The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

War memorials

London: Mercantile Marine Memorial – Second World War

Status: Listed
Architect: Edward Maufe, Charles Wheeler (Sculptor) 1950-55
Location: Tower Hill, London

The Imperial War Graves Commission and its architect, Maufe, had considered other sites for this memorial, but after consultations with the Ministry of Transport, who were a major financial sponsor of the memorial, along with the LCC, Stepney Borough Council and the Tower Hill Improvement Trust, they decided that the gardens at Trinity Square would be the most appropriate site. There was an earlier scheme which saw the column memorial linked to Lutyens’ earlier one on axis. It was the Ministry of Transport who pushed most strongly for an extension to the earlier design.

The memorial itself takes the form of a sunken garden, with the names of those lost recorded on bronze plaques that cover the surrounding wall. 23,765 names are recorded here. The commemorative panels are interspersed with stone reliefs by Wheeler, bearing allegorical figures representing the Seven Seas. From the air, one can see the memorial garden as the east end of an imaginary ruined church, complete with radiating chapels – an image that not only had a powerful resonance in the bombed out city, but also reflected the changing nature of war memorial design. The garden, a place for quiet reflection and meditation, was considered by this time more suitable for the expression of grief than monoliths like the Cenotaph.

The two sculptures are magnificent. On the west an officer and on the east a seaman of the merchant service. On the parapet between them, the inscription reads:

THE TWENTY-FOUR THOUSAND OF THE MERCHANT NAVY AND FISHING FLEETS WHOSE NAMES ARE HONOURED ON THE WALLS OF THIS GARDEN GAVE THEIR LIVES FOR THEIR COUNTRY AND HAVE NO GRAVE BUT THE SEA.

The memorial was opened by the Queen in November 1955

Jon Wright & Joanna Moore

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