An idea to host a one off event to mark the Armistice Day centenary snowballed into a year long project involving two Yorkshire villages. Sophie McCandlish reports.
More than 100 dark blue plaques sit on the houses in Collingham and Linton. On them is the name of the homeowner in 1914, their date of birth and occupation along with any details of the other occupants in the house.
The plaques, part of the Collingham and Linton Remembers project brings the householders of 1914 into the present day - a fitting tribute to those who left for war and those who lived through it.
Initially intended to commemorate the 23 soldiers who never came home from the First World War, the interest from residents was so great the research was extended to everyone who lived in the villages during that time, many of whom were involved in the war as soldiers, nurses or farmhands.
What started out as an opportunity to find out more about the fallen soldiers from the village turned into a social history of the village during the war years. And there are now so many blue plaques it has been turned into a heritage trail, giving visitors the opportunity to step back in time and see the villages as they were 100 years ago.
The Blue Plaques and Heritage Trail are part of a year long project which started last November. Collingham and Linton Remembers has involved history talks, pop-up cinema, the blue plaque trial and knitted poppies, and is the brainchild of Collingham Music Association having snowballed from the idea of a one off musical event.
Diana Lee, who along with fellow members, Janet Gregson, Katherine Southby and Alan Berry, are the masterminds behind Collingham and Linton Remembers, said the whole thing had just grown.
“We were looking at staging a one off musical event to mark the Armistice Day anniversary. But one idea just led to another and before we knew it we had a year long project planned,” Diana explains.
“We started off by looking at the soldiers who had died in the war and then we expanded that to the people who left for war and came back. But as we progressed people were asking us about who had lived in their houses so we started to research the whole village. Initially we just shared that information with the homeowners and were trying to find a way to share it with everyone.”
Inspiration struck during a trip to London. “I saw a Blue Plaque and thought it was just what we needed.” The painstaking research was primarily undertaken by Diana. “The first thing was to get a clear picture of which houses and buildings were in the village at the time of the First World War,” she says.
Using the 1911 Census, she found out that in 1914 Collingham’s population was around 500 and Linton’s 200. The Census also gave them names which could then be cross-referenced with electoral rolls.
They used church records from St Oswald’s Church in Collingham which was an integral part of the village in 1914 and probate records, which gave details of the homeowner’s occupation, as well as military records.
From these sources they were able to build up a picture of who lived in which house, which buildings were still standing and what stood in the place of those that had been demolished.
“There has obviously been some change over the years so some of the plaques are on buildings which are on the site of the original houses,” says Diana. “We are so delighted at how many people have got involved. It was difficult at first trying to explain to people what we wanted to do and asking them to put a blue plaque on their house, but once the first few plaques went up, people started asking about them and were interested in finding out who had lived in their houses during that time.”
The plaques record everyone’s lives - from the wealthy Gunter family at Wetherby Grange, to the most humble of farm workers housed in back-to-back cottages on School Lane. The group’s research has also found eight additional men from the villages who gave their lives during the war.
As their plans for Collingham and Linton Remembers grew more ambitious, the group decided to put in an application for Heritage Lottery Funding. “We thought we would try and see what happened, not really expecting it to get anywhere.”
But their bid was successful and they have also had support from Collingham and Linton Parish Council, as well as the Emmerdale 106 Fund and Leeds Inspired.
Since last November, Collingham and Linton Remembers has hosted talks from local historians on family, military and social history, and people have been knitting the poppies which are now displayed in an installation on the side of the Memorial Hall.
The idea, inspired by the sea of ceramic poppies displayed at The Tower of London in 2014, was to create a commemorative display made up of poppies knitted by members of the local community. Spearheaded by Janet, a knitting group was set up with the aim of creating around 5,000 poppies for their own memorial installation.
“I started off by finding the patterns and had the 5,000 figure in mind but didn’t really expect to reach it,” says Janet. “When I started I had no idea if people would get involved at all but the response has been amazing, we surpassed our target figure with around 5,700 beautifully knitted poppies. And they are not just from the immediate community, we have been sent poppies from as far afield as Newcastle and Cirencester. It has been wonderful.”
As part of the project local artist Jillian Neale has created a mural depicting life in the villages during 1914 which has been hung in the Memorial Hall where it will stay for future generations to enjoy and learn from. “The mural shows cameos of life in the village, the houses, children playing and the soldiers leaving for war which all come together to make the whole piece.”
The mural, which took about a year to complete involved a lot of research, some of which crossed with Diana’s work researching how the village looked in 1914.
The end of Collingham and Linton Remembers will be marked on Sunday by the traditional Service of Remembrance and then at 7pm a Battle’s Over Beacon will be lit as part of the nationwide event which will see beacons lit to commemorate the end of the war.
Looking back, Diana says they’re delighted at the impact the project has had. “The number of people who have taken it up and become involved is wonderful and we are all delighted it has joined so many people together.”