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.

New direction


So, the house of cards collapses.  “Bristol Rovers’ hopes of moving to a new stadium were dashed as a high court judge ruled that Sainsbury’s were not duty bound to buy the Memorial Ground” (

The Memorial Ground is a special place. It was protected for decades by Bristol City Council and was included in the Local Plan L8 (now apparently superseded by DM5 – Protection of Community Facilities) as a “valuable asset” for being a sports ground. This policy was expressly developed “in recognition of the benefits – social, economic and environmental, of providing sporting areas to accommodate spectator sports within urban areas and thus easily accessible to large areas of the resident population”.  An exception to this policy was made under the condition that a new sports stadium would be created within the ‘locality’. (The Council then determined that the UWE stadium was sufficiently local).  The exception to L8 cannot be justified without this plan for a new ‘local’ stadium and so if the UWE stadium is not to proceed, policy L8 (or DM5) should now, once again, be protecting the Memorial Stadium.

TRASHorfield and I are not opposed to the building of a stadium at UWE; but we are opposed to the destruction of the Memorial Ground for the building of a supermarket.  A Sainsbury’s supermarket would cause traffic congestion, air pollution and noise pollution – and threaten the viability of local independent businesses.  With so much still uncertain about the site’s future, serious concerns remain about Bristol City Council’s permission for daily 19 hour heavy goods vehicle access to the site via residential roads.

Moreover and significantly, the Memorial Ground is a sport heritage site, laden with rugby and football memories – and nearly a hundred years old. It is a special and practical type of WW1 war memorial and should remain dedicated to sport and recreation, as was intended by its founders.  The “Mem” is not a brownfield site.  The Directors of Bristol Rovers have failed to grasp these simple facts – hence the strong objections to the prospect of a Sainsbury’s supermarket on the war memorial sport ground.

We would welcome a proper discussion about possible future uses of the site – a future which does not trample on local businesses, nor on the health of local people.  This famous sports ground could be modernised, in a fitting and proportional way, given its war memorial status and residential setting.

The Memorial Ground was built as a living tribute to three hundred rugby sportsmen soldiers who were killed in the First World War.  Whoever owns the site is the custodian of a heritage asset paid for by Bristolians and entrusted for sport or recreation forever.  It is Bristol’s largest, most poignant and most effective war memorial – it ensures frequent remembrance of the fallen sportsmen, by sport, played at a sports ground.

Sainsbury’s v Bristol Rovers

1946 map of the Memorial Ground and nearby housing

1946 map of the Memorial Ground and nearby housing

The recent case in the High Court before Mrs Justice Proudman – Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd v Bristol Rovers (1883) Ltd HC-2014-001796 – was an action brought by Sainsbury’s against Bristol Rovers, asking for a ruling on a contract between the two companies. Sainsbury’s are seeking a judgement confirming that they do not have to proceed with their contract with Bristol Rovers (1883) Ltd.

It is understood the judgement is be announced in the next few weeks, maybe before the end of June.

Whatever the outcome of the court case, any proposed redevelopment of this site must neither ignore its War Memorial status, nor ride roughshod over the wishes of the local population. The local council’s recent consultative Involvement in planning applications and the Local Plan – Statement of Community Involvement may bode well for future planning. The Memorial Ground is a sport heritage asset. It should remain a place for sport or recreation, as intended by its founders: a place of remembrance and an inspiration for future generations.

Involvement in planning applications and the Local Plan – Statement of Community Involvement

Source of map: Bristol City Council – Know Your Place

Bristol Rovers v Sainsbury’s

MG gates with wreaths - Nov 2012

Bristol Rovers v Sainsbury’s litigation is due to be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, starting on Thursday 14th May.

Brief details of claim

  • The Defendant has acted in breach of its contract with the Claimant of 28 March 2011.
  • It has unreasonably refused to appeal against the refusal of its application pursuant to section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, in spite of the Claimant’s offer to fully fund the appeal and the Claimant’s procurement of a Noise Impact Assessment and an Opinion from leading counsel that an appeal would enjoy good prospects of success.
  • The Defendant has unreasonably refused to grant the Claimant consent to submit a fresh section 73 application, supported by the Noise Impact Assessment it has procured, in spite of the Claimant’s offer to fully fund such an application.
  • The Defendant has failed i) to use all reasonable endeavours to procure the grant of an Acceptable Store Planning Permission as soon as reasonably practicable, in breach of clause 2.8 of Schedule 1 to the contract, and ii) to act in good faith in relation to its obligations under the contract and to assist the Claimant in achieving an Acceptable Planning Permission, in breach of clause 31.1 of the contract.
  • As a result of the Defendant’s breach of contract, the Claimant has suffered and continues to suffer financial loss.

Some Rovers fans have speculated that a possible outcome of the hearing, might be that Rovers are awarded damages.  Indeed, a good result for the Memorial Ground would be sufficient compensation to pay off the club’s debts and for Rovers to invest in updating this famous war memorial sports ground.

However, due to multiple uncertainties (including Rovers’ fragile financial position), the Memorial Ground may still be threatened with redevelopment that would both stop sport and rob citizens of an exceptional war memorial.

Whoever owns the site is the custodian of a heritage asset paid for by Bristolians and entrusted for sport or recreation forever.  It is Bristol’s most poignant and effective war memorial – the fallen sportsmen are honoured every time sport is played there.

While the nation marks the centenary of the First World War, will the directors of Bristol Rovers, the mayor, city council, and others, take action to save this memorial site – or let it be destroyed?

Follow The Memorial Ground on twitter: @LWF1914

Kindest remembrances

BRO 41582/IM/HM/3The enigmatic messages on this 1933 Christmas card* from Bristol rugby stalwart Walter Pearce, include this: “A game, like a country, belongs to those who stand by its laws and what they really mean.”

Sadly, there is no law against desecrating Bristol’s most moving war memorial, but then who would have thought that such a law would be necessary?

  • The spirit of the law might be considered?
  • Dying for your country might be respected?
  • The notion of the military covenant might apply?
  • Do BRC and BRFC fan’s memories of a very special sporting venue count for nothing?
  • Is the heritage significance of a 93-year-old sports ground also of no interest?
  • Why are the wishes of locals ignored?
  • Anyway, isn’t a war memorial a war memorial – and not an unused brown field site?

Sainsbury’s claims it has values. Their values are not evident in their hypocritical plans to destroy a famous sports ground. Values and long-term financial success go hand in hand. Whither Sainsbury’s?

The Directors of Bristol Rovers possess a war memorial. They have responsibilities as the custodians of a heritage asset. When will they be responsible and respectful?

UWE are party to a blunder. Are they as guilty as their partners, of trampling on the memory of the fallen sportsmen soldiers (killed in war, often at about the same age as UWE students)?

Why did Bristol City Council – and others who should know better – not stop this nonsense? Destroying a war memorial is wrong. Simple really.

“You don’t know what you’ve got

Till it’s gone

They paved paradise

And put up a parking lot.”

Let’s celebrate and renew a great Bristol sports ground. And pass it on.

Cheers then, and Merry Christmas. Resolution for 2015: shop local, shop happy!


*Bristol Record Office reference: BRO 41582/IM/HM/3.

Memories of the Mem

Harris - BristolThe home and soul of Bristol Rugby is discussed by Mike Rafter, former Bristol Rugby player and captain, and England International, in a moving BBC recording (6 November 2014), entitled “Bristol Rovers FC, Bristol: Immortalising History.”

The World War One At Home piece includes Bristol Rugby Club fans saying: “A ground for the fans … a homely ground … with the crowd on the edge of the pitch … makes you feel part of everything … the most welcoming ground, the best atmosphere … everything that rugby should be … it’s a ground not a stadium.”

If you liked the above recording, you may like this short video: Ninety-Three Years At The Mem (6 June 2014). The strength of feeling for the war memorial sport ground can also be gauged by these Bristol Rugby fans’ memories.

See also In memory of sporting heroes lost (Bristol Post, 15 April 2014).

The Memorial Ground also features in Rovers fans’ memories, in this entertaining blog thread from the Bristol Rovers Independent Fans’ Forum: The Museum of Gas.

“To look backward for a while is to refresh the eye, to restore it, and to render it the more fit for its prime function of looking forward.” (Margaret Fairless Barber).

Why should some people, who should know better, get away with trampling on these memories?

The BBC pose this key question: if a supermarket, some houses and a memorial garden replace the famous sports ground, will the original reason for the Memorial Ground being built be lost?

Let’s support Mike Rafter: Let’s save, renovate and celebrate Bristol’s great sporting, heritage and community asset – and pass it on.