Almost every town and village in the UK has a First World War memorial and sometimes they are even tucked away in odd corners of the waterway network.
At Ellesmere Yard in Shropshire a framed list has hung for many years upstairs in the joiners shop. The document, in its plain wooden frame, lists the names and occupations of 36 canal company men and the regiments they served in. There are joiners, painters, a boat-builder, a sawyer and fitter. They served in regiments as diverse as the Royal Horse Artillery, the Shropshire Yeomanry, The Royal Airforce, the Royal Engineers and the Loyal South Lancashire Regiment.
Faded from the sunlight and water-damaged from a leaky chimney, we had become increasingly worried about its condition.
We were very happy when John Benson and Linda Barley at our National Waterways Archive at Ellesmere Port suggested they might know someone who could help with our rescue operation.
The document was carefully removed from our yard at Ellesmere and taken to the National Waterways Museum.
It then began its long journey north to Scotland to Riley Dunn and Wilson, the UK’s leading book and paper conservation specialists.
On arrival at the company’s bindery and conservation studio in Falkirk, the first step was to remove the document from its original frame and to assess the condition and advise on the conservation work needed.
Conservation work involved drying the document and dry cleaning surface grime and infilling of missing parts of the document. Water marks and ingrained damage could not be removed by conservation methods. Instead a digital clean-up was advised as being the best way to restore the document to its former glory.
Names which were legible, faded and almost missing were then enhanced digitally after further discussions with the waterway archive.
When all of the digital clean-up was completed, a fully restored facsimile was printed on paper similar to the original before fading, staining and water damage occurred.
A new frame was then selected in keeping with the original wooden frame profile and the facsimile print inserted under glass and acid free mountboard.
After two months of hard work, the conservation work was complete. Both the original repaired document and frame were then returned to the National Waterways Museum, along with a framed facsimile copy.
As a tribute to the canal men who served their country, the memorial is now in safe keeping in the Museum’s permanent collection. The framed copy is back at Ellesmere Yard.
In August we held our annual open day at the Yard offering guided tours of the site. For the first time we had a stand where the public could come and find out about their family history and explore family connections with the names on the list. This really added an extra dimension to the weekend! Our volunteer, Chris, has already found out a little more about 15 names on the list.
The research now continues to find out what became of the skilled craftsmen from Ellesmere who bravely put down their tools to fight in World War I.
Heritage Advisor: North Wales & Borders
The work carried out by the heritage team is extremely varied, covering all sorts of structures and a wide variety of projects. Not one week is the same and we keep learning all the time, meeting some fascinating people and visiting stunning places along the way. We are hoping that through our blogs we can share some of our passion for the amazing industrial heritage of the inland waterways.See more blogs from Heritage team