Take Away That Bauble 3/7: The Display of War Ordnance in Walsall 1850 – 1940.


Jumping on the Bang Wagon: Acquisition, Siting and Designing 1857 – 1859

Walsall’s application to Lord Panmure was born from a ‘special meeting’ of the town council on 5 June 1857,[1] starting an eighteen month process to complete – six months longer than Wolverhampton, fifteen longer than Tunstall. It was due, as suggested here, to Walsall viewing the acquisition of the guns as a status symbol and lacking any clear vision over what to do with them, how to finance them and what they were to represent.[2]

Before the meeting there had been no formal discussion within the council, no local newspaper or correspondent had raised the issue, nor was there any evidence of a public consultation. The proposal was made by former mayor Francis Oerton, and that it was carried unanimously suggests it was fait accompli. It was a closed-shop decision, but then again that was the purpose of the Council, and Wolverhampton and Ludlow were among other towns to take the same approach.[3]

The proposal was as vague as Glasgow’s: ‘application be made to the War Office… for one or more war trophies taken from Sebastopol to put in some public place in the Borough’.[4] The Walsall Free Press adding ‘it being know that such trophies of war are being presented to other places’.[5] The wording of this request suggests the primary motivation was civic pride, but the method of approach was not unusual: Coventry, Ludlow and Wolverhampton, for example, would discuss the siting of their ordnance after their request had been granted.

It maybe reflective of the priority given to the ‘trophies’ that a month passed before the Town Clerk transmitted: ‘a petition… to grant them a memorial of the late war’.[6] Panmure offered Walsall two cannon on 21 July:[7] ‘having perfect confidence in the public spirit of the town that he could do so with safety, and they would be faithful to their charge’.[8] The cannon needed to be mounted for presentation; towns could supply their own, otherwise three were available from Woolwich’.[9]

The council met on 5 August to discuss the question of how to finance it.[10] It was agreed, likely on the Town Clerk’s advice, that the rates could not be used to fund the scheme and a public subscription should be sought. This was consistent with Wolverhampton.[11] A fund (for monument and carriages) and sub-committee to administer it were duly appointed. The sub-committee had a second task, again consistent with Wolverhampton, Coventry and Ludlow’s approach, which was seeking ‘some convenient site’. Convenient is subjective: the first location mooted was ‘the sloping part of the hill by the church’, but was objected to on moral grounds as ‘trophies of war, and an establishment of peace, would be inconsistent in close proximity’.[12] Convenient can also become inconvenient: Ludlow identified a site in Castle Walk, then opted to place its cannon in Market Place, before moving it to the original site as it caused an obstruction.[13] For Walsall the issue remained unresolved and a bugbear.

It took until 19 September to reply to Panmure and then to say that Walsall, like Wolverhampton, would have a ‘No. 1’ Woolwich carriage for their guns. An acknowledgement was received regarding the order sometime in October,[14] around the time Walsall partook in the Day of Humiliation for the Indian Mutiny.[15]

The period from August 1857 to February 1858 was spent raising subscriptions for the guns. The collection overlapped with that for the Indian Relief Fund, and while the guns raised around sixty pounds by the end of 1858, Bloxwich alone raised seventy-two pounds for the Relief Fund in half the time.[16] Other than a question at the Town Commissioner’s Meeting on 6 January 1858 over the date of reception, there was no further discussion on the guns in Council or in the Walsall Free Press. General disinterest maybe a fair comment.

The cannon and carriages arrived at Walsall station on 5 February. The newspaper made a small comment, signing-off over a location for them.[17] The carriage cost was borne by the railway company, however, the Council were informed that wharfage would be charged at six shillings per week.[18] The only comment recorded in the newspaper was a dispassionate one by A.F. Brooks, who opined to place them on The Bridge and if another resting place is decided, ‘it will not be much trouble to remove them at any future day’.[19]

No fanfare greeted the guns on their arrival, or procession to a fitting, if temporary, resting place. Tunstall, who would also later remove their gun, had a clear plan and financed their gun within three months. There, several-hundred people turned out in atrocious weather to hear speeches, take part in a procession, sing patriotic songs and dedicate the monument that stood for the ‘bravery of British troops’, but also ‘victory upon victory’.[20] Hereford did likewise, however, opinion was divided as Ludlow, who were equally well organised and had elected not to arrange festivities.[21] It is just symptomatic of Walsall’s functional approach.

Wharfage mounting, a special meeting was arranged on 17 February to discuss the location, with the Town Clerk reminding members that the rates could not be used, although some costs ‘might be defrayed by the Commissioners’.[22] Sites discussed were outside the Guildhall (rejected due to potential expansion), the Town Hall and The Bridge (the town square). The guns were not treated with the solemnity of a war memorial, as they became objects of passing humour.[23] Despite a debate over whether the site would become a haven for ‘idle and disreputable characters’ or ‘protection for ladies and children from passing carriages’,[24] it was resolved that the cannon would be ‘placed at the centre of the Bridge and that the Commissioners be requested to erect a pedestal platform with a large lamp in the middle’.[25]

In the meantime, without ceremony, the guns were to be moved to some open ‘meadows near the Grand Stand [of the racecourse]’. They stood on view while the annual Orange Fair procession took place, wherein was ‘shown the Battle of the Alma, the awful Charge of Balaklava, the glorious Fall of Sebastopol – “from which those ‘ere guns standing over the way wos captured and taken”’.[26] Bearing in mind local men fought in these battles, it seemed they could be used for entertainment purposes without offence.

There then followed an extraordinary passage of events that made the Council’s planning look suspect and the earl of Bradford unsympathetic and avaricious. The Council moved the guns to a site that was the property of the earl, whose agent immediately informed them they had no consent and seeking: ‘some small acknowledgement in the accommodation or remove them forthwith’.[27] The council failed to act and he wrote again on 8 March stating he would not let it rest; perhaps his comment that he had as ‘much right to place the guns within your private garden’ prompted fears he would and the guns were moved to the Commissioners yard and away from public gaze.[28]

The planning and financing debacle continued. The matter was referred to the Improvement Commissioners and then to the Street Committee.[29] On 10 April, the Walsall Free Press reported that a creditable model had been constructed by the Borough Surveyor, with guns, lamp, platform and palisade. A report from the Street Committee believed that: ‘such an erection would be an obstruction to the through-fare’. After his original advice, the Town Clerk now questioned if the Commissioners had the right to use the rates for such a project and even if they did, ‘he was of the opinion that the present was not the time for expending them on mere adornment’ – a phrase curiously devoid of respect for the cannon afforded by a town like Wolverhampton, for example.[30] The meeting returned to debating sites and the nature of the feature, braking-up without any conclusion.

On 23 April the council met again.[31] This time what appeared to be a definitive resolution was passed: ‘that the Russian Guns be placed upon a stone platform raised no more than one foot from the surface of the road and not to exceed twelve feet square, the centre… in line with the centre of the George Hotel… the guns to point up Park Street’. Further, a committee be formed to ‘obtain further subscriptions necessary to pay the cost’, and that ‘the Gas Committee place a large lamp between the guns’.[32]

The next seven months were ones of palpable inactivity. The only correspondent writing to the Walsall Free Press that mentioned the guns used them indirectly. An Inhabitant wrote advocating a public park in Walsall on 24 April: ‘Manchester and several towns I find the Sebastopol trophies are placed in public parks – why should not the same course be adopted here?’[33] Indeed, the park and library were the main correspondent subjects. MM wrote an ambiguous missive in the August, possibly just a comment about the inactivity, warning of an alleged plot to break into the Commissioners yard: ‘where the guns obtained by our town council as relics of the Crimean War are placed, and of loading and firing the said guns to the great annoyance and sleepless agitation of the public. I would advise the council put someone on lookout… or if they would save themselves the cost, to remove the guns’.[34]

Still nothing was done. In early November the Mayor reassured Councillor Cox that ‘the Sebastopol trophies would shortly be placed upon The Bridge with a suitable lamp over them’,[35] yet this would not happen without another debate on 1 December. The Mayor had collated the subscriptions which amounted to around fifty-eight pounds, and felt that would pay for the carriages and placing them, should he be given ‘management of the affair’, either side of the Guildhall entrance. The Mayor, now against The Bridge location due to the obstruction argument, wanted to forgo the lamp and thought, if required in the future, they could be removed at little cost and sited in a park.[36] A debate followed. Oerton, believed that the subscriptions were raised on the site being The Bridge and so ‘it would be a breach of faith’ not to comply. The Surveyor believed a plinth could be erected, excluding the lamp (defrayed by the Gas Committee) and palisade, for around thirty pounds. Perhaps wearily, the Mayor instructed the Streets Committee to go ahead and promised ‘as little time as possible would be lost in carrying out the instruction’.[37]

Concluding, the cannon were obtained by a Liberal Council seemingly as a status symbol for the town. There was no plan, vision or urgency in the Council’s actions once the guns were offered, and few seemed to be interested judging by the newspapers and the subscription collection. The guns were never given a memorial status, just an ornamental one.

[1] Acc 360/25: Minutes of the Town Council. Special Meeting 5 June 1857.

[2] Walsall Free Press. 15 August 1857. Correspondents. p4: Correspondent ‘A Constant Reader’ wrote to the editor on the lack of progress on a Free Library that was agreed upon, calling it ‘a Walsall Job’, and suggesting there were feelings in the town that the council were not the swiftest at decision making.

[3] See Bartlett, R. &. Payne. R. 2014. p663 (Ludlow acquisition).

[4] Acc 360/25: Minutes of the Town Council. Special Meeting 5 June 1857.

[5] Walsall Free Press. 6 June 1857. Special Meeting of the Town Council. p4.

[6] Acc 19/2 Town Clerk’s Out-Letter Book. 6 July 1857. p237.

[7] ibid. 25 July 1857. p245

[8] This was Panmure’s standard response: Walsall Free Press. 8 August 1857. Monthly Meeting of the Town Commissioners. p4.

[9] Wolverhampton Chronicle. 4 Nov 1857. Trophies of the Crimean War. p4.

[10] Acc 408/1 Walsall Town Council Minutes. 5 August 1857. See figure four.

[11] Wolverhampton Chronicle. 16 Dec 1857. Trophies for the Borough. p4.

[12] Walsall Free Press. 8 Au 1857. Meeting of the Town Commissioners. p4.

[13] Bartlett, R. &. Payne. R. 2014. p664

[14] Acc 1/1/15/76 Town Clerk’s In Letters. October 1857. Acknowledgement from War Office.

[15] Walsall Free Press. 10 October 1857. Day of Humiliation. p4. ‘Nearly every shop was closed – the din of numerous factories hushed’.

[16] Walsall Free Press. 28 Nov 1857. Bloxwich Subscription to the Fund. p4.

[17] Walsall Free Press. 6 February 1858. Russian Guns. p4.

[18] Acc 1/1/17/18 Town Clerk’s In-Letters. 17 February 1858. South Staffordshire Railway. A holding fee.

[19] Walsall Free Press. 6 February 1858. Correspondent. p4.

[20] Staffordshire Advertiser. 17 April 1858. Tunstall. p5.

[21] Bartlett, R. &. Payne. R. 2014. p664

[22] As an improvement to the town: Walsall Free Press. 20 February 1858. Meeting of the Town Council. p4.

[23] Jocular humour, like the Town Hall would be alright as a site, so long as the guns were not loaded.

[24] Walsall Free Press. 20 February 1858. Meeting of the Town Council. p4.

[25] Acc 408/1 Walsall Town Council Minutes. 17 February 1858.

[26] Walsall Free Press. 27 February 1858. Orange Fair. p4.

[27] Acc 1/1/17/22 Town Clerk’s In-Letters. 19 February 1858. Peter Potter.

[28] Acc 1/1/17/28 Town Clerk’s In-Letters. 8 March 1858. Peter Potter.

[29] The records for the Street Committee do not survive for the period.

[30] Walsall Free Press. 10 April 1858. Russian Guns. p4.

[31] The fact that it was Saint George’s Day was likely a coincidence.

[32] Acc 360/25 Town Commissioners Minutes. 23 April 1858.

[33] Walsall Free Press. 24 April 1858. Correspondents. p4. The site referred to became the Arboretum park some years later – the correspondent also mentioned illuminations evenings at a charge to the public!

[34] Walsall Free Press. 14 August 1858. Correspondence. p4.

[35] Walsall Free Press. 13 November 1858. Russian Guns. p4.

[36] Walsall Free Press. 4 Dec 1858. Improvement Commissioners. p4.

[37] ibid.

Return to Sender: The Life of the Walsall Cannon

A Walsall resident could be forgiven for thinking that despite the functional view of the Town Council and Improvement Commissioners, the earl of Bradford, the Walsall Free Press and its correspondents, the exhausting eighteen-month process in acquiring, financing, locating and choosing a design for the feature was now over. Sadly, it was not. The feature would fail and it is suggested for three major reasons: first, the town was never comfortable with it as an aesthetic and functional centrepiece; second, it failed as a war memorial to the campaign and the combatants as it was never promoted as such and third, the coup de grace, was the combination of a driven councillor and an international political situation that had seemingly unravelled all that war had achieved.

On 1 January 1859, the Walsall Free Press commented that: ‘Workmen are busily engaged in erecting the platform on the Bridge for the Sebastopol trophies… That the guns will be an ornament to the Bridge is questionable, but there can be no doubt that the lamp that will be placed over them will be very serviceable’.[1] The lessee of the tolls (who paid to rent space for market stalls) was not impressed; at a meeting of the Improvement Commissioners on 17 January, he complained that the feature: ‘occupying a considerable portion of the Bridge, which on fair days was occupied by exhibitions, he calculated at being put to considerable loss and therefore requested the Commissioners allow him some compensation’.[2] The Commissioners agreed if it were proved.[3] Hardly an audacious start.

The next year would see changes to the overall design of the feature. In May, a clock on The Bridge had to be moved as it impeded a building renovation.[4] As the clock was a lamp too, the Commissioners decided to utilise it as a part of the cannon feature as it was ‘a decided improvement upon the lamp at present’.[5] It was to be sited on a twenty-four foot pillar.[6]

On 6 July the Commissioners decided to replace the clock due to its irregular construction,[7] selling the old one to offset costs. The project was chargeable to the Commissioners, estimated costs to be sixty-five pounds,[8] however, another subscription was mooted. Councillor Hazledine agreed, as the rates were ‘already high’, whereas Councillor Oerton ‘confessed collecting subscriptions was a very unpleasant task’.[9] Councillor Day’s proposal that ‘the public should pay for what was undeniably a public benefit… and that the tender of Mr. Evans… for a clock at £20 10s… for the pillar at £40, be accepted’, was approved.

William Meikle’s painting of the feature (1938). Meikle was born in Tipton around 1858, but moved to Walsall in the 1860s. He died, at the age of 84, in 1943. Acc 63/6: Walsall Local History Centre

Oerton’s response was perhaps suggestive that Walsall was asking too much, especially from its non-represented classes, for alleged town improvements. It may have been philanthropy, or that Charles Mander had paid for the same to accompany Wolverhampton’s cannon,[10] but Oerton offered, back in June, to pay for a drinking fountain to be installed as a part of the Sevastopol feature.[11] The offer was accepted and incorporated into the Commissioners’ plans with the clock. The fountain, according to Billy Meikle, writing in 1938, comprised of a single piece of granite, with a basin, bronze lion-head spout and a cast iron drinking cup attached by a chain.[12]

Walsall’s Crimean cannon feature, with clock and fountain, at the Bridge, circa 1865.
W03846: Walsall Local History Centre

While it took eighteen months from inception to completion for the cannon, it took six for the clock and pillar to replace the lamp and a little longer for the fountain to be installed and supplied. The cannon feature may have given a raison d’être for the clock (lamp) and fountain, but focus would tend to fall more on the clock than the guns; and it would be a detrimental focus, as the clock became an object of ridicule.

Complaints were soon made that it was not keeping time,[13] and the Commissioners were continually involved.[14] Tempus Fugit wrote to the Walsall Free Press in April 1863 that not only was it not illuminated but that it seldom agreed with itself (there were four faces).[15] The Council’s reaction was to repaint the entire feature, including the guns.[16] This was the only maintenance the guns received, and one of the few times they were mentioned in Council records. In January 1864 the clock’s gas regulator failed and the sub-contractor decided to investigate by striking a match to illuminate the January gloom; the result left the platform ‘rent by the explosion.’[17] In August 1865, it was said that the clock was: ‘far from being a satisfactory specimen of horological machinery, it being subject to many erratic variations and stoppage… the slight structure in which it is placed being altogether inadequate to prevent the changes of the weather from taking effect on it.’[18]

On 3 November 1868 the Commissioners met to discuss removing the clock and replacing it with a new one outside the Post Office.[19] While the ‘Bridge clock had never given satisfaction,’[20] the vote went eleven to ten to repair and retain it. The clock remained an object of mirth: in 1871, stopped by frost, it was felt that it was ‘a disgrace that the clock should be allowed to tell so many lies.’[21] In 1873, a correspondent asked if Walsall had grown as The Bridge and Church clocks reflected different time zones.[22] A poem in the Walsall Observer declared: ‘the clock is ruled by the weather, And the council is ruled by the moon,’[23] while in 1877 Councillor Jupp resented ‘that thing that told a pack of lies.’[24] When the question of the retention of the guns was to be raised, the clock had offered no favours to its neighbours, indeed, within months of their removal, it was out of action again.[25]

The first challenge to the guns was made by the sixty year-old, retired harness-manufacturer, Thomas Crumpton.[26] Not officially recorded, but reported in the press, was Crumpton’s notice of intent at the annual Commissioner’s meeting on 9 November 1870 to seek the removal of the guns. Crumpton’s motivation was personal: ‘the Russian guns should be removed to some less conspicuous place, as he abhorred everything connected with war.’[27] He advocated relocation, but his argument that it would free up space for increased market tolls was erroneous as the plinth alone would have continued to prevent more efficient spatial use. While he took it no further, Crumpton’s stand is refreshing as the first emotive opinion either way – as opposed to the ornament or trophy rhetoric.

Crumpton’s hated of the cannon may have been triggered by two events that damaged the legacy of the Crimea. The first was the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War a few months before, the Russian defeat having opened the door to Prussia to unify the German states; the second, in October 1870, was the Czar’s declaration to repudiate that part of the Treaty of Paris that denied him entry to the Black Sea.[28]

William Henry Duignan was a Walsall solicitor. An ‘advanced liberal’, he had served as mayor of Walsall in 1869 and was a close friend of Joseph Chamberlain and William Henry Robinson (founder of the Walsall Observer, 1868).[29] Duignan believed the guns were council property, but at a meeting of the Town Council on 9 January 1871 the Clerk pointed out that they were obtained through subscription. Duignan was perhaps sated by the Mayor, the progressive Edward Holden, who, above his authority perhaps, stated that: ‘In a short time we shall require something to ornament our park, and then they can be removed.’[30] Holden, whose language denies the cannon any memorial status, appears to have been in sympathy with Duignan and Crumpton. The meeting showed that attitudes to the cannon, unanimously voted for in 1857, were changing.

International politics further undermined the achievement of the Crimean War. A week after Holden’s assurance to Duignan a conference opened in London to discuss the Russian situation; it concluded in the March with access restored for Russia to the Black Sea. A second development undermined the public display of the war, when on 23 January 1874, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and second son of Queen Victoria, married the Czar’s daughter, Marie. The couple settled in England and in a new age of co-operation between the former foes, trophy cannon could be seen, as Panmure once said, to keep open the sores of war.

Just prior to the marriage the Walsall Free Press reprinted two letters from The Standard that opined the removal of guns because of the marriage as Bath were going to do.[31] The Walsall Free Press supported the retention of the guns only on the basis that they were paid for by subscription and: ‘it would be breaking faith with the subscribers to remove the cannons [unless] refunded.’[32]

The question was mooted in the Walsall Observer, where opinion was ambivalent.[33] One correspondent was favourable to their removal: the war was called ‘disastrous’, the cannon were a ‘remembrance of past strife’ and since the royal wedding there should be ‘thoughts of peace,’ while The Bridge clock was ‘a public nuisance’ and the fountain ‘used for other than its legitimate purpose.’[34] Cosmopolitan opined on retaining them: that removing the cannon would not do any good in that you cannot remove historical fact – do you stop soldiers wearing Crimean medals be ‘he decorated by England, France, Russia or Turkey.’[35]

The ambivalence of correspondents was reflected by the local politicians and clergy. Following Bath, Tunstall and Stoke elected to send their cannon back to Woolwich. Cannon were returned as technically they were not the property of the town, but that of the War Office. The decision to return cannon was perhaps easier for places like Tunstall as they were not part of a larger feature, like at Walsall.

An account of Tunstall’s decision to remove the gun was sent to the Walsall Observer and shows the complex way that people could view the cannon. Reverend Hawes, prime-mover to remove the cannon fully respected that it: ‘was a memorial of a victory in a defensive war, and of those who fell on the battle-field,’ but at the same time he was: ‘very glad to exchange the old iron trophy of war for the… trophy of peace and goodwill, which came in the person of Grand Duchess Marie.’[36] Birmingham, on the other hand, whose cannon were on display in Calthorpe Park, elected to keep theirs by a ‘large majority’.[37]

Councillor Evans, who proposed their removal in Walsall in February 1874, saw the cannon as an ‘eyesore’ and warmongering, while Councillor Sneyd added it would be a ‘graceful act… to the Duke of Edinburgh.’[38] Councillor Aulton called the motion silly, especially in a town that had: ‘manufactured munitions of war, and he had no doubt that Mr Evans had manufactured buckles for military purposes.’ Aulton went on that the war was to protect a weaker country and, despite the marriage, Russia was ‘pushing her conquests in central Asia and nearing our India possessions.’ He finished his retort, which never once mentioned those who fought from Walsall or the fallen as a whole, with medal-scrapping and prohibiting the name Alma.[39] Councillor Williams raised the question of the town’s status and patriotism.[40] As with Birmingham, the motion was overwhelmingly defeated,[41] although the Borough Surveyor was asked the following year as the best way to dispose of cannon.[42]

Politics continued to undermine the Crimean legacy. The government’s pro-Turkish policy became harder after Turkish atrocities in 1876 against the Slavs of Bulgaria,[43] then an Ottoman province, which had angered the public in Britain. In defiance of the Treaty of Paris, Russia (always viewed as the mother of the Slavic peoples) attacked Turkey in 1877 and public opinion moderated.[44] Russia’s campaign was a success and Britain mobilised in 1878 to protect Turkey (with India in mind). War-fever passed as the Congress of Berlin attempted to stabilise the region. At home, William Gladstone united the Liberal party with a series of articles in 1876 against the pro-Turkish stance. He had the support of Charles Forster and the Walsall Liberal Party,[45] advocating an empire-wide peace strategy and the money it would save. He incorporated this into his 1879 ‘Midlothian’ general election campaigns and was elected in 1880. [46]

In light of this it is not surprising that Duignan tried again on 3 March 1879,[47] what is surprising is that his motion was seconded by the conservative Mayor and passed unanimously considering the hefty defeat of the motion in 1874.[48] Duignan denied it was politically motivated, and he had always been consistent, but it is hard to get past the support the local Liberals were giving to Gladstone in 1879. While Forster and the Walsall Liberals were both supportive of Gladstone, according to the Walsall Free Press, Duignan and Forster had clashed over the issue of the guns and ‘never been reconciled’, but it is clear Duignan had council-wide support.[49] The paper, itself liberal, also pointed out how delighted the Conservative government must feel at a Liberal town returning the gifts of a Liberal government of a Liberal-led war.

The responses in the newspapers were critical over the decision, although a letter from a correspondent in Bedford was printed in support of Duignan.[50] The Walsall Free Press supported the removal, but as it did in 1874, pointed out as they were mounted by subscription the public and: ‘out of courtesy, if not out of justice, ought to have been consulted.’[51] This sentiment was echoed by other correspondents,[52] one of which believed that if ‘polled’ the people of Walsall would elect to keep them.[53] A second critical approach was that used in 1874 – in that they are symbols of valour, achievement and victory and that you cannot change the past so where does such action lead to.[54] Another counter to Duignan was the personal link between the guns and the soldiers: ‘these two Russian Guns are mementoes of many thousands of courageous Englishmen who gallantly fought and fell… the Walsall guns are living contemporaries of these men.’[55]

Highlighting the difference in vision compared to 1857, this Council acted within days of the decision. On 6 March the Town Clerk wrote to the War Office advising them of the return,[56] and receiving a favourable response, on 19 March wrote to the Borough Surveyor to arrange removal and return to Woolwich. The cannon (not the carriages) were removed on 2 April, with the Walsall Observer reporting: ‘that large crowds assembled… and many remarks, uncomplimentary to the Council, made by those (and they appeared be in a very large majority), who look upon the removal as spoilation.’[57]

In what appears to be an academic exercise, Duignan wrote to the Walsall Observer and his letter was printed on 29 March. Duignan would present his own, reasonable view, but equivocated at times and is predominantly sentimentalism laced with condescension for those that do not share his view: ’Your poetical and prose correspondents, though evidently good natured, seem to influenced by impulse and prejudice than sober judgement’.[58]

Duignan claimed his motivations were not rooted in politics, and true he had been advocating their removal since 1871, but the sudden switch to his cause of the entire Council, with him citing hostility to the Turks, hostility to the war, and the economics of it was pure Gladstone rhetoric of 1879. The remainder of his letter was a polemic on the barbarity of war, and while he mentions the human cost, he could not see the cannon as reflecting this – they were trophies of a ‘lamentable unnecessary war, with a nation we are insanely jealous of, but with whom we are at peace’, and linked by marriage.[59]

Whatever Duignan claims, this was political. Britain was not jealous of Russia, it feared her expansion – justified or not – towards India. His claim that the war’s achievements had been undone by the Treaty of London in 1871 has merit but the war had higher aims: it had checked Russia and her fear of Britain in 1878 meant she submitted to diplomacy at the Congress of Berlin rather than engage Britain – thus, avoiding a more costly ‘Crimean War’.

Duignan cited the war cost for Walsall: ‘£87,000, for which it has nothing to show except two cannons.’ This is untrue, whatever the actual cost, Walsall manufacturers had profited from the war. He patronisingly went on: ‘It was a war, avowedly undertaken to maintain the integrity of Turkey, it is now admitted by, I believe, all thoughtful men to have been a grievous mistake.’ His anti-Turkish sentiment, correct with the horrors of 1876, was not balanced off by the swinging back of public opinion when Russia attacked Turkey in 1877.

Unlike Tunstall’s Reverend Hawes, Duignan never acknowledged that some could understandably see the cannon differently, and he failed to address many of the criticisms raised by correspondents in the press: he not did explain why the Council did not canvass local opinion – although, the Council of 1879 would believe that they had the same mandate to act as the Council of 1857 – or address the question of ownership considering that subscriptions were used to pay for them.

The abandoned carriages removed in 1881, dumped at the rear of Saint Peter’s Church (between what is now Croft Street and Hospital Street). The carriages remained there until at least 1890 when they were photographed by Billy Meikle. Their fate is unknown. W00371: Walsall Local History Centre

On 26 April, a soldier’s view was printed in the Walsall Free Press.[60] He combined the victory symbol with the memory of the fallen and accused Duignan of ‘disrespect to the memory of good men and true’. He argued the clock was a bigger eyesore and the removal was gratifying the whim of one individual. The cannon had long since gone and military appeals fell on the same deaf ears as those of the public.

In conclusion, the Council did not perceive itself as committing cultural vandalism, it was to them a justified moral action based on the Liberal and Christian principals; the fact that it was a small minority that made the decision was reflective of the political process at the time, and the Liberals continued to be elected to represent Walsall. The majority of public opinion obtainable from the newspapers suggests they were opposed to removal.

The decision had repercussions, which even if in sympathy with Duignan’s aims show his methods left a little to be desired: the guns were declared an eyesore, but after their removal the carriages remained in situ for two years. They were then dumped on waste land, until at least 1890. In 1886, the subscription issue would return and ask questions on the legality of the actions of 1879. When a statue of Sister Dora was proposed on the same site,[61] the statue fund was asked to contribute for the removal of the plinth, as it was raised at public subscription and could not be demolished at Council cost. The Statue Committee questioned how the cannon were removed on that basis. A proposal for the Council to pay sixty pounds while the Statue Committee paid five to ‘keep within the letter of the law’ was rejected as immoral.[62] The twenty pounds for the site clearance was donated by Alderman Brewer at a meeting of the Statue Committee on 20 April 1886;[63] the plinth was destroyed soon after, with the fountain being moved to Queen Street Cemetery.

[1] Walsall Free Press. 1 January 1859. Russian Guns. p4.

[2] Walsall Free Press. 22 January 1859. Russian Guns. p4.

[3] Acc 360/25 Town Commissioners Minutes. 17 January 1859.

[4] Walsall Free Press. 7 May 1859. Russian Guns. p4.

[5] Walsall Free Press. 4 June 1859. The Bridge Clock. p4.

[6] The lamp was reused as well, being placed at the town weighing machine at the junction of Park Street, Stafford Street and Wolverhampton Lane: See Walsall Free Press. 4 October 1862. Improvement Commissioners. p4.

[7] Walsall Free Press. 11 September 1859. The Bridge Clock. p4.

[8] Acc 360/25 Town Commissioners Minutes. 6 July 1859.

[9] Walsall Free Press. 9 July 1859. The Bridge Clock. p4.

[10] Staffordshire Advertiser. 27 November 1858. The Russian Guns. p7.

[11] Walsall Free Press. 11 June 1859. New Drinking Fountain. p4.

[12] Acc 63/6 William Meikle Collection. Russian Guns and Fountain. 1938. The description seems accurate – the cup once being broken off the chain and thrown in the street: Walsall Observer. 25 June 1881. Damaging a Drinking Fountain. p5

[13] Walsall Free Press. 22 Dec 1860. Improvement Commissioners. p4.

[14] Walsall Free Press. 15 Nov 1862. Improvement Commissioners. p4

[15] Walsall Free Press. 4 April 1863. Correspondents. p4

[16] Acc 360/25 Town Commissioners Minutes. 4 May 1863. Eventually 26s was paid for this.

[17] I should not laugh at the stupidity: see Walsall Free Press. 9 January 1864. Gas Explosion. p4.

[18] Walsall Free Press. 12 Aug 1865. New Clock at St. Matthew’s Church. p4

[19] Acc 360/26 Town Commissioners Minutes. 3 November 1868.

[20] Walsall Free Press. 7 November 1868. Town Council and Improvement Commissioners’ Meetings. p4

[21] Walsall Free Press. 7 January 1871. The Bridge Clock. p4

[22] Walsall Observer. 11 January 1873. Local Jottings. p3

[23] Walsall Observer. 18 March 1876. Time and Light. p3

[24] Walsall Observer. 19 May 1877. A Public Clock for Bloxwich. p3

[25] Walsall Observer. 6 September 1879. The Bridge Clock. p3

[26] Quoted from the 1871 census: National Archives RG10 2965.

[27] Walsall Free Press. 12 November 1870. Annual Meeting. p4

[28] Richards, D. 2006. p203

[29] Howard, C. 1965. The Man on a Tricycle: W. H. Duignan and Ireland, 1881-5. Irish Historical Studies Vol. 14, No. 55, pp. 246-260.

[30] Walsall Free Press. 14 January 1871. Russian Guns. p4.

[31] Walsall Free Press. 17 January 1874. Russian Guns as War Trophies. P3.

[32] Walsall Free Press. 28 February 1874. Local Gossip. p4.

[33] Walsall Observer. 7 February 1874. Notice to Correspondents. p4.

[34] Walsall Observer. 21 Feb 1874. Correspondence. p3. Correspondent OC

[35] ibid. Correspondent Cosmopolitan

[36] ibid. Correspondent Anti-Humbug.

[37] Walsall Free Press. 21 February 1874. Epitome of News. p2.

[38] Walsall Free Press. 28 February 1874. Meeting of the Council. p4.

[39] ibid

[40] ibid

[41] If the attendance list is correct, and assuming the mayor voted, it was 14 – 3 in favour of retention.

[42] Acc352/199 Property Committee Minutes. 16 March 1875. The response was never recorded in the minutes.

[43] Under Benjamin Disraeli, Conservative Prime Minister 1874 – 1880.

[44] See: https://www.britannica.com/event/Bulgarian-Horrors

[45] Charles Foster supported Gladstone, see: Walsall Observer. 28 October 1876. Sir Charles Foster’s Annual Address. p3. So did the Walsall Liberal Party, see: Walsall Observer. 12 May 1877. Mr Gladstone’s Resolutions. p3.

[46] Britain, under Disraeli, had fought the Second Afghan War with the Russians in mind between 1878 and 1880, and the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879.

[47] This was during the Anglo-Zulu campaign, after the defeat at Isandlwana (22 January) and the defence of Rorke’s Drift, but before the Zulu victory at Intombe (12 March).

[48] Seven of the sixteen members present took part in the previous vote at the meeting in 1874.

[49] Walsall Free Press. 8 March 1879. Local Gossip. p5.

[50] Walsall Observer. 22 March 1879. Russian Guns. p3.

[51] Walsall Free Press. 8 March 1879. Local Gossip. p5.

[52] Walsall Observer. 22 March 1879. Correspondence. p3. Correspondent Ragged Staff and Walsall Free Press. 22 March 1879. Correspondence. p5. Correspondent Anti-Humbug

[53] Walsall Free Press. 22 March 1879. Correspondence. p5. Correspondent Thomas Marlow

[54] Walsall Free Press. 22 March 1879. Correspondence. p5. Correspondent Anti Humbug (Southampton)

[55] Walsall Free Press. 15 March 1879. Correspondence. p5. Correspondent STGM

[56] Acc 19/11 Town Clerks’ Out Letters. 6 March 1879 Secretary of State for War.

[57] Walsall Observer. 5 April 1879. Russian Guns. p2.

[58]Walsall Observer. 29 March 1879. Russian Guns. p3.

[59] ibid

[60] The anonymous correspondent was from the 80th Foot: 2nd South Staffordshire Regiment: Walsall Free Press. 26 April 1879. Correspondence. p5.

[61] Sister Dora (Dorothy Patterson) was the Florence Nightingale of healthcare in Walsall, and taken to the hearts of the working population. She died in 1878. A public subscription was started to erect a statue to her, which was unveiled on 11 October 1886 on a site next to the demolished plinth. It was allegedly the first statue to a non-royal female in England.

[62] Walsall Observer. 17 April 1886. Sister Dora Statue. p6. Meeting took place on 12 April.

[63] Walsall Advertiser. 24 April 1886. Local Notes. p2.