Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Why We Return

‘What makes people return?’ he asked me. I pondered for a while. Beyond the sadness and the personal stories what makes people return? What makes a place memorable, draws one back or manages to claim that most odd of titles, favourite cemetery?

We discussed the possibilities for a while; the architecture, the horticulture, the setting, the historical significance of the site. Ending our conversation we did not really settle on one specific element that stood out above any other. However, in the ensuing days I could not help but consider the matter further.

I have recently been reading about the notion of Gesamtkunstwerk and Art Nouveau architecture and it struck me how some of these principles directly correlate to the impact of the cemeteries on a visitor. It is not one element that makes these places so impacting, it is the unity of all the constituent parts. It is the overwhelming sense of peace that this concatenation of features engenders.

Of course, that is not to say that there are not specific memorable elements that demand multiple views and endear certain places to us. The wisteria covered pagodas at Warlincourt-Halte or the unusual drawbridge like entrance at Carnieres, for example, both stand out in the memory. In isolation, though, these individual elements do not create that feeling of rest, as though there were great invisible walls, rising from the threshold of the cemetery and reaching up to eternity, encasing all within in some earthly paradise.

For me it is this perfect harmony of site, architecture, horticulture and the execution of purpose that makes the cemeteries not only places of endless fascination but of supreme importance in the wider canon of British architecture. We return because of some affinity with the individuals who fought and fell, but we are happy to return because of the completeness we experience in these places.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Hebuterne Military Cemetery

Resting in Hebuterne

In memoriam 2nd Lieutenant Archibald Warner, London Rifle Brigade, killed in action 1st July 1916. Buried at Hebuterne Military Cemetery, IV.D.7.

The red brick wall curves away from me, cradling the stone of remembrance before continuing its perpetual divide.

Outstretched branches dapple the ground with shade and flicker the white stones with shadows as they gently shift in the warm breeze.

All is silent, except for the muffled baying of cattle in a distant field and the sound of now ageing trees creaking.

Not far from the wall, half bathed in sunshine, he lies. I stand before him, squinting.

I know his house, the pond surrounded by ever-encroaching foliage, the knapped-flint wall that meets with the rickety gate.

I have walked the fields in which he walked, heard the church bells chiming the unchanged tones and refreshed myself at the same public house.

He was the flower of someone’s England, the centre of their landscape. Then, breathing foreign air, he fell.

Who knows how many tears have fallen on the ground I stand, how many hands have reached out to feel the cold stone

And trace the letters of his name. On bended knee I whisper thanks and thoughts of home.

As I rise the words of Plumer come to my mind upon opening the Menin Gate

He is not missing. He is here.

For information on the attack of the 56th Division on 1st July 1916, in which Archibald Warner was killed, please visit the incredible 

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Harry Mann, Architect - Part III

Little is known of Harry Mann's time as a soldier. He had been a pre-war territorial with The Essex Yeomanry, rising to the rank of Sergeant. Within the regimental history there is an unconfirmed image of Mann in his Essex Yeomanry uniform at a summer camp prior to the outbreak of war. 

After service in France with the Essex Yeomanry early in the war Mann was wounded in May 1915 and returned to Britain to recover. After a period of convalescence he did not return to his unit, but instead, was sent to undergo officer training. Upon being commissioned he was posted to the 178th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. According to the information held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Mann was Mentioned in Despatches during his time as an artillery officer.

Harry Mann was killed in action on 30th March 1918, leaving a wife, Elsie Muriel. Elsie was the daughter of Austin Matthews of Chignal Hall near to Chelmsford. It was Matthews who placed notices of death in both the Essex Chronicle and The Essex Weekly on behalf of Mann's, by then widowed, mother.He also had a sizeable memorial placed in the church at Chignal St. James.Unfortunately, this mainly wooden memorial succumbed to death watch beetle in the 1980s. The tablet with the memorial inscription was saved and, upon the closure of St. James' Church, was moved to Good Easter Church.

And so, for the time being, this is all we know in regards to the life and works of Harry Mann. We will never know his hopes and dreams, nor his true abilities as an architect; all we know is that his was a life sadly cut short before he had the chance to find out.

Harry William Mann is remembered on the following memorials:
Essex County Council War Memorial, County Hall, Chelmsford, Essex. 
Essex Yeomanry Memorial, Chelmsford Cathedral.
Witham War Memorial
Good Easter Church, near Chelmsford
RIBA War Memorial, Portland Place, London

Harry Mann is buried at Bellacourt Military Cemetery, Riviere, France. This is a Lutyens cemetery, though his assistant was a Captain Wilfrid Clement von Berg, of whom we shall learn more about in the future.Until that time; rest in peace Harry Mann, your sacrifice is not forgotten.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Harry Mann, Architect - Part II

Henry William Mann was born in December 1883, the second son of Frederick and Caroline. Frederick was a school master and the family lived in the tied school house on Newland Street, Witham. Mann’s oldest brother Frank followed his father into teaching and it can be assumed from the fact that he is listed as such in the 1901 census whilst living in the same house, taught either at the same school or at least locally. By 1901 Henry, or Harry as he was known and often listed, is noted as an Architect's Apprentice. At this time it was common practice for an architect in spe to be articled to a local office and undertake exams at the Architectural Association school in London.

During 1900 Frank Whitmore joined Essex County Council as the principal architect for the county. Whilst not a remarkable architect Whitmore was very competent and a number of his buildings still exist. He was the archetypal provincial architect that helped to create buildings to house institutions of power and develop a new county vernacular. His buildings included offices for the council as well as residential projects, such as a series of villas on Tower Avenue, Chelmsford. The majority of Whitmore’s work are essays in “fine brick and stone detailing” and are characteristic of the early Edwardian period. There are leanings towards the arts and crafts movement, without being swept away with the rural idyll. There are hints towards some of the more modernist leanings of the likes of Lutyens, but these are scarce. The majority are unremarkable but not at all displeasing buildings.

Coinciding with Whitmore’s appointment Harry Mann took up a position as assistant architect. The position was similar to that of an understudy at this time, a chance for the aspiring architect to learn their trade. It is evident from Mann’s work that he learned a great deal from Whitmore.

The first piece that can be attributed to Mann in the Essex Records Office (ERO) is an extension to Collingwood House in Witham which was submitted to Witham Urban District Council in March 1911. The remit was for a night nursery into the first floor, with a ground floor that would accommodate and enhance the addition of a conservatory on the north-west side of the property. Clearly no wishing to stray too far from his teaching Mann’s response was as one would expect, competent and conformist. However, it is beautifully executed. The ground floor, in particular the north-west elevation, has a pair of double-doored entrances with stilted arches. The rise of the arch is filled with small panes of glass. The slightly exaggerated keystone, a common feature in designs of this period, crowns but does not overpower the rest of the piece. Whitmore had used a similar effect on his design for the county offices in 1909, so it is perhaps not unusual that Mann opted for something similar.

It would seem that the net example of Mann’s work held at the ERO was a complete project. It is the garage designed for  Mr. J. Glover on Newland Street. This again displays a proficient execution of the commission, heavily dependent on the style of his master. It uses very similar detailing to the extension to Collingwood House, including the glass-filled rise. Ginetta House, as it has come to be known, is a building that is pleasing to the eye but that does not overwhelm one with a sense of coherent style. Whitmore was clearly a guiding example for Mann and this is still evident in the final piece of his work available at the ERO.

The alteration made at Chipping Hill, Witham for a T. Cullen Esq. is another example of a well executed but ultimately uninspiring piece of work. Unfortunately, these three pieces are the only evidence of Harry Mann’s work. They are not world changing, nor would they ever have been expected to be. Mann was shaping up to be a very good provincial architect. He was able to create designs that fitted in with the surrounding style, as one would expect from an apprenticeship that consisted of alterations to existing properties. He was also able to progress to complete builds, carrying over the style ethos of the County Architect with great precision.
Frank Whitmore retired in 1914 and was replaced by George Topham Forrest. It is unclear at what point in 1914 this change occurred but it is possible that Mann would have been under Forrest for a time. It may only be conjecture, but one cannot help but wonder what influence Forrest would have had on Mann‘s work. It did not matter; in 1918 Harry Mann was killed in France and one year later, with the end of the war, Forrest was recruited by London County Council to create the homes fit for heroes.

Dantzig Alley in May

In my mind I am standing in Dantzig Alley cemetery; the sun is working its way towards the horizon, casting shadows that creep over the landscape like Nosferatu’s silhouetted, outstretched fingers.

It is May, the cobalt blue of the sky hints at summer heat to come but the chill in the air reminds one very clearly it is most definitely a spring evening. I pace through the rows of stone, those nearer the top are less regimented, the result of hasty battlefield burials. As the ranks sweep down the hill they become more and more regular, perfectly poised, looking outward across the valley. The ever-changing shadows and tones of light give the stones an almost iridescent quality; the ancient fossils held within appear as scars.

Beyond, in the valley, the darkness has begun to seep into the ruts and furrows of the fields and amongst the trees. Within the red brick walls, glowing a vibrant terracotta, darkness is yet to come. In the south-east corner of the cemetery there is a feature, rather neatly termed a seat, by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The seat is actually an enclosed shelter. It is predominantly red brick, a combination of arts and crafts detailing and neo-Georgian proportions. The pointing is rustic, evoking the buildings local to the cemetery rather than that of the countryside that would have been familiar to many of the interred. Weaving its way thinly round the archway a wisteria plant, this shock of purple transforms the seat to something quintessentially British in its appearance.

I am surrounded by colour. The hum of wildlife fills the air; fresh, green sprigs of life emerge in the fields around and life moves on in the distant murmur of a tractor and a pair of horses be trotted down the metalled road that passes across the front of the cemetery.

Amidst this I am at peace, I allow my mind to wander, to construct the carnage that engulfed this landscape and tore through the men laying all around me. At the far perimeter wall is a seat, echoing the white stone shapes on the other feature, it is a memorial to the men of the 14th battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers. The enclosed seat was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, a great proponent of red brick. It is unclear who designed this memorial seat. The Portland stone and crisp lines continue the detailing of the remainder of the cemetery without being clearly of it. There is an aura of a provincial, municipal architect about it, something that seems more to be a copy of a style than the original. It is, nonetheless, a well executed piece that, whilst not complimenting per se, does not detract from the atmosphere created by Baker.

As the sky rids itself of clouds today and the early evening sun throws the Frank Whitmore building out of my window into stark contrast of red, white and black, I sit in my office and imagine that May day. The colours, the sounds, the peace; my mind drifts back and I remember why I visit these places and why they are there.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Thinking of Thiepval

For leaning out last midnight on my sill,
I heard the sighs of men, that have no skill
To speak of their distress, no, nor the will!
A voice I know. And this time I must go
from The Calls by Wilfred Owen

It is a place so grand that one hardly feels the ability or the audacity to write about it; Thiepval.

Gavin Stamp's seminal piece on the design and history of Lutyens’ Memorial to the Missing of the Somme goes into far greater detail than I intend. Indeed, his is a most academic of pieces, grounded in architectural theory, albeit with some shaky operational and military history interspliced. All I wish to write is my response.

Thiepval, the monument, is a place that holds both great sadness and great joy for me. It is the symbol of terrible losses, a superbly strategised victory and, on a personal note, the location of my engagement. There is a special significance in the victory that took place around the shell-shattered landscape of the village and château of Thiepval in that three antecedent regiments of my own regiment fought and captured the high ground around the current position of the memorial. The 18th (Eastern) Division captured the German trenches around the château and beyond into the village before playing a major role in the capture of the adjacent Schwaben Redoubt. Within this division were the 8/Norfolk, 8/Suffolk and 10/Essex, the first of which being my county regiment. It is with immense pride that I stand on the monument, wearing my regimental tie, knowing that in some minute way I am part of this history.

It is partly this connection that makes Thiepval so special to me, but only a very small part. There are very few places in the world that overawe me, this is one of them. I am dumbstruck by the scale, by the setting, by the meaning, by the intention, by the continuity and by the elegance of the structure.

The Thiepval Memorial is a profoundly British response. It towers over the landscape, the rolling countryside falling away from it, the plantations of trees reaching up towards it. Yet, it does not dominate in an offensive way. It sits in the landscape, unobtrusive, paternalistic. The burden it carries weighs heavy and is so vast that one cannot imagine the landscape without this structure there to hold it together, to give it meaning.

Underneath the comforting sense of constancy, however, one is filled with the utter horror that nothing one ever does will be enough to repay the price so heavily paid; a price that hangs upon every name adorning the multitude of walls.

The excerpt from the poem talks of a voice, an omnipresent voice that one hears and is guided by. For me Thiepval is this voice. I hear its call and I must go.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Harry Mann, Architect - Part I

The last few weeks seem to have flashed by and my writing has, unfortunately, taken the brunt of the impact of this. Nonetheless, I have not been idle these weeks. This post will not be about a memorial or cemetery per se, rather the story of one name that adorns several.

In the atrium between County Hall and Chelmsford library, prominently displayed, but regularly ignored, a brass plaque displays the names, regiments, dates of death and council department of nine men formerly of Essex County Council who fell during The Great War. The height from the ground of said memorial, unfortunately, precludes me from posting a sharp enough image. Not that the memorial is displayed up amongst the rafters, rather that the light that floods in through the glass ceiling combines with the angle required to create a great deal of glare and very little detail.

The oak framed plaque of highly polished brass with red and black inlay hangs above the considerably more contemporary looking memorial to the fallen of the Second World War. In the relatively modern surrounds of the late twentieth century wing of this municipal campus the art nouveau embellishments of the memorial seem to be from another world rather than era. The memorial was presumably moved into this part of the building when it was opened in the late 1980s and there seems to have been little thought as to its place in context. It is, at least, displayed above a public thoroughfare but well above the normal line of sight and difficult to read, despite the clarity of the script. That being said, it is clearly looked after by the council and gleams all year round.

Last November, along with a few hundred other colleagues, I attended the short annual service of remembrance at our organisation’s war memorial. After which I read through the names listed and returned my post. One of the men named was a Henry William Mann of the Architectural Department. A few weeks ago, as part of another informal research project, I visited the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) headquarters at Portland Place to photograph their war memorial. One of the associates listed on the memorial was an H.W. Mann.

Initially I did not identify the connection, but upon one of my visits to the library I stopped to look at the memorial again and recognised the name as that of Henry ‘Harry’ Mann.

taken from the Illustrated London News, 22nd June 1918
Harry Mann was the assistant county architect at Essex County Council and a sergeant in The Essex Yeomanry, serving with them in France during 1914. He was later commissioned into the Royal Field Artillery with whom he was killed on 30th March 1918.

The Essex Records Office in Chelmsford holds several of Mann’s original drawings. What is clear from these drawings is that, despite his being an associate member of the RIBA, he undertook very few complete-build projects on his own. The bulk of his work seems to have been extensions and adaptations to existing builings. However, of the buildings he is known to have designed, one is 155-157 Newland Street in Witham, between Chelmsford and Colchester and the home town of his parents. This was built in 1911 as a garage for Mr. Glover (it would gain further recognition in this field when Ginetta took over the lease in the early 1960s).

In a twist of irony, Mann’s former house also on Newland Street (now a conservation area owing to the high number of important buildings) was replaced by a garish office block devoid of the character present in much of the rest of the street.

The next few posts will study the work, influences and life of Harry Mann.