Court approves gold-leaf lettering on war-memorial in Sheffield parish

05 October 2018

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THE depth of feeling in a parish that wished to emphasise the names on a war memorial by re-lettering them in gold leaf overruled the disapproval of the Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches (DAC) of gilded lettering on the basis of aesthetic evaluation, the Consistory Court of the diocese of Sheffield decided.

The Chancellor, Judge Sarah Singleton QC, granted the petitioners, the incumbent and churchwardens of St Jude’s, Hexthorpe, a faculty to permit the refurbishment of the war memorial in the churchyard to include the gilding of the names of the fallen in both world wars.

St Jude’s is not listed: the building was completed in 1894, and consecrated in 1900. The war memorial, with the names of the fallen in the First World War engraved on it, was dedicated in May 1921. The costs of its construction and design were raised from public donations by an organising committee, which consisted of representatives of local bodies including other Christian denominations, the local council, and the British Legion.

In 1949, the names of those from the area who had given their lives in the Second World War were added after funds were again raised from public donations.

The evidence showed that the war memorial was a local response to honour those lost from the community, and to offer bereaved families a focused location to mark their loss. The PCC now wished to have the memorial cleaned and renovated before November 2018, to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.

One of the main purposes of the renovation was to re-gild the memorial to “reflect well the names of all who died in the wars . . . so that they can be seen more fully and read by those families who remain . . . of those who gave their lives so that we might live”.

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The DAC did not object to the renovation: its overall approach was that the primary purpose of a war-memorial repair-project should be to restrain the process of decay without damaging the character of the memorial, altering the features that gave it its historic or architectural interest, or unnecessarily disturbing or destroying historic fabric. The DAC therefore concluded that the lettering should be cleaned but not painted or gilded.

The Chancellor said that the DAC’s objections arose from an aesthetic evaluation of the likely appearance of the memorial if the lettering was gilded or re-gilded. But, given the strength of feeling and the reasoning of the petitioners, the Chancellor said that it would be “neither necessary nor appropriate to overrule them on this by reason of an aesthetic evaluation”.

The photographs of the memorial from 1921 showed that the names clearly stood out, but it was hard to tell from black-and-white images whether they were engraved in white or in gold at the time. The petitioners did not seek to go further in terms of legibility and visibility of the names than was the case when they were first engraved.

The DAC was also influenced by a perception of the possible contrast between the appearance of the church and the memorial in terms of age and patina. The actual age difference was only about 30 years, however, and, at first, the memorial looked starkly new compared with the church. Now, it looked older, possibly because the masonry of the church had been cleaned. The Chancellor said that the “ongoing see-sawing” about “which looks more aged” could not be affected by the inclusion of gold lettering, and it was hoped that “the ongoing graceful ageing of both church and the memorial will continue, and that the passage of time will allow that to become synchronised”.

The memorial was “the embodiment of the local community’s grief and respect for the dead in the wake of the devastating losses” of the war, and the “strongly and sincerely held beliefs of the PCC” could and should be respected, the Chancellor decided.

A faculty was granted, permitting the cleaning of the memorial, the renovation of its stonework, and the gilding or re-gilding of the engraved names.

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