EVERY so often, there is a revival of debate over whether or not to move the cenotaph from its present site in the churchyard Garden of Remembrance back to its original position in front of the Guildhall where it was first placed in 1920. Readers may be interested in the sequence of events that led up to the removal of the monument in 1956 as there are misconceptions about what happened.

The 2018 edition of Lookback at Andover contains an excellent history of the cenotaph, written by local military historian Craig Fisher, who deals with the entire story from the end of the 1914-18 war until the present day. In that article, he dispels some of the myths, including the explanation of the 1914-1920 dates, and he has used contemporary material of the 1952-56 period to outline the course of events that led to the cenotaph’s removal.

Many people think it was to remedy complaints that the monument was not properly respected by the stallholders on Andover market who used it as a dumping ground for their empty cardboard boxes and sundry rubbish but in fact there was just one letter (of August 1952) complaining in such terms and this was from the British Legion. The council decided in response that one of their number would speak to the market attendant about the matter to prevent it happening. There, the matter rested.

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Andover Advertiser: The Cenotaph in its original High Street location, c.1950Critical however, was the council proposal to extend the Guildhall outwards across the 1855 forecourt. Initial plans involving the ground floor only were drawn up in the second half of 1952 with no necessity to move the memorial but these were changed so that by February 1953 the proposals had grown to include both floors and some degree of lavish extravagance. In October 1953, it was still not considered necessary to move the memorial but by January 1954, it had become a possibility and the minutes of the following month confirm that it was now the definite intention to do so.

But where was it to go? Various locations were discussed but in June 1954, a suitable option became available when the vicar’s warden of St Mary’s church applied to the council for a grant to renovate that part of the churchyard which had long been closed to burials and which was in a dangerous state. To cut a long story short, the council, with agreement of all church parties, undertook to carry out the work and to provide a garden suitable for the cenotaph.

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During 1955, Mrs Florence Pickett began writing letters and marshalling support to keep the memorial in place. She had been a nurse during the First World War and lost two of her brothers and two of her brothers-in-law in the trenches and she gathered 1225 names on a petition which she presented at a council meeting in January 1956, asking for a receipt and demanding to know when it would be discussed.

However, three months before, in October 1955, a government directive had forced councils to make stringent budget cuts and all plans for the Guildhall extension were shelved and never revived. Therefore, the main reason for moving the memorial had gone but this did not stop the council pressing ahead; the agreement to create a Garden of Remembrance was in place and the ‘desecration’ argument was now being used to justify removal. Undaunted by any opposition, the council authorised the work to begin in August 1956 and a new dedication service was held in the churchyard on 4th November. And there the cenotaph has remained for the past 68 years, a periodic bone of contention that continues to exercise strong emotions on both sides.         

If you are interested in local history, why not join Andover History and Archaeology Society? Details can be found at andoverlocalhistoryarchaeology.uk