A seafarers’ memorial garden, including a memorial stone, being built at Runcorn Cemetery as part of an investment in the site to honour those who served at sea, is making progress.
Work on the partnership project is expected to be finished by the end of April, weather permitting, by North West firm Dunkil Developments, in partnership with Halton Borough Council and local historian Tony Miller.
For more than 160 years Runcorn Cemetery has served the town as a last resting place for its citizens and it continues to perform that role today. There are many interesting aspects of the cemetery including maritime connections.
Runcorn has been an inland port for centuries and it was particularly busy in the latter half of the 19th and into the first half of the 20th century.
Sailors from all around the world passed through Runcorn’s port and sadly some of them lost their lives here.
If a sailor died in the town, through accident or illness, and there was no family to organise a burial, the local authority had to perform that task, many sailors came from many places, and no one knew their true identity.
An area of the cemetery was set aside for such burials in unmarked graves and that area still exists today. A memorial was erected many years ago to commemorate the sailors but it mostly goes unnoticed by visitors.
In early 2019 local historian, Tony Miller, approached the Council and explained that he would like to commemorate those who had sailed during WW1 & WW2.
The Tom Wilkinson VC statue appeal is going to honour Tom Wilkinson VC and the seafarers and mariners of Widnes at a later date this year in West Bank.
It was decided that a seafarers’ memorial garden, including the memorial stone dedicated to the seafarers and mariners of Runcorn who sailed during WW1 & WW2, ought to be created at the site where the sailors lie.
*Widnes seafarers and mariners will have their own memorial, in West Bank at a later date.
It is an investment in the site that will honour our ancestors and provide a pleasant place for people to visit and reflect.
The entrance will be sited next to the internal cemetery road and the garden will be fully accessible to those with disabilities.
The granite memorial plaque, donated by the Tom Wilkinson VC Statue Appeal, of which Mr Miller is the founder, secretary and trustee, will be set on a sandstone plinth at the garden entrance. A parking layby will be constructed, with a level-access footpath leading to the garden gates.
The garden will be rectangular, surrounded by a low stone wall topped with a steel rail. Access will be through a pair of steel gates hung from stone piers.
The memorial stone cross and an existing steel-framed information board will be relocated to the new garden, where they will receive greater community prominence.
A Council spokesman said: “The memorial cross will be set on a stone dais with a flagpole in a formal gathering area, where ceremonies of remembrance will be performed.”
“The garden will be planted with tree species from far-flung parts of the globe, representing many of the exotic locations linked economically and culturally to Runcorn by the Merchant Navy.”
The idea started when Tony wanted to honour the seafarers & mariners of both towns, it was agreed with Chris Stapleton (Chairman & Trustee of The Tom Wilkinson VC statue appeal) to arrange for a memorial stone for him which was achievable.
Tom had started his sailing life as a Merchant seaman. During WW1 a ship he was on was torpedoed and it had to limp back to port. He continued doing the Atlantic run throughout the war. After the war he sailed for Blue Funnel out of Birkenhead.
Merchant navy crews saved our country and many other countries from starvation delivering food and arms to fight the enemy in both world wars.
Tony said: “The Seafarers and Mariners were never recognised for all their very dangerous work. No Cenotaph or War Memorial honours these great men. We thought it would be fitting to recognise them with an official recognition to these great men.”
Tony who knows Jack Hartley, who has been restoring the long forgotten graves of the fallen from WW1 and WW2 in Widnes cemetery, happened to mention about a memorial to the seafarers & mariners of Runcorn
Jack then arranged for his son, who owns Northwich Fireplace Centre, to donate the memorial stone and Johnathan Whiteside who works for Northwich Fireplace Centre, cut, shaped and polished the stone in his own time; dozens of hours work for the appeal.
Runcorn was once the primary port for the export of salt, tanned hides and leather for WWI (most of the boots worn by British troops was Runcorn tanned leather)
Our town also shipped stone from the Runcorn quarries to New York to build the ports there, and to many other countries throughout the world!
The garden is being funded through the Veolia Environment Fund.