The aftermath of the First World War saw the biggest single wave of public commemoration ever with tens of thousands of memorials erected across England, both as a result of the huge impact the loss of three quarters of a million British lives had on communities and the official policy of not repatriating the dead, which meant that the memorials provided the main focus of the grief felt at this great loss.
One such memorial was raised at Briantspuddle as a permanent testament to the sacrifice made by the members of the local community who lost their lives in the First World War. The memorial was commissioned by Sir Ernest Debenham, Bart. The Debenhams bought an estate here from the Frampton family in 1914, and developed it as the Bladen Estate, an experimental agricultural community of smallholdings. His aspirations for the village included quality design, building in the local style and using local materials. He had engaged the architect, MacDonald Gill, to design the village and, shortly after, he commissioned MacDonald Gill’s brother, Eric Gill, to design and sculpt a memorial to the seven local casualties of the First World War.
Eric Gill (1882-1940) was one of the most celebrated lettercutters, engravers, typographers and sculptors of his time. Before the First World War he built his reputation on his work as a lettercutter and engraver, but began to sculpt in 1909, preferring the unconventional direct carving style of practice. After the First World War he was commissioned to design war memorials including those at Bisham, Chirk, Leeds University, South Harting and Trumpington. His work later included large architectural sculptures, including figures for the exterior of Broadcasting House and a large relief entitled The Creation of Adam at the League of Nations Palace, Geneva.
The Briantspuddle memorial was intended to be a focal point for the model village. Gill received the commission in April 1915. Drawings for the memorial were produced between May and August 1915 (the earlier very different to the final memorial). The memorial was constructed between 14 February 1917 and 28 August 1918 (when the inscription was finished, including seven names of local First World War casualties). It is likely that the whole cost of the memorial was met by Sir Ernest Debenham. Because it was an early commission, it was possible to unveil it the day after the Armistice, on 12 November 1918. It was dedicated by the Bishop of Salisbury.
Six Second World War casualty names were added later. In 2012, War Memorials Trust gave a grant for conservation of the memorial.
Brianspuddle War Memorial comprises a slender, tapering Portland stone shaft standing c 7.5m tall surmounted by a small square cross. On the north face of the shaft is a sculpted figure of Christ with a downward pointed sword in his left hand, the right hand raised, showing stigmata. The figure stands on a small ledge and beneath a small canopy. Lower down, touching the pedestal and on the south face of the shaft, is a seated figure of the Madonna suckling Christ. This figure also stands on a ledge, which forms part of the pedestal, and is beneath a canopy bearing a relief carving of the Agnus Dei and supported by small Purbeck columns. The pedestal bears the inscriptions and names, which are on inset panels, giving the impression of the names being framed by a triple-colonnade of Romanesque arches on each face. The pedestal stands on a four-stepped tiered plinth surrounded by paving. The principal inscription encircles the plinth and reads on the north face IT IS SOOTH THAT SIN IS CAUSE OF ALL THIS PAIN / R I P / (NAMES), and continues on the west face with BUT ALL SHALL BE WELL AND ALL SHALL BE WELL and continues on the south face with AND ALL MANNER OF THING SHALL BE WELL.
The east face reads TO THOSE WHO FELL IN THE GREAT WAR / 1914 1919 / (NAMES). There are seven First World War names in total. Six Second World War casualties were later added to the south face, where 1939 1945 was added below the original First World War inscription. The quotation is C15 from Julian of Norwich.
This List entry has been amended to add the source for War Memorials Online. This source was not used in the compilation of this List entry but is added here as a guide for further reading, 7 December 2016.