Founders’ farsightedness

Remembrance Day Service in the Centre, Bristol, before the Centaph was built, 1920s.

Remembrance Day Service in the Centre, Bristol, before the Centaph was built, 1920s.

At this time of year, we remember those who lost their lives in war. Over three hundred Bristol rugby players who died in both world wars are honoured every time sport is played at the Memorial Stadium.

What makes the Mem exceptional is the founders’ farsightedness in creating a legacy with lasting benefit to the community. Bristolians paid for a facility to develop young sporting talent.

The Lord Mayor of Bristol, G.B. Britton, spoke of this notion at the opening ceremony in 1921: “the desire to make this a memorial ground, and in no narrow sense. The noble record of our city in the late war has not been commemorated in any more fitting way every school boy, every young fellow in our midst, may justly look forward to representing his school, club, combination, town or county in the representative games it is hoped to be play here as the years go by.” (1)

When Bristol Rovers FC move to their new stadium and the Memorial Stadium is sold, we could lose a dynamic sporting form of remembrance. If spectator team sport at the Mem has to go, we should seize the opportunity to renew or reinvent the way ‘remembering’ is played out through sport at the ground.

The Covenant on the land stipulates that it is for sport or recreation, forever, as a memorial to the fallen rugby players. Thinking big – could the Memorial Ground become the national rugby war memorial? Thinking local – could it also be a sport and recreation green space for land-starved local schools and the community?

The Memorial Ground has been a vital part of the local and national sport scene for nearly a hundred years. The whole site is a war memorial and its entrance gates are listed by Historic England. The Mem is also on the Local List and is an Asset of Community Value. Whoever “owns” the Memorial Ground is the custodian of Bristol’s largest war memorial, a heritage asset and a famous sport venue. In the future, the war memorial sports ground must continue to actively respect and honour the war dead – and continue to be a space where sport and recreation are enjoyed by the living.

(1) Opening of the Bristol Rugby Memorial Ground, 24th September 1921 booklet (BRO ref: 41582/IM/PM/4/1) – see full text in the IMAGES section.

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