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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.

Memorial Stadium now on the Local List

Hanging a wreath on the gates of the Memorial Ground, Armistice Day, 1930s.

Hanging a wreath on the gates of the Memorial Ground, Armistice Day, 1930s.

Update and summary of current status

How does local listing protect the Memorial Ground?

The Local List “provides the opportunity to identify those features of the local scene that are particularly valued by communities as distinctive elements of the local historic environment.” (Bristol City Council).

“Locally listed buildings do not enjoy the levels of statutory protection afforded to nationally-listed buildings. However, local listing means that the interest of the building will be at least considered during the planning process. The effect of an application on a non-designated heritage asset is a material consideration when deciding planning applications, and local listing strengthens the case for retention of a historic building” (Chris Costelloe, Director of Victorian Society).

Hoping for a fitting future for the Memorial Ground

Thousands of local football fans, rugby fans, and other Bristolians, respect the war dead and would not dream of destroying a war memorial. But the custodian owners of the Memorial Stadium, apparently and as far as we know, still have plans to destroy it.

An unsuitable plan for the Mem would be a serious blunder because of the strength of local feeling about respecting the war dead, and about preserving their memorial for the benefit of today’s and future generations. Also, because the famous sports ground is a war memorial; because Historic England have designated the gates; because Bristol City Council have listed the Memorial Stadium as an Asset of Community Value and because the council do recognise its heritage value, and have added this war memorial sports ground to its Local List.

What does all this amount to?

Given the circumstances in which this famous sports ground was founded as a war memorial and the council’s decision to hold the centenary commemoration of the Battle of the Somme Remembrance Sunday event at the Memorial Ground, it remains to be seen if the ground’s owners will appreciate its true value, a value which reaches far beyond the simple price of land. Will they respect the Mem’s heritage and community value to Bristol, will they indeed respect the war dead – or not? Local listing etc recognises this.

Put bluntly: a war memorial is a war memorial.  The custodian owners need to show that they appreciate the ‘true’ value of the Memorial Ground.

It cannot be said enough: Bristol’s Memorial Ground happens to be one of the most poignant and effective war memorials in the country.

Friends of the Memorial Ground

Western Daily Press, 11 March 1920

Western Daily Press, 11 March 1920

A new community group has been set up to ensure a fitting future for the Memorial Ground (Memorial Stadium). At the Friends of the Memorial Ground (FOMG) meeting on 18th July, the group’s Constitution was approved, officers were elected, and we discussed future activities.

The aims of Friends of the Memorial Ground (FOMG) are:

  • To inform the wider public about the founding purpose of the Memorial Ground as a place of remembrance for the more than three hundred Bristol rugby players killed in the 1914-1918 war.
  • To ensure a future for the Mem in keeping with the founding intentions: i.e. that the land be “used for football or other athletic sport or recreation.”
  • To work with other local, and national, organisations to preserve and develop the Memorial Ground as a place for remembrance, and as a place for sport and recreation.
  • To promote the value which the Memorial Ground holds for the Bristol community, its culture, heritage, economy, and well-being.

FOMG would like to liaise with the owners of the Memorial Ground, with a view to securing a future for the sports ground which respects what it is: Bristol’s largest – most significant and most effective – war memorial. Sadly it seems that the implications of the sentence above are yet again being overlooked by its owners; and the site is talked about in terms of real estate, as a brown field development site. The famous war memorial sports ground is run down and its community worth, history, significance and status misunderstood, and even ignored.

This year Bristol’s high profile Remembrance Sunday civic event will be held at the Memorial Ground on 13th November.  This event is in addition to the Bristol Rugby Club and Bristol Rovers Football Club remembrance ceremony held every year on Armistice Day (11th November) at the entrance gates. FOMG plan to have some sort of display about the Memorial Ground’s history nearby, if this can be allowed.

In 2017, Bristol will be the UK’s European City of Sport and the city’s foremost war memorial sports ground is likely to play an active part in this.

FOMG support the plan to build a new stadium for BRFC at UWE.

FOMG have been informed that a recent application to nominate the whole 3.3 hectare site to the Local List has been successful, and we are awaiting formal confirmation of this. This is encouraging news from Bristol City Council, who have already declared the sports stadium an Asset of Community Value.

Membership of FOMG costs £5 a year. For enquiries, or to obtain a membership application form, please email

The Memorial Ground Survey

In early May, the Chairman of Bristol Rovers FC said about the Memorial Ground: “We have a team of specialist property people working on behalf of the club. What happens to it (the Memorial Stadium) is part of the bigger picture… Let’s wait and see”

(Source: Bristol Rovers finally pull plug on Sainsbury’s legal battle which cost club £1.5 million Bristol Post, 5 May 2016)

Well it’s now 6th July and the wait continues, with not much to see.

Meanwhile, The Bishopston Society has produced an online survey, asking how the community (and Bristol) might benefit from the Memorial Ground, which has been listed by Bristol City Council as an ‘Asset of Community Value’.  Please do contribute your ideas. The land was donated to trustees of the Bristol Rugby Club by a local benefactor – and Bristolians paid for the construction works. The Memorial Ground was (and could continue to be) the pride of Bristol.

The Jordanian banking family who now own Bristol Rovers FC and the Memorial Ground, are rightly determined to build a new stadium for the club at UWE. The owners are fabulously wealthy, so the justification for an enabling scheme (selling the Memorial Ground to pay for the new stadium) to help out the previously “cash-strapped” football club, no longer applies. This enabling scheme had been persuasively advanced by Steve Comer, a declared Bristol Rovers shareholder and councillor sitting in the 2013 planning committee. This compromised committee was influenced to give permission for the supermarket redevelopment – a bad idea now well understood to have been a big mistake.

Wael Al Qadi has a duty as the custodian of a war memorial and a sport heritage site. It is hoped that he has a sense of pride in the place and that he will manage it sympathetically. The war memorial is not brown field development land. The new owners need to ‘get’ this.

The following facts should be bourn in mind by the custodians of the war memorial sports ground:

  • The purpose and function of the land is as a place of remembrance for Bristol rugby players killed in both world wars, including three hundred in the First World War.
  • The sportsmen are remembered through sport.
  • The sports ground war memorial was intended to inspire Bristolians for ever.
  • The Covenant on the land, restricts its use to sport or recreation.

Bristol Rovers team and manager are to be congratulated on a tremendous season, winning promotion to League One in a thrilling way, in the last minutes of the last game. Wael Al Qadi has revitalised the club and saved it from bankruptcy.   We hope that he and Rovers can now work with the local community for the benefit of Rovers and of Bristol.

The Bishopston Society online survey is at:



Welcome Wael

Welcome Wael

May I express a warm welcome to Wael Al-Qadi. His acquisition of Bristol Rovers FC promises an exciting era for the revitalised club. There is a great buzz of optimism and hope among Gasheads – and also among those who care for the Memorial Ground. I hope that a new stadium can be built for Rovers. However, I would like to know if the creation of a new stadium is dependent on destroying the Memorial Ground, as previously planned? Does the new owner intend to preserve the Mem as a war memorial sports ground?

It is encouraging that the Rovers’ President has said many sensible things since the takeover. “I want this club to be part of the community, to serve the community. I want fans to be proud of their club” (BBC interview, 19 February 2016). These wise words bode well for future relations with the club’s near neighbours and with the wider Bristol community.

Wael Al-Qadi is now the custodian of a famous sporting heritage asset. The Memorial Ground is the city’s largest war memorial – and, in many ways, most effective and poignant. The brilliant idea of a dynamic war memorial, marrying sporting culture with remembrance, is relevant to this day and offers huge potential for its future development. Many people in the local community are as proud and protective/supportive of this special place, as Gasheads are for their club. Plans are in place for Bristol’s 2016 Remembrance Day Ceremony to be held at the ground, in the year of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, during which so many soldier sportsmen were killed.

A large number of sport fans and Bristolians hope that the Memorial Ground will carry on being a major team sport venue for Bristol, as intended by its founders almost a hundred years ago. In November, Bristol City Council listed the ground as an ‘Asset of Community Value’ in recognition of its “current use as a local sporting, cultural and recreational interest community stadium”. The application was submitted by The Bishopston Society. The entrance gates to this memorial ground are grade II listed. The principal reasons for the Historic England designation were… “Historical: as a poignant reminder of the tragic impact of world events upon this small community. Context: the gate piers are intact and retain their context as the entranceway to the Memorial Stadium”.

I should emphasise that any proposed re-development of the site should:
1) respect the war memorial status of the site
2) be appropriate to its residential setting and
3) conform to the Restrictive Covenant on the land which states that it must be used for sport or recreation, in perpetuity.

This war memorial sports field has inspired thousands of people during the past century. In the event that a new stadium for Bristol Rovers is built on the city’s outskirts, might not the Memorial Ground be used as a training ground? Or, in the spirit of its founders, developed for participatory sport to bring on new talent and help underpin the health and well-being of the city’s population? I sincerely hope that this inspirational and very special sports ground has a sporting future.


Bristol Rovers’ Arab spring (Bristol 24/7, 19 February 2016)

The national rugby war memorial?

'Bristol Football Club Jubilee Book 1888-1938', cover detail

‘Bristol Football Club Jubilee Book 1888-1938’, cover detail

It was recently announced by Clare Campion-Smith, the Lord Mayor of Bristol, that the city’s Ceremony of Remembrance in 2016 will be held at the Memorial Stadium. Usually the service and parade is held at the Cenotaph in the city centre, but this area is being remodelled for Metrobus. The directors of Bristol Rovers FC, who own the Memorial Ground, have kindly offered to host the event. This is a great and fitting honour. Next year will be the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, which did for so many soldier sportsmen.

The Memorial Ground was given in trust to the Bristol Football Club (RFU) as a memorial to the 300 Bristolian rugby players who had lost their lives in the First World War. It was intended to be a dynamic, living and lasting tribute. Annual services of remembrance have been held at the war memorial sports ground ever since 1921, usually on Armistice Day. In 1945, the Ground was rededicated and the memorial tribute was extended to the rugby dead of the second world war.

The rugby memorial ceremony is usually held at the entrance gates to the Memorial Ground, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, at the eleventh hour. It is attended by the directors and playing squads of both Bristol Rugby Club and Bristol Rovers Football Club, former Bristol players, Bristol Combination club representatives, supporters clubs and local residents. Local clergy conduct the service and a trumpeter sounds the last post. Wreaths are laid and a silence is observed.

The Memorial Ground is dedicated to rugby and every day is day of remembrance. Could this historic, poignant and distinctive war memorial sport ground become the national rugby war memorial? The President of Bristol Rugby Former Players, has stated that “The memorial is not only for those who wore the famous blue and white jersey, but for all rugby players who died for their country.” Britain lacks a national rugby war memorial. In the centenary years of the First World War, this could be put right. Lest we forget.

World Rugby Museum blog:

An asset of community value

30 April 2014The Memorial Stadium has been declared an Asset of Community Value (ACV) by Bristol City Council. ACV status means that if the Memorial Stadium comes up for sale, a group of residents, or a group of Bristol Rovers FC fans, or another group with a sympathetic plan, would have a brief opportunity to purchase the site, and to ensure that sport can carry on being played there.

The ACV application was submitted by The Bishopston Society, thanks to the Localism Act (2011) – see

Why The Bishopston Society believes that the Memorial Ground is an asset of community value

Research by the New Economics Foundation (Stephen Spratt) has shown just how important football clubs – and their stadiums – are to their local community.  The stadium itself is the place that holds the memories of the fans and the team, often over many years.  It becomes a home from home, a place which fosters and is integral to community cohesion, identity and confidence.  Eric Pickles who as former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government introduced the Localism Act, has expressed this sentiment well: “Football stadiums are not only the heart and soul of every team, they are rooted in and loved by the neighbourhoods that surround them.”  The Memorial Stadium is just such a stadium.  Preserving and enhancing such well-established community assets, helps to strengthen and sustain strong communities.

The Memorial Stadium (or Memorial Ground) has long been a very special local and city asset, inspiring the city’s youth to take up sport and to lead healthy lives for almost a century.  The Memorial Stadium is used by Bristol Rovers FC, one of Bristol’s two professional football clubs, and is a venue for League level football matches.  Spectator sport is part of the entertainment industry, and football fans further support the local economy, especially food and drink businesses.  Cherished sporting memories of the ‘Mem’ stadium are renewed every season, and woven into the social fabric of the city.

This site has been of value to and used by the community for at least 125 years.  In the nineteenth century the site was used as a public showground, as well as for sports and games.  The showground was named “Buffalo Bill’s Field”, after Colonel William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, whose Wild West Show had captured Bristol’s imagination when it was performed there in 1891.  Buffalo Bill’s Field continued to be a public showground, used for flying loop-the-loop air displays, various sports, etc., until the First World War.  During the war, the community benefitted from the allotments created on the land.

Buffalo Bill’s Field was donated for the purpose of creating a stadium for the Bristol Rugby Club, as a tribute to the 300 rugby players killed in the war, and for the expressed long term benefit of the Bristol community.

Immediately after the war, Bristolians had responded to an appeal to fund the construction works and to equip the sports ground, generously paying thousands of pounds for the city’s first substantial war memorial in the belief that “No better way could be found of paying a lasting tribute to the players who played the game right to the end.”

In the interwar years, the Memorial Ground was used for rugby, football, archery, running and athletics.  National and international matches have been held here.  The sports ground became famous and much loved, the home and soul of Bristol rugby.  Bristol Rugby Club shared the playing fields with the Combination Clubs and with schools clubs.  Other community events included popular carnivals, and childrens’ sport and games for the 1935 Silver Jubilee.

Rededicated after the Second World War, the war memorial sports ground continued to be of great value to the community, hosting events such as Bristol Constabulary inspections, the St Peter’s Hospice annual sponsored ‘Stadium Dash’, presentation evenings for local youth AFC football clubs and the rugby varsity between the city’s two universities.  An annual Armistice Day service is held here every November.  Since 1996, Bristol Rovers Football Club have also played at the ground.

This long history of local clubs playing spectator sport at The Mem has created a distinct local atmosphere to the area.  The roar of the stadium crowd can be heard across Horfield and Bishopston, as far as St Andrews Park and Lockleaze.  Elderly residents whose parents contributed to the fundraising effort have spoken of how they take comfort in this ‘sound of Horfield’.  Sports fans from all over the city visit the locality, many choosing to walk the length of Gloucester Road high street to enjoy the bars and eateries, to the commercial benefit of the community with its many independent shops and businesses.

The Memorial Stadium is the city’s largest – and arguably most effective – war memorial.  Whenever the ground is named and at matches every week, thousands partake in commemoration.  The brilliant idea of a living, dynamic war memorial, marrying sporting culture with remembrance, is not an obsolete one.  On the contrary, it has strong contemporary relevance, offering huge potential for its future development.  The inscription on the stadium’s listed gates bears witness to the Mem’s local historical importance and to the whole ground’s status as a memorial to the dead of both world wars.

The Covenant on the land, explicitly states that it should be used for sport or recreation, for the benefit of the community, in perpetuity.  It should be nurtured and protected, allowed to evolve and adapt to a changing world.  Sport in built up areas in England is special but declining, due to green spaces being sold off for housing.  A financially challenged football club must not be allowed to destroy the Memorial Ground, which should not suffer due to inappropriate decisions.  In the event that the custodians of the Memorial Ground no longer have a sporting use for it, consultation with the local and Bristol wide community should, as a first priority, explore other sporting and recreational uses.

The Memorial Ground is a world famous sport heritage asset, a gem in the heart of our community.  Its founders intended it to be a place for sport and recreation forever: a place of remembrance and an inspiration for future generations.  At this particular time, when we are all urged to play more sport to keep healthy, it is important to the community that at least part of this site is maintained for that purpose.  It has even been proposed that The Memorial Ground could become the national rugby war memorial, commemorating the sacrifice of all British rugby players, in all conflicts.  We want to make the Memorial Ground literally fit for purpose – and pass it on to future generations.