you can as quickly as possible. Neither myself or Steve come from a standing start for this project, but after just a few fieldwork report entries we’re both seeing interesting results.

Take Pitminster for example, a memorial to those from the Parish who died in the First (here and commonly at the time called the Great War) and Second World Wars. It’s beautiful location is well over a mile from the actual village, half way up a hill next to a well used commuter route. Today if a memorial is built it is usually easy to visit, easy to see and a centrepeice of a population centre. Although Pitminster’s Memorial, half way up Blagdon Hill, is impressive in itself, it suffers badly from its exposure to the elements and has become difficult to visit next to an increasingly busy road. For these reasons and more Pitminster PCC, the Memorial’s custodians, have voted in favour of moving the War Memorial to a more suitable position within the village (see http://www.pitminsterparish.org.uk/pitminster-parish-plan.php). A modern reminder of the continued importance of remembrance.

Pitminster not only highlights the importance of War Memorials to today’s communities, it also presents us with some interesting data. Firstly, it is the only war memorial we have ever seen which gives the dates of the Second World War as 1939-1946. It is probable that one of the people on the 2WW side of the memorial died in 1946 (perhaps in the on-going unrest in places such as Palestine), and the dates are altered to allow for this, or it could be a simple mistake on the part of the insciber, which is unlikely.

The inscriptions are unusually descriptive and seem to be well thought out. The photo below shows the First World War side, and the text ‘…MEN OF PITMINSTER…’ – in that conflict only men from the village perished. On the reverse side it states ‘…PARISHIONERS OF PITMINSTER…’ – one lady is commemorated. Whilst this is far from unique it is unusual to be able to discern just from reading the memorial which force any individual served in. We know a lady is listed because the forces are also given: Army, Navy, RAF and WAAF (Womens Auxiliary Air Force).

We are creating this database for people today to use to discover the secrets which lie beneath the names in the stone, the stories behind the real people who lived and died, and to learn any lessons their stories might teach.

We will remember them.
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