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Book Review: The Obelisks of Warwickshire

ObelisksWarwickshire Gardens Trust, The Obelisks of Warwickshire (Brewin Books, 2013)  £9.95, ISBN 978-1-85858-515-4

In 2005,inspired by Richard Barnes’s “The Obelisk::  a Monumental Feature in Britain” The Warwickshire Gardens Trust decided to look out and research historic and interesting obelisks in that county and in this well-illustrated booklet to describe some well-known and less-visited monuments.  The monuments can easily be found with the aid of a county map included in the booklet together with details of bus and train services and parking arrangements.

There is an introductory page defining “What is an obelisk?” and illustrating the various materials from which they have been made.  That is followed by a short description of Egyptian obelisks and their adoption in Rome particularly by Popes Pius II and Sixtus V;  there is of course a reference to the acquisition of Cleopatra’s Needle and its installation on the Victoria Embankment. Some of the more spectacular or historically important monuments are then illustrated and described, such as those in the garden at Kenilworth Castle originally constructed for the Earl of Leicester when seeking to retain Elizabeth 1st’s favours; at Compton Verney marking the site of the former Verney Chapel and family vault; to Edward Willes, a benefactor of Royal Leamington Spa; and the obelisk in the churchyard of St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham, to that dashing soldier Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, renowned as “the bravest man in England” .

Whilst many of the grandest obelisks were constructed in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries the tradition continued into the 20th century when obelisks were adopted as memorials for those killed in the Boer War and the two World Wars and the booklet describes such unusual commemorative obelisks as “The Cyclists’ War Memorial” constructed in the centre of England at Meriden in remembrance of those brave men who, as the Lord Chancellor said at the unveiling of the memorial, carried military messages in the heat of  battle  and “in the presence of death itself…… the secrecy of which alone meant so much to their comrades”.

The booklet concludes with a general reading list and more specific references to publications relating to particular obelisks. It makes a useful addition to the various pamphlets published by County Garden Trusts.

A Pugh-Thomas