Birmingham war memorial to be restored

Martin Mullaney – Cabinet Member for Leisure Sport and Culture – reports that work is to begin in the coming weeks to restore the South African War memorial in Cannon Hill Park, Moseley. This follows a successful application to the War Memorial Trust for £15,000, plus match funding of £15,000 from the Council.

Canon Hill Park war memorialThe memorial is a large and impressive feature at the northern end of Cannon Hill. However, the years have not been kind to it: features have been stolen; underground movement has cracked the granite plinth; a lack of pointing is allowing water ingress into the plinth causing more damage and finally, the bronze sculptures have lost their protective coating and now slowly corroding away.

The South African War memorial was unveiled on 23rd June 1906 in memory of the servicemen from Birmingham who were killed in the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902. Similar South African War memorials erected up and down Britain were the first known examples of the mass raising of war memorials in this country. The scale was unprecedented, no previous war, even those of a similar scale such as the Crimea (1854-1857) and the Napoleonic Wars (1798-1815), resulted in such a popular and public expression.

Canon Hill Park memorial bronzeThe Cannon Hill Park South African War Memorial was designed by Albert Toft who would go on to design the King Edward VII stutue (now in front of Baskerville House) and the bronze allegorical figures around the Hall of Memory, Centenary Square.

This memorial portrays both war and peace, featuring two soldiers at either side of a gun carriage – representing courage and endurance. Standing above the two solders is a female figure holding a shield showing the city arms and an olive branch.

On three of the four sides of the granite plinth, are bronze plaques with the names of the fallen, while the fourth face contains a bronze bas-relief showing two figures representing grief and sympathy.

The four corners of the granite plinth did contain bronze figures which were believed to be eagles, but researchers have been unable to find any close-up photos to confirm their design.

Features that have been stolen include: the four eagles at the corners of the granite plinth; the olive branch; the rifles and bayonets on the backs of the two solders.

It is currently possible to see where scrap metal thieves have tried to crow-bar off the four bronze metal palques – the granite has been damaged and the bronze plaques bent in places.

The restoration work plans to do the following:

  • Restore the bronze features back to their original bronze finish, not the present green corrosive coating. The bronze features will also have a protective coating to stop any further corrosion.
  • The granite plinth will be cleaned, carefully repointed and any missing sections of granite re-instated.
  • The olive branch for the Peace figure will be reinstated. Good quality photographs exist which can be used to create a replica.

It is hoped that Birmingham Council will be able to find the extra £2,000 to fund the re-creation of the rifles and bayonets, but made in plastic resin.

Detailed photographs of the eagles that were around the base have not been found, so it will not be possible to recreate these.

The work is planned for completion by the end of March, 2012.