The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

War memorials

London: Fusiliers Memorial

Status: Listed Grade II
Architect: Cheadle and Harding, and the founder A.B.Burton, Albert Toft (Sculptor), 1922
Location: Holborn, London

The Royal Fusiliers derive from the two independent companies of foot soldiers who garrisoned the Tower of London, and were nearly all Londoners. Acknowledging this history, following the reorganisation of the Army in 1881, they have also been called the City of London Regiment.

Holborn was not the first choice of a site for the war memorial. When an initial proposal for a site in a west end park was rejected, after discussing various options, it was decided to install a Roll of Honour in the Guildhall (where the Royal Fusiliers’ South African war Memorial had been placed), to erect a brass memorial in the garrison church of St. Paul, Hounslow and a statue of a fusilier at the Regiment’s Hounslow Barracks. However, and despite the fact that the City had recently erected its own war memorial outside the Royal exchange, Major-General Sir Geoffrey Barton then wrote to the Lord Mayor, arguing for ‘a more conspicuous site….to commemorate the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for King and Country, to bring home to the public the great services rendered by the City during the War, and as an incentive for citizens of all times to patriotism and national duty’ (letter quoted in Ward-Jackson, 2003, p. A1). The Memorial was unveiled on 4 November 1922 by the Lord Mayor and has been the responsibility of the Corporation of London ever since.

The figure of the soldier was a portrait:
‘Many of the figures on London’s war memorials must have been modelled on actual fighting men. On the City of London Royal Fusiliers Memorial in Holborn, for example, stands a sergeant who fought throughout the First World War and died of his wounds on the last day of the Second’ (Blackwood, 1989, p. 280).

A version of the figure of the soldier was erected at Flers on the Somme, where the 26th and the 31st Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers went into attack. A further version of the soldier is the central figure in the war memorial by Albert Toft in Oldham, Lancashire.

The sculptor Albert Toft (1862-1949) was born in Birmingham and trained at Wedgewood’s pottery, where his father worked, before studying sculpture at the South Kensington Schools from 1881. With his brother J. Alphonsus Toft, Albert set up the Trafalgar Studios in Manresa Road. He made the Sir William Pearce cenotaph for Glasgow in 1980 (demolished in the 1970s following the theft of the bronzes) a statue of Robert Owen for New Lanark in 1900, Boer War Memorials for Ipswich in 1905 and a statue of Queen Victoria for Nottingham in 1906. His other memorials include the Welsh National Memorial in Cardiff and the South Africa Memorial and King Edward Memorial in Birmingham. He was also known for his ‘ideal’ sculptures, for example, the ‘Spirit of Contemplation’ (Newcastle) and ‘Fate Led’ (Liverpool), and his female figures were described as being in the style of the ‘New Sculpture’.

Jon Wright & Joanna Moore

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