What's in a name? The street memorials of the Abbey parish, St Albans

Street shrine on the Clock Tower (to left of ground floor window), c.1919; watercolour by H. Mitton Wilson
St Albans Museums

The nine* stone memorials found in the streets of the Abbey parish in St Albans that commemorate the dead of the First World War form a unique collection. There is nothing similar in the country. Made from stone and listing only the names of the dead, they were unveiled at ceremonies in 1920 and 1921. They are known locally as ‘street memorials’.

Judging by commentaries on the web and in print, there is confusion about their origins. Some historians claim they were erected as part of a general ‘street shrine’ (sometimes ‘war shrine’) movement which gained substantial support across the country during the war itself.

However, for reasons of chronology, construction and purpose, the nine local street memorials are evidently not street shrines. For starters, typically made from wood, shrines were temporary in nature. Also they were generally only erected during the 1916-18 period. Moreover, they listed the names of men from a street then serving in the armed forces. When one of the men was killed, a mark (such as ‘RIP’ or a cross) was made against his name to record the fact. In this way shrines were intended to provide support for both the anxious and the bereaved.

Interestingly – and confusingly – there had been shrines in the Abbey parish. Eighteen were dedicated by clergy from St Albans Cathedral in 1916/17 as part of a programme of mission work. (See the image of the shrine on the Clock Tower). All were taken down after the war, the new street memorials providing support for the bereaved instead

* The origins of a tenth memorial, the one in Orchard Street, are obscure.

For more about the local shrine movement see:

St Albans: Life on the Home Front, 1914-1918, Mein, J, Wares, A, and Mann, S (eds), Hertfordshire Publications (2016).

‘The War Shrine Movement in Hertfordshire, 1916-18’, Mein, J & Hughes, G, Herts Past & Present (Autumn 2016), pp. 3-8.

‘The War Shrine Movement in St Albans, 1914-22’, Mein, J, Alban Link (Spring 2017), pp. 8-11.

Copies of these publications are available in the Society’s Library.