What’s different about this Lancaster war memorial?
PUBLISHED: 14:50 06 October 2020 | UPDATED: 14:50 06 October 2020
Miss Whalley’s Field was left to the people of Lancaster after World War One
In a corner of a Lancaster suburb there’s a field that is forever a reminder of a sister’s love for her brother, father and her native city.
The site – known as Miss Whalley’s Field – was bought with money bequeathed by Miss Frances Geraldine Whalley, who died in 1939, aged 57.
She stipulated that the land should be ‘for the use and enjoyment and benefit exclusively or mainly, of children residing in the Borough of Lancaster’ and was given in memory of her brother, Julian, who was killed in World War One, and their father, Colonel J Lawson Whalley.
Julian, who had originally joined the King’s Own Royal Regiment, was a captain in the Essex Regiment when he died in a German Field Hospital in France in 1917, aged 33. Colonel Whalley was Colonel Commandant in the King’s Own.
The field, now designated as an official war memorial and with spectacular views across Lancaster from Derwent Road, has a certain amount of protection from development and is no longer in the Local Plan.
It was fears of such development that prompted the Friends of Miss Whalley’s Field to be formed in 2015.
Since then, these volunteers have partnered with Lancaster City Council which has managed the field for almost 70 years. The council helps to maintain the site, working closely with the Friends by organising tree planting days, training and overseeing their management plan.
In 2017, on the centenary of Julian Whalley’s death, a special memorial was unveiled and on each November 11, it’s the focus of a Remembrance service.
Unfortunately, very little is known about Miss Whalley and no photographs of her seem to exist though it is assumed that she was a wealthy woman. The step-daughter of ‘Lino King’ Lord Ashton, as well as leaving enough money to buy land, she also bequeathed watercolours, furniture, pottery and porcelain to Lancaster City Museum.
She lived at Heaves near Kendal at the time of her death and is buried in Lancaster Cemetery.
One of her few surviving descendants is great niece, Jean Argles who played her own important role in wartime as documented in the book, The Codebreaking Sisters, which came out this year. Jean remembers her great aunt as very kind and generous, once giving her a pony for Christmas.
The Friends are currently planning to name a wood in the field after Jean which will be filled with 750 trees and 4,500 bulbs.
Past Friends projects include removing tonnes of flytipped rubbish and installing two benches and a noticeboard. Fundraising is an ongoing issue and they also help the community bonfire organised by the nearby Gregson Community Centre and held on the field each November.
There are about 90 volunteers – ranging in age from five to pensioners – and members have included refugees from Somalia and Syria who have settled in Lancaster.
As Miss Whalley wished, children are very much involved with the field and all four nearby schools have taken part in activities there.
Lancaster Royal Grammar School boys participated in the centenary service and last summer, Christ Church School pupils buried a time capsule on the field and held a celebratory picnic.
Castle View School children painted pebbles reflecting the field’s history with the winning one to be placed on Julian Whalley’s grave at Cambrai and most recently, Central Lancaster High School pupils began a memorial garden which was half finished when lockdown thwarted their plans though locals stepped in and planted wildflowers which bloomed there during the summer.
‘It’s been a focus of ours to involve local children and the community completely in our plans,’ said Friends group chair Paul Wiggins.
‘It’s very important to us that the field is for everyone and I love its multi-purpose aspect. It’s in an urban area with fantastic views of the castle but in places you could be in a hay meadow in the countryside and in others you could be in a park.’
The 5.8 acre field, which has been wartime allotments and a football pitch in the past, is now a wildlife haven with sightings of kestrels, sparrowhawks, barn owls and buzzards as well as hedgehogs, butterflies, bats and even roe deer.
Future plans include improving access for the less able and working with United Utilities to improve land drainage.
And Paul added: ‘If Miss Whalley was to come to see the field now, the work being done here and how it is appreciated, I’d like to think she would be pleased.’
* For more information, visit misswhalleysfield.org.uk.