W G Collingwood’s War Memorials

Walking back to the car park after our walk up Easedale last Tuesday, I spotted this distinctive cross in the park next to the access road.


The monument is Grasmere’s war memorial and my first thought was that it looked like it had been designed by W G Collingwood. A little research on my phone confirmed my suspicion.

William Gershon Collingwood was an antiquarian and artist, born in Liverpool, who was secretary to John Ruskin. Collingwood designed a number of war memorials for towns in the region, including Coniston, Hawkshead, Ulverston and St Bees. In some cases the monuments were carved by his daughter, Barbara.

The secretary of the Grasmere memorial committee was Rev Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust, who lived at Allan Bank. Rawnsley was a close friend of Collingwood and it may have been his influence that resulted in him being given the commission.

During our visits to the Lake District we’ve spotted a couple of Collingwood’s other war memorials. In Hawkshead

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and Coniston.

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He also designed Ruskin’s Memorial in Coniston churchyard, the other end of the church from the war memorial.

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All these monuments resemble Celtic crosses. However it is more likely that Collingwood, the author of Northumbrian Crosses of the Pre-Norman Age, was inspired by the Anglo Saxon crosses of Northumbria which were similar in design to the Celtic version with abstract designs including interlacing, animal symbols and often with a ring surrounding the intersection. Before the Norman invasion Anglo-Saxon art and decorative designs were similar to what these days we consider to be “Celtic” style.

The Hawkshead cross is very similar to the Anglo Saxon cross at Gosforth in Cumbria and the Ruskin memorial is clearly inspired by the Irton cross (also in Cumbra)

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Collingwood and members of his family are also buried in the churchyard, in graves very close to that of Ruskin.

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Ruskin’s Memorial


John Ruskin died at Brantwood from influenza on 20 January 1900 at the age of 80. He was buried five days later in Coniston churchyard rather than in Westminster Abbey, which might have been expected. But he’d asked to be laid to rest in the Lakeland village near where he spent the last years of his life.

It was easy enough to find his gave as there was a sign on the side of the church pointing the way. I was quite surprised at the simplicity of the design of the monument. I’d noticed a grand, Gothic style monument at the back of the church from the road as we passed a few days earlier and, given that Ruskin was probably the main driving force behind  the Victorian Gothic Revival, I assumed that was his. But I later discovered that monument, which was actually quite close to Ruskin’s grave, marked those of a family of local big wigs.

Ruskin’s monument, although heavily decorated with carvings, is more elegant and less vulgar, more in the Arts and Crafts tradition. It was designed by his Secretary and friend, W G Collingwood and was carved by a mason from Ulverston, H T Miles . I found this out while reading Collingwood’s “The Book of Coniston”, which I discovered while conducting some research on him after our holiday. It’s available via Project Gutenberg. In it, he writes

In Coniston Churchyard the centre of general interest is Ruskin’s grave, marked by the tall sculptured cross of gray Tilberthwaite stone, which stands under the fir trees near the wall separating the churchyard from the schoolyard. Near it are the white crosses of the Beevers, and the railed-in space is reserved for the family of Brantwood. The sculptures on the east face are intended to suggest Ruskin’s earlier writings—the lower panel his juvenile poems; above, the young artist with a hint of sunrise over Mont Blanc in the background, for “Modern Painters;” the Lion of St. Mark, for “Stones of Venice,” and the candlestick of the Tabernacle for “Seven Lamps.”


There’s also a swastika separating the years of Ruskin’s birth and death. Quite innocent as it was carved before the symbol was appropriated by the Nazis. But I’m sure it’s use would have been deliberate and have some meaning.

On the west face below is the parable of the labourers in the vineyard—”Unto this Last,” then “Sesame and Lilies,” the Angel of Fate with club, key and nail for “Fors Clavigera,” the “Crown of Wild Olive,” and St. George, symbolizing his later work. On the south edge are the Squirrel, the Robin and the Kingfisher in a scroll of wild rose to suggest Ruskin’s favourite studies in natural history. On the north edge is a simple interlaced plait. The cross was carved by the late H. T. Miles of Ulverston from designs by W. G. Collingwood.


Collingwood also designed a number of war memorials for towns in the region, including Hawkshead, Ulverston and St Bees. He also designed the one standing at the front of the church in Coniston.


Collingwood, his wife and some of his children are buried nearby Ruskin’s grave. Their headstones are simple with distinctive Arts and Crafts / Art Nouveau style lettering




Although today it’s dominated by tourism, Coniston has a very different feel about it than the much more “touristy” central area on the east side of Windermere running up through Grasmere up to Keswick. It’s a little more isolated with the main natural axis of communication being towards the south and it’s roots are very much industrial, centring on farming and copper mining, with the first mines up on the mountainside opening during Elizabethan times. The village’s origins go back much further than this, though. It’s name is derived from the Norse ‘cyninges-tūn’. – “King’s town”.

Historically,  Coniston, being part of Furness, was within the boundaries of Lancashire. It became part of Cumbria along with the rest of “Lancashire over the sands” with Local Government reorganisation in 1974.

The main, oldest parts of the village, consists of workers’ cottages nestling on the lower slopes of the Old Man.


The houses are built of local materials, particularly slate, many of them with a white rendering


There are some “Arts and Crafts” style structures, influenced by Ruskin, such as the war memorial which was designed by his “follower”, W G Collingwood


With it’s location on the lake, the area grew in popularity as a tourist location during the Victorian era, following the construction of a branch of the Furness Railway, which opened to passenger traffic in 1859 and made the village much more accessible. Just like today those early tourists came to admire the dramatic scenery, to walk in the hills and along the lake and to “mess around” in boats.



The lake, the third largest in England, was originally known as Thurston Water until the late 18th Century.

Coniston’s main attractions are the hills and lake. Other than the excellent Ruskin Museum and Ruskin and Donald Campbell’s graves, boat trips and Ruskin’s home, Brantwood, over the other side of the lake, there isn’t a lot to see. It isn’t “chocolate box” pretty but is a good base for anyone looking for a bit of peace and quiet and to enjoy the natural attractions of the surrounding areas. Although there are a number of small shops, including a small Co-op for supplies, the major chains that dominate high streets were absent and the small main street wasn’t blighted with lots of tacky gift shops. Internet access is almost non-existent (we found it impossible to connect to wifi even when it was available and you can forget 3/4 G).

It does have 3 pubs, all serving food. Our favourite is the Black Bull which has it’s own micro-brewery which produces rather excellent prize-winning beers.