Kingston War memorial stands in the War Memorial Gardens on Union Street, KT1.
It is a free standing Grade 2 bronze statue. Memorial Gardens are part of Southwark Diocese and consecrated. It also comes with Planning consent (renewed in 2019) as part of British Land’s Eden Walk project. Currently Kingston First and Kingston Council are leading on a public realm initiative called “Happy Spaces,” part of which involves relocation of the War Memorial to the recently renamed “memorial square”. The main Idea behind the proposals – we were told – is to improve pedestrian flow and encourage good social activity.
Members of the Kingston Society committee attended a public zoom meeting organised by the architects David White Ltd and saw public boards exhibited at the site. Residents are told this initiative is part of Kingston town’s public realm strategy: Reimagining Kingston Town Centre’s Streets and Spaces which was completed in collaboration with Kingston First, Kingston Council, Kingston University and the Greater London Authority.
However, on close inspection, there is no reference to War Memorial Relocation in this 104-page document. We struggle to understand where this idea came from in the first place. Apart from a mention of vague alleyway improvements, welcoming and accessible streets etc. (page 74) relocating the war memorial was not discussed in those early talks/walks (which KS members attended).
The War Memorial Trust last gave a grant for this sculpture in 2005 and was made aware of the proposal only after our prompt. They generally oppose relocations unless a memorial is at risk or no longer accessible to the public for commemoration. This is not the case for Kingston WM. We were told they are waiting for further information from the drivers of this idea.
As it stands this looks like a massive waste of public time (and money). Turning consecrated ground into a commercially viable ‘happy space” is a sensitive subject and blasé removal of a Grade 2 statue from its original place (unveiled 11th November 1923) to a busy pedestrian walkway requires proper consultation. Website and presentation boards shown to residents lack proper detail and come with no alternative designs. Designers and drivers behind this idea need to be reminded that this is not a simple garden transformation and they should find a way to accommodate the statue in its rightful place as part of their future plans.
If you wish to find out more on this you can visit: https://www.kingstonfirst.co.uk/happy-spaces/