A day in London, on the way to Devon to visit relatives, I managed to convince my girls that we start the day with a visit to the London Bombings memorial. Not quite what they had in mind, as they were hoping for a shopping day. It did feel a little incongruous (particularly as the day was bookended by the terrible events in Paris), but they (like many of my colleagues) humoured me with my disaster memorial tourism wishes.
The memorial is in Hyde Park, towards the south eastern corner. It was designed by Carmody Groake, and unveiled in 2009. The designed was undertaken with the bereaved families and the Royal Parks service. It consists of 52 steel pillars, one for each of the people who died in the bombings. The pillars are organised according to the 4 locations of bombs. At the end of the memorial there is a plaque with the names of those who died. It is a simple but powerful representation of loss incurred by the bombings. The power, to my mind, comes from two elements, one being the simple strong steel pillars. The other comes as you need to walk between, or around the pillars before being confronted by the names of the deceased. This means you need to confront both the abstract and harsh reality of the bombings, before they become humanised with names.
Having said that, I did feel a little underwhelmed. Maybe it was the day (gloomy London winter’s day), maybe the location (perched out in a corner of Hyde Park and near busy, noisy Park Lane), or maybe the fact there was no real greenery to frame the memorial. Taking nothing away from the design, to my mind, it felt a little bit lost.
A couple of things also struck me, having worked through the Strathewen process. There was nowhere for people to sit and contemplate. It felt like you needed to visit, then leave. Maybe this was part of the brief. I also noticed that the focus was very much upon those that lost their lives, importantly of course. But there wasn’t recognition of the broader impact. What of the survivors? Those that thought they were going to die and didn’t? Those that were injured? Those that helped out?. It is this recognition, with of course those that pay the highest sacrifice, that makes successful memorials, encompassing of the whole impact, and can contribute to the narrative of the event and ultimatively the healing.
Perhaps I should have come by myself to truly appreciate the space. Still it is a stunning piece of design work. I hope that it works for the families and those that were there.
Intially I thought I would having the Clash’s London Calling in here, but it’s not really appropriate. I really like these guys.