The central panels have as their motif the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and many of the aspects of that great Christian ordinance can be traced in the ideas that lie behind the symbolism. There is Christ Himself as the great sufferer, and yet the giver of immortality; there is the Christ who calls others to suffer, and who yet is the secret of their life; there is the thought that suffering willingly endured for a great ideal is one road to closest communion with Himself.
More plainly still, the central panels are intended to represent Christ offering the sacrament to those whose lot it was to be called upon to make the supreme sacrifice in the war. The first panel shows a wounded soldier, who is representative of the many connected with the Church who laid down their lives in the cause of freedom. The second panel shows Christ gently leading the soldier to the cup of suffering he has elected to drink – represented in the third panel: that he may gain immortality – typified by the figure with the light in the fourth panel.
On the left of them is the figure of St. George -the soldier-saint of England.
On the right, the figure of St. Michael, the leader of the hosts of Heaven that war against the Evil One.
Both saints have their attendant angels, represented by the end figures on either side.
On both sides of these central panels are the names of the fallen -57 in number.
The Albion Church War Memorial is executed in ceramics, the most imperishable and beautiful material that can be found, and consists of an altar-piece of four panels, with a similar set of panels on either side. The work was executed by The Pilkington Tile & Pottery Co. Ltd., Clifton Junction, and the whole has been under the superintendence of Mr. J.H. Cronshaw, A.R.C.A., of Ashton-under-Lyne. The Memorial is to be completed by a canopy erected above the panels, up to the level of the chancel window. Along the front of it will be inscribed the words
“That the living may remember and the dead be unforgot.”.
This canopy is to be finished in Dantzig oak, to be in keeping with the rest of the woodwork in the Church, and the work is being carried out by Messrs. Hatch & Sons, of Lancaster, to designs by Mr. T. Baines, Church Architect, of Shrewsbury.
The History of the War Memorial:
In 1893 four brothers, members of the Pilkington’s family (the same family that set up Pilkington Glass) established a separate company to mine for coal in Swinton near Manchester. Instead of coal they found clay and changed the venture into a tile making company. They recruited William Burton from Staffs (Wedgwood) as a charismatic manager.
There was a growing demand for tiles at turn of century and other famous companies were already well established e.g. Minton Maws De Morgan. Pilkington’s soon joined this illustrious group. Pilkington’s tile reputation was built on several important exhibitions of tiles – Glasgow Paris – Wolverhampton all around 1900 and by engaging artists such as Frederick Shields Lewis Day Alphonse Mucha Charles Voysey and Walter Crane
With Burton came other famous artists and his brother Joseph a first-class chemist. This was new age of scientific discovery and Pilkington’s were the first of the “scientific” potters to harness the newly discovered periodic table to control their glaze effects.
Between 1900 and 1914 Pilkington’s was at its peak and won international acclaim also with its lustre pottery. A succession of stunning tile works also brought them acclaim: –
In 1904, the Lister Drive baths in Liverpool, which were completed in Voysey Tiles.
1910 The Victoria baths in Manchester, (shown on the Restoration programme on the BBC. )
In addition noted individual designs by Alphonse Mucha, Walter Crane and Voysey had featured in leading Art Journals
By 1920, Pilkington’s had completed an incredible work for Liverpool Museum featuring five enormous tile panels.
The artists and their pottery won international acclaim for Pilkington’s
By 1920 Pilkington’s had built up a sales network in every continent.
Gordon Mitchell Forsyth
The tiles in the Albion memorial were designed and probably painted by the ceramic artist Gordon Mitchell Forsyth. Forsyth came to Pilkington’s in 1906 to be the head of their celebrated artists department he already had a first-class reputation and it was quite a coup for Burton to recruit him.
Forsyth left Pilkington’s shortly before this commission was installed. He went on to become a celebrated teacher and head of the school of art in Stoke.
Some of his pupils achieved acclaim in their own right Claris Cliff, Susie Cooper, and it is estimated that at least 28 other people he trained became artists and potters in their own right
The First World War marked the end of Pilkington’s most glorious pottery period. And to a certain extent the end of tile commissions on a large scale. That is part of another story
Forsyth was profoundly affected by the First World War he served in the RAF and lost many friends and colleagues in the war. He used RAF wings to designate one year of his pots.
Salford museum and Art Gallery have a huge lustre vase known as the Peace vase.
It is decorated with images of Holly and the barbs of the plant resemble the strands of barbed wire it is also marked with the year 1918 in the design on the bottom of the part it is inscribed
To those who gave their lives for freedom and honour
It is more than likely that the church authorities were aware of Pilkington’s the company and Forsyth the war artist
The Church’s decision
The first record that we have concerning the decision of the church may be found in the deacon’s minute book for January 9, 1919.
Under the heading “memorial to the fallen,” it records
“It was resolved that a memorial to the fallen be erected and that a minimum sum of £300. be asked for that purpose”
The Deacon’s book continues to say that the Rev Parnaby and several others were to be appointed “to consult with the branch schools and to prepare and submit plans.”
The work professionally was to be placed under the control of Mr. J H Cronshaw who was an Associate of the Royal College of Architects of Ashton-under- Lynne.
£300 represented a considerable sum in 1919. For example, the average wage for a labourer was £210 a year, for a craftsman £240 and the top ceramic artist at Pilkington’s around £300. Forsyth earned £475 a year. In modern terms perhaps £25,00 to £30,000
This price is in line with the costs of the Liverpool panels though this work is very different in style.
We have never been able to trace the final costs of the panel. By December 1920 it is recorded that £500 had been put aside for the venture.
The Church authorities made it clear that there was a purpose to the design.
What they wanted to achieve was a way to balance the dazzling nature of the Burne-Jones windows. They felt at the time there was what they described as an “unrelieved gloominess behind the communion table”
And that something was called for that created “lightness and brightness in the colour scheme”
They said ” the keynote should be such as occasionally to arrest attention.”
Also just as the stonework frames the windows, so they wanted to continue this theme with the panels – hence the elaborate frame around each individual panel.
They concluded that the finished result conveys a sense of beauty, and I am convinced that everyone must soon feel the Memorial as an integral part of the Church itself.
The opening ceremony
- The memorial was unveiled on October 2nd 1921.
- In the words of the Albion Church Messenger “ it perpetuates the memory of those 57 brave sons of Albion and its branches , from whom the Great War exacted the last awful price of sacrifice.”
- The Reverend Parnaby performed the service. The names of the fallen were recited and two buglers from the 9th Battalion Manhester Regiment sounded “The Last Post”.
- Flowers and a laurel wreath were laid
- Two later panels were added after the second world was. We have not researched the records for these but we know again that trials were made at Pilkington’s to ensure the lettering matched.
Thanks to Barry and the Pilkington Pottery Society for researching the content for this page.
The Unveiling of the Memorial