National Trust to revive the “world’s greatest war memorial”

Press release
Scafell Pike and Wastwater in Winter with snow
Published : 15 Jan 2018 Last update : 29 Jan 2018

After the Great War came the greatest of gifts. Scafell Pike and 12 other Lakeland summits were given to the National Trust in the years after peace was declared, becoming Britain’s most spectacular and unique memorial to those lost in World War One.

The “Great Gift” – Scafell Pike from Lord Leconfield and the 12 summits from the Fell and Rock Climbing Club – was one of the largest ever donations to the Trust, ensuring that each year, hundreds of thousands of Britons and visitors can freely walk the mountains today.

Now, 100 years on, the conservation charity is expressing its gratitude with a series of commemorations – including rebuilding the summit cairn on Scafell Pike, England’s tallest mountain. Rangers will camp out on the peak to carry out this work, including resetting the memorial plaque within the walls of the cairn.

In addition to this, the re-dedication of the mountains will include work to repair paths on Scafell Pike and Great Gable, while a project supported by the Arts Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council will bring together musicians and choirs for a ‘song cycle’ across the 12 mountains of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club gift. At Wordsworth House in Cockermouth an exhibition called Where Poppies Blow, with award-winning author John Lewis-Stempel, will explore the role of nature in helping soldiers through the horrors of battle.

British mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington, who spent several years in the Royal Tank Regiment, said, “I can’t help but be inspired every time I return home to the Lakes, by its wildness and charm, and the challenges it presents. Beyond its staggering beauty, the Lake District has a rich cultural history and a web of fascinating stories.”

“It’s also very important that the millions of people who visit the area each year play their part, alongside conservationists like the National Trust, in looking after our fells for the future.”

Marian Silvester, General Manager for the National Trust, said, “Millions of people visit the Lake District each year, but few are familiar with the story behind these mountains, which we are extremely proud to look after. By re-dedicating the peaks, not only are we remembering the past, but looking to the future to ensure this inspiring landscape can be enjoyed by generations to come.”

On Armistice Day this year, the National Trust will light a beacon on top of Scafell Pike, just as Lord Leconfield did on Peace Day – 19th July 1919.

The history

Peace Day 1919 was Britain’s chance to really recognise, and celebrate the end of World War One. While Armistice Day, commemorated annually, was the ceasefire, it took until the 28 June for both sides to sign the Treaty of Versailles. Peace Day took place on July 19.

Shortly after, Lake District landowner Charles Henry Wyndham, the 3rd Baron Leconfield, gifted Scafell Pike to the National Trust. Lord Leconfield, an honorary member of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club, donated the mountain “in perpetual memory of the men of the Lake District who fell for God and King, for freedom, peace and right in the Great War.” A memorial stone to remember the fallen was introduced a few years later.

The gift of the 12 peaks to the Trust by the Fell and Rock Climbing Club was made in 1923. They are Lingmell, Broad Crag, Great End, Seathwaite Fell, Allen Crags, Glaramara, Kirk Fell, Great Gable, Green Gable, Base Brown, Brandreth and Grey Knotts. 

The donation triggered a series of endowments to the Trust and a marked a transformational moment in the nation’s relationship with beautiful landscapes, paving the way for the formation of the first national park.

A dedication ceremony, described at the time as ‘as service in the clouds’ was held on top of Great Gable in 1924 and led by author, poet and renowned British mountaineer, Geoffrey Winthrop Young. Young continued to tackle famous peaks after being wounded and losing a leg when working as an ambulance driver at the Battle of San Gabriele in Italy.

He said, “Upon this mountain summit we are met today to dedicate this space of hills to freedom. Upon this rock are set the names of men – our brothers, and our comrades upon these cliffs – who held with us, that there is no freedom of the soil where the spirit of man is in bondage, and who surrendered their part in the fellowship of hill and wind, and sunshine, that the freedom of this land, the freedom of our spirit, should endure.”

The Trust’s series of activities to mark the centenary of the end of World War One echo Young’s sentiment with an underlying theme of freedom.

Over 15 million people visit the Lake District each year, which was designated a World Heritage Site in 2017. To find out more, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/thelakes