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Restoration of Stone Cross war memorial, Norfolk

Supporting image for showcase 'Restoration of Stone Cross war memorial'
Supporting image for showcase 'Restoration of Stone Cross war memorial'
Supporting image for showcase 'Restoration of Stone Cross war memorial'
  • County name: Norfolk
  • Group/School name: N/A
  • Age group: 11+
  • Group type: N/A

My Dad and I were on a bike ride when we first discovered the Stone Cross War Memorial. It was a warm April afternoon, and when we stumbled upon the War Memorial it was completely unplanned and unexpected. We had no idea that a war memorial was positioned there; it stood in a field corner behind an engineering works situated on a busy road, completely hidden to the rest of the world. However, despite the perhaps unconventional location, there was something deeply humbling about the memorial and its mystery. Sadly it was in a great state of neglect, the area surrounding it was strewn with litter and overgrown with weeds; the memorial itself was crumbling at its foundations, dirty and faded. We were saddened to see the lack of care that had been taken with this war memorial and decided that something had to be done.


I contacted my friend Ellen to see if she would be interested in restoring the area surrounding the memorial (and indeed the war memorial itself). She jumped at the opportunity and we began work straight away! The first step was to find out who we needed to contact to gain permission to work on it, we contacted many organisations from the Town Council, Royal British Legion to the local Heritage Society and local dignitaries and after a few meetings detailing our intentions, we were granted permission to work on the project.


The first step was to tidy up the area surrounding the War Memorial; Ellen and I, assisted whenever possible by our younger brother (Henry) and sister (Alice), spent about a month clearing the area of litter and weeds, cutting back overgrown shrubbery and generally cleaning up the land (resulting in many stings and cuts!). The next job was to restore the memorial itself; my Grandfather (a local builder) undertook the remedial stone masonry work, whilst Ellen and I cleaned the stone to remove years’ worth of grime and grub. Finally we repainted the commemorative lettering on the memorial.


The next part of our renovation (and possibly the most difficult) was to create a contemplation area where people can come to remember and respect the fallen soldiers of the memorial for many years to come. We gravelled the immediate surrounding area, writing to a local company for sponsorship for this. Prior to our work there was a bridge which granted access to the War Memorial, this however had rotted away; Ellen’s Dad built us a new bridge, which we varnished and protected against the elements. We then set to work on constructing a paved viewing area in front of the war memorial, this involved digging foundations, laying sand and carefully calculating the precise positions of the paving slabs. We finished off by planting daffodil bulbs along the perimeter of the area.


We were immensely proud of the work we had completed, and finally felt that the War Memorial was a true homage to the soldiers it commemorated. A service of re-dedication was organised, attended by fifty people, including local dignitaries, members of the British Legion and most importantly the nephew of one of those remembered. We ensured our story received local media coverage, in an attempt to raise awareness of the forgotten memorial so that never again will it fall into a state of disrepair.


Whilst completing this project we discovered the devastating history behind the war memorial. The Stone Cross Memorial itself commemorates only two men, Charles Prangley (the son of the Vicar, at the time, of Bexwell) and Lionel Pratt of the Ryston Estate. It is believed to be one of the earliest World War I memorials as it was privately commissioned by the two families and was actually constructed whilst the war was still being fought. The location is important too as it is on a former pilgrimage route and is on the boundary of the two parishes the brave young men inhabited. Poignantly both men died on the same date, exactly a year apart. Neither was very old.


Upon Charles Prangley’s death, his father was so heartbroken at the loss of his only son that he commissioned a book of the Service of Holy Communion to be made in his honour. This beautifully inscribed and illuminated book, known as the ‘Doox Book’ (as Doox was Charles’ nickname) has its pages printed upon the silk of his mother’s wedding dress, it is bound in wood from a tree in which Doox used to play in his garden and the cross on the front was made from the molten gold of his mother’s wedding ring. The name Doox is specially inscribed on every single page at the place where one would expect to find an indication of sacrifice, service, suffering or a life given for fellow men. This book is kept within St George’s Church in Ypres, Belgium.


Since completing the project Ellen and I have received letters from descendants of both the two men commemorated. Neither of us can fully express the feeling of pride from completing this project. We hope that the Stone Cross Memorial will now be more widely recognised. Personally we have pledged to continue to look after the area and one result of the project is an annual service of recognition that takes place on 25th September (the day on which both men died).


Fraser Davidson and Ellen Hurst


Stonecross War Memorial is situated adjacent to the A10 road in Downham Market, Norfolk, opposite the Arbuckles Restaurant/BP Service Station.

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