What are street shrines?

Gordon, one of our fieldworkers, wrote in with the following question.

One of our local WW1 memorials is called The Greytree Shrine. I had never come across this title before and wondered how common it was in the UK. Looking at your excellent data base I was surprised to find 326 shrines. 138 of them were in Kingston upon Hull. Can anyone offer an explanation as to why the use of shrine was so popular in this town and other areas during WW1. Nationally ‘shrines’ were not used for WW2 memorials.

According to my dictionary, a shrine is a casket holding sacred relics, altar or chapel with special associations, a place hallowed by some memory.

Perhaps some of your readers and especially from Hull might have a view on this.

As I’ve mentioned previously The Greytree Shrine is now being refurbished. When finished it will be rededicated. I am in touch with the grandson of one Greytree soldier who lost his life in 1917. I shall keep you informed of any developments to this story.

The word shrine in this context usually refers to ‘street shrines’. These were typically wooden boards with the names of those serving from the local area, a crucifix in the centre and shelf below for flowers. They were erected in the street by local communities. If someone serving died, their name would be marked (e.g. with a red cross).

They start to be seen around late 1916, initially in London (particularly East London), but also in Kingston-upon-Hull. They don’t really appear to have taken off anywhere else.  Much research has been done into the Kingston-upon-Hull shrines, which is why they are relatively well known.

As they were of a temporary nature (in intention and materials) many have been lost. Some were lost when streets were demolished in slum clearances or bombing in the Second World War. Others would have been taken down when a permanent stone or metal memorial was erected.

1 comment
  1. Stephen Walker said:

    In the Port of Goole, near Hull, 26 shrines, or ‘Rolls of Honour’ as they were called in the local paper, were erected around the town in August 1917. The founders of the scheme was the Mens’ society of the sister church to Goole Parish Church. The research was carried out by the society and church but paid for by public subscription. They contained the names of both men and women who had either given their lives or were serving within the services. Controversially Mercantile seamen were left off the memorials and another memorial was set up for the service in 1917. The idea behind the shrines were as a reminder to pray for the dead and living but as contemporary letters and articles suggest they were also regarded as reminders to those were not fighting and as morale builders. Their erection around the town involved a larage scale religious service with a march between each site and prayers recited at each unveiling. Unfortunately I have not been able to research what happened to them and the latest referenced date I have is in 1922. A newspaper report stated that a young woman had stolen fresh flowers from one of the sites and caused a backlash in the town. Most of the sites have now been demolished or largely altered so there is no phyical evidence of their survival. The local radio station reported this as a feature on the news last armistice but I have had no responses. I am currently working my way through the local newspaper for refernces or pictures of the sites.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: