The Wagoners’ Memorial near Sledmere House - a monument to the local men who lost their lives in WW1
In the heart of the Yorkshire Wolds just outside Sledmere is a distinctive Grade I listed war memorial in a squat columnar shape which stands near the fancier Eleanor Village Cross and war memorial.
Known as the Wagoners’ Memorial, it has an interesting story which links back to the Sykes family of Sledmere House.
The memorial was initiated by Sir Mark Sykes between 1919 and 1920, he was the 6th Baronet of Sledmere and was the son of Sir Tatton Sykes who is famous for the restoration of many of the medieval churches in the Yorkshire Wolds.
Sir Mark Sykes served in the Boer War and was later a Lieutenant Colonel in the Yorkshire Regiment. During this time he had seen at first hand the logistical challenges of war.
He later became the MP for Kingston Upon Hull and became a Baron in 1913 just before the start of the First World War.
Just before he inherited the estate he was granted permission to raise a unit from the local area as a territorial army unit. He recruited local tenant farmers and farm labourers from across his estate and local area.
The unit was called The Wagoners’ Special Reserve because all the men had experience through their farm jobs of driving horse drawn wagons. Sykes would train his men and run wagon driving competitions with prize money to help hone his men’s skills. They also trained loading and unloading 50lb sacks against the clock as well as assembling and dismantling wheels and axles.
During the First World War 1,127 of his men were called up to serve on the Western Front in France. Most of them had limited military training but operated on the front line throughout the war with the logistical tasks of delivering supplies including food, medicine, ammunition and equipment.
His territorial regiment were one of the first regiments sent abroad, were often the first to the front line and offered important direct support to the troops in the trenches. There is now a Museum in honour of the Regiment based at Sledmere House.
After the war ended Sir Mark Sykes decided to build a memorial for the men from his regiment who had lost their lives. Sadly 80 of his men did not return.
This unique squat memorial stands 6 feet high and is situated on an octagonal plinth of 5 steps leading up to a squat stone column of Portland stone. The central column is surrounded by 4 narrower columns.
The monument has a number of carvings around the side and an inscription.
The sculptures were done by Carlo Domenico Magoni and were believed to have been inspired by Trajan’s Column in Rome. The carvings show scenes from the history of the wagoners.
These include the men working on the land, the men being enlisted by Mark Sykes, the men being called up to war, the men travelling to France as well as scenes of the violent conflict itself.
The architectural historian Nicholas Pevsner described the monument as “curiously homely” and when you look at the style of the carving with wholesome, small squat almost cartoon figures I can see why. Little details such as milestones with distances to York and Driffield definitely give links to home.
The masonry work was done by Alfred Barr Mason based on designs which Sir Mark Sykes had come up with himself.
There is a 5 verse poem about the men. Plus the following inscription.
“LT. COL: SIR MARK SYKES. BART: M.P. DESIGNED THIS MONUMENT AND SET IT UP AS A REMEMBRANCE OF THE GALLANT SERVICES RENDERED IN THE GREAT WAR. 1914-1919 / BY THE WAGGONER’S RESERVE A CORPS OF 1000 DRIVERS RAISED BY HIM ON THE YORKSHIRE WOLD FARMS IN THE YEAR 1912 THOMAS SCOTT FOREMAN. CARLO MAGNONI SCULPTOR. ALFRED BARR MASON.”
The memorial was opened in 1920 in a ceremony with 2,000 attendees. Such a shame that Sir Mark Sykes never had chance to see the finished monument as he attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 where he contracted Spanish Flu and died not long after.