Stansted War Memorial

The original memorial statue by Alajos Strobl was erected in 1923 on land donated by Sir Gerald Hohler of Court Lodge.  The statue was stolen in 1964 but successfully retrieved and reinstated.  Following a second theft in 1995 the original statue was lost.  The current statue was created by Faith Winter and rededicated on Remembrance Sunday 1996 and a selection of photos are available from a photo album produced by Stansted Parish Council and presented to the original Society.

Stansted War Memorial - The original bronze statue by Alajos Strobl
The original bronze statue by Alajos Strobl

Sir Gerald Hohler of Court Lodge, Stansted, together with his brother Thomas Hohler of Fawkham Manor, were instrumental in the creation of the well-known war memorial in Stansted, Kent. Sir Gerald owned a drovers’ pond at the foot of Windmill Hill (now Stansted Hill) and offered it as the site of the proposed memorial.

Sir Thomas Hohler, KCMG, CB, JP, who in 1920 was the Head of the British Legation in Budapest, Hungary, was in touch with cultural trends and figures in that country. He was aware that the sculptor Alajos Strobl (1856 – 1926) had created a statue of a female palm-bearer in 1898. While Sir Gerald was contemplating the erection of a memorial, Thomas suggested Strobl could create a modified version with a different head which would be more suitable for the proposed War Memorial.

The suggested memorial statue was adopted by the Parish Council, who noted a government initiative, the War Memorial Act 1923 conferring local powers in the public interest. An earlier discussion had focused upon a tablet within St Mary’s Church.

The bronze figure was cast in Budapest by the well-known foundry ‘Galliés Vignale’. Sir Gerald meanwhile, prepared and readied a Portland Stone square base and the names of the fallen in the Great War were carved into the memorial stone as a lasting tribute.

One hitch before the memorial was to be erected was the delivery of the bronze statue from Hungary to Stansted in Essex, an event repeated more than once since that time.

The unveiling of the Stansted War Memorial in 1923
The unveiling of the Stansted War Memorial in 1923

Once safely delivered to Stansted, Kent, the memorial was unveiled by Colonel W. Pitt and was dedicated on Sunday 15th July 1923 by Dr Harmer, Bishop of Rochester, and Reverend F. Fisher, the Rector of Stansted.

Many years later Dr Peter Pitt recalled an interesting story about the memorial – a few people involved in the planning stage had met on the site to arrange for a wooden mock-up of the pedestal to be erected. Sir Gerald Hohler had climbed up and held his umbrella aloft to represent the olive branch of the proposed statue. Mrs Drummond happened to drive past and remarked “Very nice, but did they have to have the statute so like Sir Gerald”!!

On his death in 1934, Sir Gerald bequeathed to the Parish Council a strip of land around the memorial to be planted as a garden and the sum of £300 to be invested for the upkeep of the Memorial.

After the end of World War Two the names of the fallen in that conflict were added to the Memorial.

In October 1964 the statue was sadly stolen by tearing it from the stone plinth, probably with a lorry and ropes. There was outrage. Chairman of the Parish Council, Vivian Walton noted the theft as ‘absolutely appalling’, while Colonel Wintle denounced the theft of this ‘much-loved village landmark’.

Fortunately, the statue was recovered from a quarry near Swanley, Kent, and following repairs was replaced securely and rededicated by Rev Blowey who earlier had remarked on the anxiety felt by many that the very valuable statue might have been melted down for almost valueless scrap metal.

Dedication service for the replacement War Memorial statue in 1966

The statue was stolen for a second time on the night of the 6th October 1995. Once again thieves used ropes and a lorry to haul the bronze figure from its plinth and drag it unceremoniously along Malthouse Road. This time, there was to be no recovery of the statue.

Valiant efforts were made by the Parish Council to track down any remaining relevant material by Strobl in his Budapest studio. Frustrated in these attempts, the Council searched for a sculptor capable of creating a new Palm Bearer statue for the memorial. The foresight of an earlier Council Chairman, Ernest Unwin, had provided adequate insurance cover for this very eventuality.

After widespread consultation, the Parish Council agreed that a replacement statue in the style of the original should be obtained. After receiving a number of quotations and consulting a number of sculptors it was decided that the commission should be awarded to Faith Winter FRBS who had carried out a number of famous works, including the statues of Lord Tedder and Air Marshal Harris in London.

The replacement statue was cast at the Burleighfield Arts Foundry, High Wycombe, and erected in Stansted on Tuesday 5th November 1996. It was dedicated by the Rt Rev. Brian A Smith, Bishop of Tonbridge, together with the Stansted Rector, Chris Noble, on Sunday 10 November 1996.  The ceremony was followed by an official lunch in the barn at Court Lodge, Stansted.

Stansted War Memorial - Remembrance Day 2019
The present-day War Memorial – Remembrance Day 2019

The cost of the new statue, including casting, was £14,900 (ex. VAT). The total cost of replacing and re-erecting the statue amounted to £17,557.79 (ex. VAT) of which £15,350 was recovered from the insurance, and £1,000 from Tonbridge and Malling BC. Stansted Parish Council made up the difference from its reserves.

Along with St Marys Church, the War Memorial continues to provide a parish focal point for the three villages of Stansted, Fairseat and Vigo and is used as a centrepiece for Remembrance Day celebrations to the present day.

Author: Tony Piper
Contributors: John Mattick, Dick Hogbin
Acknowledgements: N/A
Last Updated: 7 Feb 2020