A once imposing war memorial dedicated to members of the print union Natsopa has been restored to its former glory and takes pride of place in a new peace garden in Wellsborough, Leicestershire.
The memorial is dedicated to the 380 members of the Natsopa printers’ union (the National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants – a Unite heritage union) who were killed in the First World War, 1914-18 and has been painstakingly restored to its former glory after years of neglect.
It was originally part of a commemoration garden at the former Natsopa Memorial Care Home, which once stood on this site, and officially opened to residents just over 100 years ago on March 29, 1921.
Sadly, when the home was closed down in 2012, the garden and Memorial was left all but forgotten, becoming overgrown and dilapidated. Happily, both have now been brought back to their former glory – and the site is open to all who wish to visit and pay their respects to the union members who were killed, and for those seeking out the serenity of a garden of peace.
The memorial in 1921
The 1921 garden was a peaceful, focal point in the 14 acre grounds of the Natsopa Memorial Care Home in Wellsborough. The convalescent home was built as a place of rest and recuperation for retired and injured Natsopa members and their wives.
In its heyday it featured 55 private bedrooms, self-contained cottages plus communal areas and gardens, all of which were set in an idyllic location with panoramic countryside views in all directions.
The union facilities were truly fit for heroes. There were two billiards rooms, a music and games room, a reading and writing room, two sun rooms, a large recreational and social hall and a large dining room that could accommodate 120 people. There was also a modern hospital ward that was staffed by a full-time matron and nurse.
The Natsopa home closed in 1974 and was soon taken over by the Pilgrims Friend Society, a Christian charity caring for the elderly. They ran the site until 2012 when the care home closed for the last time.
But as is the way with these things once derelict the building quickly fell into disrepair. It was ravaged by arsonists and vandals, and the once magnificent gardens and grounds became overlooked and overgrown. The Memorial was desecrated, vandalised and the brass plaque honouring the Natsopa members was stolen.
The gardens at their zenith
In 2012, property developers Springbourne Homes, bought the Wellsborough site – and company chairman Adrian Burr discovered the granite structure smothered by brambles and weeds, in a neglected state so dreadful it wasn’t even clear that it was even a war memorial at all.
The former Care Home was to be demolished to make way for 19 new homes. But Burr was intrigued to know more about the mysterious structure and commissioned local journalist Robert Beasley and historian Nigel Palmer to research the site – and reveal the history of the granite pile.
Burr immediately pledged to fully restore the union members’ memorial and to give it pride of place in a special peace garden – to be a focal point of the new homes development.
He also launched a nationwide search to discover the names of the 380 members who’d been killed in action, a search that attracted widespsread full media coverage and ultimately proved successful.
Burr was delighted he would now be able to honour each man individually and guarantee that future generations “will remember all 380 of them”.
The 2021 Memorial Peace Garden is now open to the public. A separate path cuts through an avenue of trees and rose bushes to lead people to the memorial square where there are wrought iron benches for quiet contemplation and reflection.
Former print workers Tony Burke and Ann Field by the restored monument
The thoughtful, carefully designed space makes the Memorial Peace Garden a tranquil setting and a fitting tribute to the sacrifices made by and the loss of 380 union members of from over a century past.
Springbourne Homes thanked Unite assistant general secretary, Tony Burke, together with former Unite national officer Ann Field, now working at the Marx Memorial Museum, for their ‘invaluable help and support in restoring the monument’.
Unite AGS Tony Burke has visited the site and is delighted with the results. He told UNITElive, “The memorial was found damaged and vandalised with its brass plaque stolen. Some of the granite blocks were broken and it was originally sited in overgrown gardens.
“Springbourne Homes could have demolished what was left of the memorial but Adrian Burr set about tracing the history of the site and the memorial, via the media, which lead directly back to Unite.
“NATSOPA is one of our legacy unions, with membership in Fleet Street, Manchester and provincial newspapers and in printing and publishing. It had a proud internationalist and socialist background. So when they advised us they would rebuild the memorial and manufacture a new plaque using the old Natsopa badge we were delighted,” reports Burke.
Ann Field was herself a Natsopa official and later the GPMU. Burke continues, “Ann researched the history of the care home and the memorial finding the roll of honour of the 380 members killed in action in WW1.
“All 380 names and their rank are included on the company’s website dedicated to their memory. Unite has thanked the company for the wonderful restoration work. They intend to have a memorial service at the site on all future Remembrance Sundays,” he added.
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Compiled by Amanda Campbell, @amanda_unite