From The Strand Magazine, April 1903. No artist is credited, it was possibly illustrated by the author. To save file space this on-line version omits higher-resolution scans of the graphics.

A Scheme for a Great National Monument.



SIR W. B. RICHMOND, R.A., K.C.B., says: "If such a plan as the one you indicate could be carried out no doubt it would be a noble thing. It is so easy to raise difficulties, and the tendency of this over-critical age is always to do that. They are obvious ; but nothing is insurmountable even in such a commercial time as ours. We live in times of such strange contradictions—one side so commonplace, the other nobly Utopian. Anything that may go to cause victory for the latter will indeed benefit the higher ideals of a people too much consumed by the worship of Plutus and too little by the doctrines of the Republic of Plato."

MR. G. J. FRAMPTON, R.A., writes: "This scheme seems to me worthy of most careful attention. To my mind something of the sort should have been carried out centuries ago, in which case we should have kept authentic and lasting records of the genius of bygone times, as, for instance, those of the great men of the Elizabethan era. Personally, I think the proposed monument would serve a more useful purpose as a record of contemporary life and a burial-place for the great dead than as a school of sculpture. It would, however, play an invaluable part in the encouragement of sculpture by creating a taste and a demand for that kind of art. Consider what a gain to the nation it would be to have a sculpture gallery devoted to our chief statesmen, poets, warriors, men of science, and other leaders of the intellectua world. Nor would a gallery of kings be less worthy of the national care and affection. The scientific study of the agencies that destroy stone and other building and plastic surfaces appears to me to be of the utmost practical importance, and the wonder is that such an investigation has not been undertaken long ago. The scheme would do away with the present inartistic method of cutting up our cathedrals for the construction of tombs. On the ground of simplicity, grandeur, and artistic and historical value, I approve warmly of the proposed scheme for a national memorial."

MR. HAMO THORNYCROFT, R.A., writes: "It strikes me that the most serious objection to your scheme of a national memorial, as I understand it, is that it would seem like a memorial to something that is not yet departed. Make it a memorial of the nineteenth century, and let there be represented in it the great men and the great movements of the past century; and, if it is a monument which shall endure for a couple of thousand years or so, great consideration must be given to material used in its construction and decoration; and, as you say, the sculptor's art is one which would of necessity be employed—as has been the case with Egyptian, Greek, and Roman civilizations in public monuments in the past. Sculpture has, in fact, ever been an art so identified with the portrayal of things public rather than private that it would seem to be the duty of the, State not only to encourage it by annual purchases of statuary, but also by special State aid in the schools for sculpture. In France there is a considerable sum spent every year in purchasing works in sculpture, which are placed in the public thoroughfares and gardens and form objects of interest and delight, and, I would also venture to say, are of great educational value."

MR. ASTON WEBB, A.R.A., F.R.I.B.A., F.S.A., says: "Many thanks for your interesting letter on your scheme for a great national monument. It sounds to me too grand to have much chance of being carried through in this material age of ours, but I wish you all success."

IN the history of mankind there can be no more fascinating subject than the rise and fall of nations, which register, as it were, the births and deaths of a world too busy to heed fallers by the wayside.

In past ages whole nations have faded away into oblivion, while others have left behind them footprints that tell with more or less certainty of their former greatness and of how far they had travelled on the pathway of civilization.

The reverent disposal of the dead in all likelihood formed one of the earliest characteristics of reasoning man. Around that custom slowly gathered a host of observances, so that in the tombs, not only of prehistoric, but also of historic man, we find multitudinous tokens of his beliefs, of his arts, of his prowess in war, of his weapons—in a word, of his various ways of life both domestic and tribal.

Of late years the application of scientific method to the unravelling of ancient history has gone on apace. The systematic unearthing of buried sites, first applied by Dr. Schliemann to ancient Troy, has laid bare the traces of civilizations long buried beneath the dust of ages. A similar plan has since been adopted with brilliant success by Professor Hinders Petrie, who has thereby secured evidence of an unbroken series of Egyptian dynasties so far back as the year 8000 B.C.

The earliest records of a people, then, are to he found in enduring works of earth or of stone, and, it may be added, to a less extent and in later periods, of metal. In this way we find the history of races handed down to us in objective form. Speaking broadly, the value to the historian of tombs, statues, monoliths, forts, harbours, roads, aqueducts, and other ancient remains clearly depends upon their strength and durability.

A general view of the proposed monument

The Empire of Great and Greater Britain has attained a power and splendour probably hitherto unequalled in the history of the world. It is interesting to inquire what lasting records would be left behind by so great a kingdom at its present stage of development. To put the matter in another way, what evidence would be forthcoming, say, in eight thousand years' time, for some future Flinders Petrie digging among the buried cities of the British Islands?

The answer to that question resolves itself pretty much into a consideration of what there is to survive. In the United Kingdom few existing mediæval or modern buildings would be likely to leave any adequate traces of their structure for more than a limited number of centuries. Our cathedrals are, many of them, splendid and noble as works of art, but even with occasional careful restoration they are hardly strong enough to weather more than, say, a thousand or fifteen hundred years. Indeed, it seems not unlikely that the circles of Stonehenge, the origin of which is lost in prehistoric mist, will keep their original form more or less intact long after St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey have been levelled with the dust. The difference between the perishable cathedral and the practically imperishable stone circle, or pyramid, is clearly structural. The cathedral builders were obliged to subordinate massive strength to the needs of a structure roofed in to accommodate a large body of worshippers, whereas the stone circle and pyramid builders were unhampered in that direction. Obviously, a roofed structure has less chance of survival than one without a roof.

Of statuary we have little worth notice. The Albert Memorial in Hyde Park is, perhaps, our most serious attempt in that direction. It is a comparatively small work, however, but it serves to illustrate the irony of the British position with regard to durability in monumental building. After some half a century of existence the Albert Memorial is fast crumbling to ruin; while, on the other hand, our most enduring stone memorial is the so-called Cleopatra's Needle—that is to say, an obelisk borrowed from ancient Egypt, where it was made in the reign of Thothmes III., about B.C. 1600. The modern structure in Hyde Park was built literally for its own generation, whereas the stone memorial of ancient Egypt, whether pyramid, monolith, giant figure, rock-cut temple or tomb, was seemingly fashioned with an eye to all succeeding time. That the jerry-builder flourished in ancient Egypt is more than likely, but, happily, his presence did not preclude the possibility of raising structures that are, humanly speaking, everlasting. We modern Britons have the jerry-builder, but lack the enduring monuments. With us the tendency is to make buildings, monuments, and places of burial more and more slight and perishable.

It seems not unlikely that the greatest memorials we shall leave to distant ages will be our railroads, which form a great distinguishing feature of the nineteenth century. The marvellous cuttings and embankments will exist as long as the face of the country in which they are placed. Their chances of survival rest on much the same solid basis as the early British and pre-British forts, and the great walls or earthworks constructed to keep the savage northern tribes out of Roman Britain. As to the iron bridges, they will speedily disappear, together with those tunnels that lie in shifting soil. Most of the tunnels, however, from the nature of their construction, will be well-nigh indestructible. One may imagine the delight of some antiquarian a few thousand years hence tracing the network of tubes and underground railways beneath the site of once famous London. All the square miles of jerry-built houses would have left hardly a trace beyond a few broken bricks beneath the ground-level. Here and there the foundation of some of our most substantial buildings, as the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament, might be discernible to the experienced eye in the shape of slightly elevated mounds. The pedestal of the Nelson Column, with its Landseer lions, might be unearthed; but it would be impossible to name any single monument of our times that would survive a thousand years in anything like entirety. In London the antiquary of the distant future will probably be guided to a great extent in his researches mainly by the river embankments, the sewers, and the railways.

At this point the question naturally arises, what good end would be gained if we were to leave behind us all kinds of lasting monuments of the present age?

An answer may be found in Egypt, the history of which has been made known to us mainly through its lasting monuments. Belief in the immortality of the soul led the early Egyptian to make his tomb strong enough to protect his body, which he believed would one day be revivified by the return of the departed spirit. The consequent strength and grandeur of his tombs have, however, led to results which he did not anticipate. His tombs, although almost universally rifled of their contents, have preserved graphic records from which Egyptologists have constructed the oldest history yet known to mankind. In Egypt, at any rate, history has been cut deep in its monuments, and has afforded the most fascinating study of modern times. If there be any value in enduring records it is to be seen in the land of the Pharaohs.

Clearly, the raising of a great national memorial from a mere prompting of vanity would run counter to our modern ways of thinking. But if any useful purpose could be thereby and therewith attained, then a proposal of the kind would assume a different aspect. If, for instance, a memorial could be constructed on such a plan as to foster Art and to have a lasting educational value it would at once merit careful attention.

A great and noble branch of Art leads a comparatively struggling life within our gates —namely, that of sculpture. There are fairly obvious reasons for that state of affairs, such as the costliness of bronze and marble and the small demand for work of the kind nowadays. The untoward result is that our statues and monuments are scanty in number, and present no full and lasting record of the life of the nation. Here, then, are motives enough—namely, to foster a national taste for sculpture and, at the same time, to raise a monument of the era which would have a distinct educational value for future generations. To this might be added the further object of forming a burial-place for our great men, a point that will be dealt with later. These ends might he accomplished by erecting a building on enduring lines of sufficient size to furnish ample space for sculptors to record the many-sided life of the British nation, say, during the nineteenth and the earlier part of the twentieth centuries.

As to a suitable form for such a building, it seems likely that the most enduring architectural form is the pyramid. A vast structure of that kind could be raised, say, in Hyde Park, of such a size that it would be visible from the greater part of London. The slope of the pyramid might be faced with triangular blocks of glass, granite, or terra-cotta. The building might be constructed somewhat on the following plan, which will be made clearer by a reference to the accompanying illustrations. Although not solid throughout, it would still retain enough of its pyramidal shape to ensure stability of structure.

Outside, the building is divided into two portions, the first a pyramid and the second a square base. About two-thirds up the pyramidal part windows are cut for the purpose of lighting a large interior chamber. In order to lessen weight the apex—that is to say, the part over the windows—is hollowed out into a large chamber, which might, perhaps, be useful as an observatory. The pyramid does not run down sheer to the ground, but stands on a square pediment or base, reaching, say, to a third of the total height from apex to ground-level. Supposing the total height to be one hundred and fifty feet, then the pediment would be thirty-seven feet high, a sufficiently imposing size for all practical purposes.*

*The Egyptian model was less pointed and afforded greater stability than that of an equilateral sectioned pyramid. The original measurements of the Great Pyramid were about seven hundred and fifty-five feet at the base by four hundred and eighty-one feet in height; and of the Second Pyramid three hundred and fifty feet by two hundred and fifteen feet. They date from about 3500 or 4000 B.C.

The pediment has four walls, facing north, south, east, and west respectively, and each one hundred and fifty feet long; that is, assuming a perpendicular section of the pyramid to be that of an equilateral triangle. On the south side is the main entrance, led up to by steps and supported by massive square pillars. This side has no windows, so that on each side of the main entrance large wall surfaces are left for sculptured panels. The north side is like the south in design, only that the entrance is much smaller. Both east and west sides are pierced by a row of massive square-cut windows. A small doorway is placed in the centre of each, that on the east leading into galleries and that on the west to the underground or catacomb chambers.

Sectional plan
A, Central Hall; a a a, Upper Galleries; D, Showing how additional chambers could be constructed; G, Sculpture Galleries; I, Lifts; J, Entrance to Catacombs; K, Underground Storage; L, Catacombs; M, Terrace; N, Large Upper Chamber; O, Promenade Terrace; P, Observatory; Q, Foundation.

The top of the pediment forms an important feature. It provides a fine open-air terrace, with a breadth equal to the height of the pediment. On its outer side runs a solid parapet, while large pedestals above the entrance doorways and at the four corners support groups of gigantic statuary. The floor of the terrace is broken by skylight windows, arranged so as to light spacious chambers lying within the four walls of the pediment. It is reached by a flight of stairs opening into the entrance-hall, but not shown in plan. There is no need to enter at length into details, but it may be stated briefly that the main principles kept in view are solidity, strength, simplicity, and an ample supply of wall surface and standing room for all forms of descriptive plastic and mural art.

The pediment chambers play an important part in the scheme. According to the plans they would have a breadth of some thirty feet and a similar height. On the north and south sides they are lighted solely by sky-lights. On the east and west sides, in addition to the skylights, there are large windows, so that, if necessary, additional floors could be inserted. The purposes to be fulfilled by these pediment chambers are to provide space for exhibition galleries and administrative quarters.

The foundations of such a building would naturally have to be substantial. They are indicated in the plans as a bed of concrete, say, fifteen feet in thickness. They enclose several large parallel iron tubes, lined with masonry and forming underground chambers of vast strength, which would make excellent catacombs. They would be reached by a flight of steps from a central doorway on the west side, and, if required, a small mortuary temple could be built outside that doorway.

Another underground chamber lighted from the top, area-fashion, is provided on the west side for stores, furnaces, and so on.

A large octagonal chamber measuring some forty feet across lies in the heart of the pyramid. Its floor is at a higher level—some twenty feet—than that of the ground outside, and in the centre stands an exact reproduction of an ancient Druidical three-stone arch or gateway.* Its octagonal walls widen as they stretch away upwards to the apex in a series of three or four galleries. The galleries are about eight feet wide, with a distance of ten or twelve feet one above the other; they do not project, but widen out stepwise from the base upwards, and are connected by flights of steps. The apex and other parts of the building might be reached by staircases and hydraulic lifts in the thickness of the walls—as well as by staircases on the outside walls of the pyramid.

* A small Druidical circle might be placed here to enclose the entrance to the catacombs.

Its roof is dome-shaped, with large panels for fresco and mosaic treatment, and light is admitted from the windows cut near the apex.

Returning once again to the purposes that could be fulfilled by such a national monument, we find an obvious one in its use as a burial-place for our great dead. In that way it would meet our pressing need of a new Valhalla, for the available burying space in Westminster Abbey is already of the scantiest. Some of its terraces or galleries could be allotted to the crematory urns and the busts or statues of the illustrious dead buried in the catacombs below. A portion of its space might be reserved for Royal sepulture, and thereby present to remote posterity the tombs of our Kings and Queens in the midst of dignified and beautiful surroundings. The Royal tombs might have a separate entrance from beneath the Druidical arch in the central chamber.

A great amount of sculptors' handiwork would clearly be required about the building, and this might be distributed amongst deserving students, who would thus be enabled to earn money during their pupilage. In connection with the monument might be provided a laboratory for the scientific investigation of the agencies that destroy or injure stone and all other materials used in plastic art. Knowledge gained in that way could hardly fail to have a sound economic value to the community. For instance, had fully-informed judgment been available when the present Houses of Parliament were built, the loss that has been inflicted by the use of stone unable to withstand the smoke-laden atmosphere of London might have been avoided.

The cost of the suggested monument would undoubtedly be great. The proposed building, however, would be a mere dwarf by the side of the great Egyptian pyramids. That fact may be realized by remembering that the suggested height of a hundred and fifty feet is actually less by some twenty-five feet than that of the sphinx, the figure of which crouches, as it were, at the feet of the pyramids. The cost might be to some extent reduced by a careful selection of materials. For instance, the general plan of the building might be outlined, so to speak, by iron girder-work. The main body of the building could then be filled in with concrete and faced with brick, so arranged that the ironwork would always be completely encased. The marble or other stone tablets for carving and the prepared surfaces for frescoes could be added at leisure. The monument, in a word, could be run up with bare walls, to be completed as funds became available. Moreover, the size of the pyramid could be regulated by the amount of money in hand. If a million pounds were forthcoming, the memorial might be made so many feet high. If, on the other hand, a million and a half or two millions were promised the size might be proportionately increased.

Plan of Monument
A, Central Hall (showing galleries); B, Grand Entrance • C, Second Entrance; D, Stairs to Main Terrace (another at back not shown); E, Galleries; H, Offices; I, Lifts; K, Entrance to Catacombs —a small Mortuary Temple could be erected here; O, Underground Offices (Stores, Heating, etc.).

The cost of such a building would have to be defrayed mainly by public subscription, although Government might reasonably be asked to contribute the site and to guarantee a substantial sum both to foundation and to maintenance. As the monument would be Imperial as well as national in character, an appeal might be made to the Colonies as well as to the United Kingdom. A simple plan of inviting subscriptions would be to compute the whole cubic space of the monument — regarding it for that purpose as a solid structure—in bricks. Each brick might be valued, say, at a penny. It would then be possible for the humblest of our countrymen or countrywomen to contribute a brick to the great monument. Wealthier members of the community might subscribe a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, a million, and so on. Some rich men would perhaps prefer to purchase the sculpture or the marble of a large panel, of a colossal group, or of a gallery; or they might endow a studentship in sculpture, or found a library or laboratory. Local subscriptions might be started throughout the country. For instance, the Mayor or Lord Mayor of some provincial town might order, say, one or two million bricks on behalf of his fellow-townsfolk. In return for that contribution the right of so many free studentships might be vested in that particular town. In that way a systematic and widespread recognition of special talent would be established. There is little need, however, to labour the point further. Millions have oftentimes been raised for purposes less worthy than the erection of a splendid and enduring monument which should benefit the living and shelter the illustrious dead of a mighty nation. What was possible in ancient Egypt should surely not be altogether impossible in modern Britain. The purchase of sculpture would entail the necessity of an endowment fund, which might be derived partly from private and partly from national sources.

A high standard of excellence would naturally be fixed for all selected work, which would be liberally paid for, and unsuccessful competitors might he encouraged with prizes. Clearly, in a monument of this kind, no sculpture should be admitted except on the score of absolute and intrinsic merit. Competitors might with advantage be anonymous, and decision as to acceptance or otherwise should rest in the hands of a committee of partly ex-officio and partly appointed and selected members. The President of the Royal Academy might be appointed ex-officio, the Government might select three or four other men eminent in Art, the House of Commons and the House of Lords might each appoint a competent member, and one nomination might be vested in His Majesty the King. Constituted on some such lines, the committee of selection and management would secure the public confidence. They would choose the subjects for competition and make the awards, and funds would be arranged so as to provide for the systematic purchase of sculptured and other plastic work.

The range of subjects to be illustrated should embrace the whole of the life of the nineteenth century, and is, therefore, of the widest. The value of each plastic work will be increased by cutting into the neighbouring stone a short description of the main facts connected with that particular subject. Following the lines of the Albert Memorial, the four corners of the pediment terrace might be occupied with groups representing the chief British Colonies.

Special thanks to Roger Todd for finding and scanning this article - Marcus L. Rowland