Cenotaph centenary celebrations hit by Covid

PLANS to mark the mark the centenary of the unveiling of the cenotaph on Werneth Low will, because of Covid-19, be decidedly low key.

But the Hyde War Memorial Trust is determined the momentous anniversary of the monument to the 710 men of Hyde who lost their lives in the First World War, does not go unobserved.

Trust chairman Frank Gradwell explained: “We had great ideas following the centenary of the Armistice in 2018 to make 2021 a special year, but like all best laid plans it just isn’t going to happen.

Werneth Low Opening ceremony aerial view

“We will have some form of commemoration and hold our Peace Day service, possibly digitally, like last year. But, until we know a way out of all the aspects of this lockdown and how to be Covid compliant when we are given the green light, a date and a final plan are simply beyond guessing.”

It was back on June 25, 1921 that the cenotaph, which is located of an area known as Hacking Knife, was unveiled in a public ceremony.

The obelisk was constructed from Cornish granite at a cost of £2,000 which equates to more than £66,000 at today’s prices.

It was back in March 1920 that a public appeal was set up to raise money for the cenotaph and in only two months more than £14,500 was raised, the equivalent to almost £500,000 today.

Apart from the cenotaph, the money was spent on worthy causes.

Scholarships were awarded to 33 children, dependants of fallen servicemen, at a cost of £3,750 which is about £125,000 as today’s prices.

Joe Recitation

Lower Higham Lodge, gifted to the fund by the Adamson family, was converted to become the Aspland Maternity Home at a cost of £4,250 which is more than £140,000 as of the present time.

And Lower Higham Farm, today’s visitor centre which is the gateway to Werneth Low Joint Country Park, was purchased at a cost of £4,000. The farmhouse was valued recently at £680,000 for insurance purposes.

The gift of the farm was made with the intention, according to the Trust’s deeds, that it should be held for the good of the inhabitants of the borough of Hyde, and that parts of it, and particularly the area known as the Hacking Knife should be open and unbuilt upon and be available at all times for the residents of Hyde.

Standing Room Only at a previous event

The Trust is mandated to hold two services each day

To mark Peace Day, it is obliged to lay a wreath on the cenotaph on the nearest Sunday to June 28, the date of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that formally ended World War One.

A Remembrance Day service on the Sunday nearest to November 11, the day the guns fell silent.

This is held later in the day than the civic services to allow those attending to make their way to the visitor centre and proceed to the memorial.

Hyde Borough Council ran the Trust from 1921 to 1973 but was found to have been at fault when a group of residents challenged them about a proposed housing development on some of the land, and the Charity Commission stepped in.

In 1976 the Commission created a new scheme of management which gave the new Tameside Council three seats on the Trust, but ensured that people elected, nominated by organisations or appointed by the Trust for their skills would always hold the majority.

That is how the Trust operates today, non-political, non-religious and every decision considered ‘in Trust’ by all the trustees, which has been very difficult during the pandemic when face-to-face meetings have largely been impossible with Zoom or email consultation the chosen route.

In 1979 a joint agreement between the Trust, Tameside Council and Greater Manchester Council (GMC) set up the Werneth Low Joint Country Park, comprising roughly 50 acres of local authority land and 150 acres belonging to the Trust. Each of the three bodies had five seats on the governing authority for the country park.

Lower Higham, then derelict, was renovated using the damages awarded against the Hyde borough council for their maladministration, but which was later settled by Tameside Council.

GMC went out of existence in 1985 and their five seats went to Tameside Council. As the 1979 agreement expired last year, discussions for its renewal began, but they have been interrupted by Covid so a temporary one has been put in place until something permanent has been agreed.

In what should have been a year of celebration, the visitor centre remains shut.

What has the Trust been doing with the last lost year? And how is it planning for the future?
While Tameside Council pays the lion’s share of running the country park, the Trust is responsible for the visitor centre and cenotaph.

And during lockdown, the Trust’s unpaid volunteers, has been working away quietly and unseen to upgrade and change facilities for a second century.

Due to the warden retiring, the flat at the visitor centre is currently unoccupied. The Trust found problems bringing it up to modern compliance standards and substantial funds have had to be spent to make it separate and capable of being separately let which it will be done this summer.

This work is almost complete.

The visitor area is being totally revamped. The size of the kitchen is being almost trebled, fresh furnishings are being sought, so look out for ‘The Hacking Knife Café’ providing exactly what it did before but with modern IT so you can learn from your phone and not just reading poster boards.

There will soon be a window for ‘off sales’ so you can picnic as well. To assist with this, they will be putting self-closing gates on the orchard so children can play safe and not run out onto the road unimpeded.

Katie Lowry, the new Greenspace officer, has a programme of events planned for the country park will be announced once Covid is out of the way.

And there have been two new trustees recently appointed, Sue Ellis from Werneth Low Neighbourhood Watch and Sue Plackett of Gee Cross Neighbourhood Watch.

Of the current challenges, Frank said: “Perhaps the most galling and unnecessary waste of our time is protecting our boundaries.

“Why houseowners alongside feel entitled to encroach into what is, after all, charity land and a war memorial I do not know, but they do – but we know how to deal with it when they do. Their house plots were bought out of Trust land and they have legal obligations.

“Frustrating isn’t the word we use at the moment – we aren’t stopping, we aren’t slowing down, and we are looking to the future. If people feel they have something to offer, they can always come forward and offer assistance and advice.

“Our message is enjoy the country park, respect those with rights in the area, the golf course and our grazing areas, and look out for announcements on our Facebook site ‘The 710 men of Hyde’ but above all – respect the land, take your litter home and please do not hang ‘strange fruit’ on our trees!”

• See more about the history at www.hwmt.org

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