Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Village War Memorials of St Bees, Cumbria

1. The two village war memorials of St Bees, Cumbria
2. Statue of St Bega with St Bees priory in the background

3. The west door of St Bees Priory Church (c.1140)

4. Names of the St Bees WW2 service casualties
For additional information click on 'Comments' below.


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information


For a relatively small village the West Cumbrian village of St Bees is a little unusual in having two 'official' village memorials plus additional school memorials for St Bees School and Sandwith School. There is also a memorial seat which marks the evacuation of Mill Hill School from North London to St Bees during the Second World War (1939 - 1945).

St Bees School, with a long history of boarders has its own memorials - one in the school grounds for the 1914 - 1918 war, a memorial for the school's three WW1 recipients of the Victoria Cross in the school chapel, a 'Memorial Hall' and a sculpture known as 'The Hand' for the 1939 - 1945 war. In addition, the school has a printed "Roll of Honour and Record of Service" for the 1914 - 1918 war. This document also includes some information on those who served in the Boer War.

Since May 2014 St Bees School has been the home of a series of story boards charting the history of the First World War which includes photographs and biographies of three 'Old Boys' of the school who were awarded the Victoria Cross during the 914 - 1918 war. The story boards were commissioned by the Whitehaven Festival Company for an exhibition commemorating the centenary of the 1914 - 1918 war. After the exhibition closed the Whitehaven Festival Company donated the story boards to the school.

Saturday, 12 July, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Memorials inside St Bees Priory Church

Inside St Bees Priory Church are the memorials for the former school of the nearby village of Sandwith which is part of the ecclesiastical parish of St Bees (Church of England). The Sandwith school memorials commemorate former pupils of the school who served in the Armed Forces during the World Wars including those who lost their lives. Although the village school closed in 1938 the building was used as a village hall until the 1970s. At that time the building was sold and it became a private dwelling.

While the building was still in use as a village hall two brass plaques remained on display remembering the former Sandwith school pupils who died in the World Wars plus a WW1 "Roll of Honour" (known as 'The Scrap of Paper'). After the building was sold for residential use the memorials were removed. As nobody kept a record of what happened to them for many years it was believed that the WW1 and WW2 "Rolls of Honour" for Sandwith school had been lost or stolen.

The Sandwith village school 'Scrap of Paper' took its name from the 1839 Treaty of London which included the guarantee of Belgian neutrality. The treaty was signed by the major European powers including Britain, France and Germany. When Germany invaded Belgium in August 1914 the German Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, was reported to have said that Britain would not declare war because of a 'scrap of paper' (i.e. the 1839 treaty). However many places in Britain - including Sandwith village - used the defence of Belgium and the German Chancellor's derogatory use of the expression 'the scrap of paper' to assist recruitment.

The WW1 'Scrap of Paper' Roll of Honour for Sandwith village and the WW1 brass plaque commemorating the war dead were later "rediscovered" inside the Priory Church although the whereabouts of the WW2 brass plaque remained a mystery. Subsequently, in 2008 the WW1 memorials and a replica of the WW2 memorial were re-dedicated and fixed to an inside wall of the church for public display.

Also found inside the church is a display book with an explanation of all the war memorials currently found at St Bees. There is also further information displayed inside the church about the war dead of St Bees following research by the St Bees Village History Group. This document includes a few additional WW1 and WW2 casualties not listed on the war memorials but who, none the less, had strong links to the village. One of these is a civilian casualty of WW2, Christine Kitchin a 28-year old school teacher (her surname is listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as 'Kitchen'). Christine Kitchin was killed due to the German bombing of London in 1941 and died on 16 April 1941.

The remainder of this article mainly concentrates on the two village memorials seen in Photograph No. 1 (above). On the left of the photograph is the statue of "St George and the Dragon" which was designed by the local artist, Mr. J.D. Kenworthy. It is located in the centre of the village near the railway station. On the right of the photograph is a Northumberland Celtic Cross which was the original village memorial and is located in the churchyard. Both memorials were originally erected after the 1914 - 1918 war.

Saturday, 12 July, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The Irish princess St Bega and the founding of St Bees

The village of St Bees takes its name from the medieval local Christian, St Bega (sometimes written as St Begh), an Irish princess. According to tradition and written manuscripts, she had been promised in marriage, against her will, to a non-Christian Viking prince. To avoid this marriage Bega left crossed the Irish Sea to the place that is now named after her.

According to the tradition, Bega lived in this area as a hermit for some years, caring for and curing the local people. When St Bega later moved on to another destination inland she left behind her arm-ring, or bracelet. As the relic of a Christian saint the bracelet was venerated over the centuries by the Christian population of the district.

Although the exact date that St Bega arrived and flourished in Cumberland the most likely date is believed to have been the mid-9th century. On 16 September 2000, marking the second Millennium of the Christian era, a statue of St Bega arriving on the Cumbrian shore and giving thanks for her safe arrival was unveiled in the village within view of the Priory Church [Photograph No. 2].

The name of 'St Bees' is derived from the Norse name "Kirki-Becoc" (or 'Kirkby Becoc'), which can be translated as 'the place of Bega's church.

St Bees became a place of Christian pilgrimage. Pilgrims would pray to ask St Bega's intercession. Because of her evangelising devotion, good works and promotion of the Christian faith to the people living in this part of the world St Bega became known as the 'Apostle of Cumberland'.

At the time of the Norman Conquest the land that became Cumberland ("the land of the Welsh") owed its fealty to the Scottish rather than the English crown. Not until 1092, during the reign of the English king William II did the Normans arrive in Cumberland, took over the local lordships of the manor. The Benedictine priory at St Bees, where the present parish church still stands, was founded about 1120 A.D. by the Norman lord William le Meschin, the new Lord of Egremont. The west door of the present church building, still the main entrance to the church, dates from around this time [Photograph No. 3].

The priory, originally established with a Prior and six monks living according to the Rule of St Benedict, was subordinate to St Mary's Abbey, York. A Benedictine priory remained at St Bees until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 during the reign of King Henry VIII. The Priory Church, as it has become, is a Grade 1 listed building and one of five former monastic building in the modern county of Cumbria that is still a parish church of the Church of England.

St Bees school was founded in 1583 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I by none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury of the day Edmund Grindal (1519 - 1583). Archbishop Grindal was a native of St Bees parish as was Edwin Sandys, who was Archbishop of York at the same time.

For some years during the 19th century a theological college was based in St Bees. However, this is no longer the case.

Saturday, 12 July, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The 'official' village memorials

Near the lych gate entrance to the priory churchyard is one of the St Bees parish war memorials (seen on the right in Photograph No. 1). This is the original parish war memorial for the 1914 - 1918 war. It takes the form of a Northumbrian Celtic cross according to a design by the noted sculptor, artist and author William Gershom Collingwood (1854 - 1932), a close associate of John Ruskin and Arthur Ransome.

In his time, W.G. Collingwood was one of the foremost authorities on Northumbrian Celtic crosses. The war memorial at Hawkshead in the central Lake District was also designed by W.G. Collingwood. As with the one at St Bees, Hawkshead War Memorial is in the form of a Northumbrian Celtic cross.

The names of 26 villagers who died during WW1 are engraved on the St Bees War Memorial. Its position was decided upon by a vote of the bereaved families. After WW2 the names of the service casualties of the 1939 - 1945 war were engraved on the surround in front of the memorial [seen in Photograph no. 4].

Some of the relatives of those who died in the 1914 - 1918 war were not entirely satisfied with Collingwood's Celtic cross memorial nor its location. Among the bereaved villagers living in the village was John Dalzell Kenworthy, A.R.C.A. (1858 - 1954). Like W.G. Collingwood, J.D. Kenworthy was another internationally acclaimed artist, sculptor and writer who had been born at Whitehaven into a prominent West Cumbrian family. At that time the family were living at Seacroft House, St Bees.

J.D. Kenworthy's eldest son, Captain Stanley Kenworthy (17th Manchester Regiment) was one of those killed in the 1914 - 1918 war. Captain Kenworthy died on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Hence, J.D. Kenworthy had a very close personal connection to the village war memorial. His two main criticisms of Collingwood's memorial were firstly, that it "lacked impact" and secondly, that it should have been located in a more prominent place within the village.

The result was the second village war memorial designed and erected near the railway station in the centre of the village by J.D. Kenworthy (this is the one seen on the left in Photograph No. 1). It is made of St Bees red sandstone hewed from a local quarry. This memorial shows the Patron Saint of England, St George standing on top of the dragon that, according to tradition, he had conquered. This memorial lists the names of 27 villagers who died in the 1914 - 1918 war (i.e. one more than Collingwood's memorial). At the base of the memorial sculpture is the following inscription reinforcing J.D. Kenworthy's reasoning for the second memorial:

"To Awaken Remembrance".

Since the 1950s both memorials have been looked after by St Bees Parish Council. Poppy wreaths are placed on each of the two village memorials on Remembrance Sunday each November.

Saturday, 12 July, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The St Bees village war dead

(a) 1914 - 1918 casualties
These are the names of the 26 villagers who died in the 1914 - 1918 war and who are listed on Collingwood's Celtic Cross memorial:

Pro Patria
1914 - 1918

F. Bell
O.R. Keene
L.T. Bell
S. Kenworthy
C. Mossop
W. Ball
W.E. Mawson
G.W. Walker
W. Calvert
J. Stainton
F.W. Pryor
R.H. Harrington
J. Banks
J. Harrington
A. Ashburner
W. Conners
E. Telfer
C.L. Blair
T.D. Rothery
H.H. Rees
W.S. McNeal
J. Nicholson
J. McKee
W.J. Ashburner
T.R. Steele
J.W. Cartmell

In addition to these 26 names, J.D. Kenworthy's "St George and the Dragon" war memorial also lists another villager, A. Taylor, who died at home in 1917. This is Private Arthur Taylor, 5th Battalion The Border Regiment who is buried in St Bees Churchyard.

More recent research by the St Bees Village History Group has identified an additional 3 casualties of the 1914 - 1918 war with strong links to the village. They are:

H. Nankivell
J. Thompson
J. Varah

Saturday, 12 July, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(b) 1939 - 1945 casualties

These are the names of the 8 service casualties from the village who dies in the 1939 - 1945 war and are listed on the surround in front of Collingwood's Celtic cross memorial:

1939 - 1945

L.T. Bell
T. Pink
G. Lancaster
J.B. Jackson
H. Watson
E.M. Coward
A. Rodgers
J.S. Parker

As already explained above, there was a civilian casualty from the village who was killed in the war while working in London - Christine Kitchin, aged 28. She is buried in St Bees Churchyard.

Although not coming from the St Bees area and not listed on any of village war memorials there is one further WW2 casualty that should be mentioned: First Officer George Washington Holcomb, Air Transport Auxiliary (died 27 March 1941). First Officer Holcomb, an American from Miami, Florida, was flying a Miles Master I aircraft (Serial No. T8822) when it crashed in thick fog on high ground at Tomlin Point above St Bees Head. It is believed that First Officer Holcomb was killed instantly.

George Washington Holcomb was interred in the municipal cemetery in the nearby town of Whitehaven on 2 April 1941. Some years later, on Saturday 18 July 1987, George Holcomb's brother and sister-in-law, Mack and Sylvia Holcomb from Hialeah, Florida, U.S.A. travelled to West Cumbria and honour the memory of their kinsman. Mack and Sylvia Holcomb saw the spot on St Bees Head where George's aircraft crashed and then visit his grave to place flowers on it. Their visit was recorded by the late Mr Gilbert Rothery, a local historian and aviation expert. Mr and Mrs Holcomb's visit to the area was also reported in the local West Cumbrian newspaper, 'The Whitehaven News' (Thursday 30 July 1987).

For further information about George Washington Holcomb and the air crash which led to his death click on the following links to read earlier articles posted to this website:

ATA Air Crash at St Bees (27 March 1941)

'How Sleep the brave'

Saturday, 12 July, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Dedication and further reading

This article is dedicated to the villagers of St Bees who lost their lives in the two World Wars.

The St Bees village website has some additional information about the villagers listed on the war memorials.

For information about those who died in the 1914 - 1918 war click on the following link:
St Bees Dead of the First World War

For information about those who died in the 1939 - 1945 war click on the following link:
St Bees Dead of World War II

Saturday, 12 July, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


Thanks to the following for their assistance with the background research for this article:

Bob and Thelma Jopling
(St Bees Village History Group)

St Bees Parish

'The Whitehaven News'

Cumbria County Archives and Local Studies Centre
(Whitehaven Records Office)

Saturday, 12 July, 2014  

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