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Newbury's Speen War Memorial : so much history behind a simple print

Highlights of West Berkshire Museum's Collection

Trish Lee

trish lee


01635 886663

Newbury's Speen War Memorial : so much history behind a simple print

Speen War Memorial by AJ Campbell-Cooper, 1932. NEBYM: 1979.72.97

Highlights from the West Berkshire Museum Collection: Speen War Memorial: A pen and ink drawing by AJ Campbell-Cooper, 1932

Researched and written by volunteer at West Berkshire Museum Judith Thomas.

HISTORIC England has recorded Speen War memorial as a Grade II-listed building which, as depicted in the print, is surrounded by a number of other Grade II-listed buildings. Built in contrasting brick and Portland stone, Historic England describes it as elegant, with an ornate stone cross, carved scroll and fruit detailing. It had been designed by a London man, Mr WA Forsythe, but built by local builder EB Hitchman, and some of the carving and lettering was carried out by local firm Thorn and Sons.

Nineteen servicemen from the First World War are commemorated and six later added, after the Second World War. All the names (some of whom have their stories added) appear on Phil Wood’s West Berkshire War Memorials website and he also includes a full account from the Newbury Weekly News of the
dedication service in August 1921.

Although the memorial appears from Mr Campbell-Cooper’s print to be in a rural position, in fact its siting on the edge of the busy A4 has led to its being damaged on at least three occasions. The Historic England website mentions it needed repair in 1991 after being hit by a car and there were at least two accidents involving cars before that. In 1937 a London woman, a play and pageant producer, suffered broken ribs, a fractured knee and concussion after the prosecution claimed she drove her car at a fast speed over the white line going up Speen Hill, collided with another car and crashed into the war memorial. She was fined £2 plus £1 2s 6d costs. Two years later, another Londoner, a 24-year-old man, smashed his car head on into the war memorial.

AJ Campbell-Cooper, the artist:

Archibald James Campbell-Cooper was born in Odiham, Hampshire, in 1889. His father had died before he was born and he and his older brother were brought up by his mother on his grandmother’s farm in Odiham. He later added his mother’s maiden name of Campbell to his birth surname of Cooper. His first career was as a farmer. In 1911 he was a poultry farming pupil in Kent, and by 1914 he had his own farm in Greenford, Middlesex. The farm probably wasn’t limited to poultry. He advertised in the local paper for goslings, but also wrote during the First World War an account for the paper of the value to the nation of pig breeders using waste food.

In 1916, he married Rita Lyne Macbeth Raeburn, the daughter and only child of well-known Scottish portrait painter and mezzotint engraver Henry Macbeth-Raeburn. By 1925 Archie and Rita had left Greenford for Newbury. It is possible Archie had received a small legacy from his mother, who had lived with them and died in 1922, and also that he had received compensation from Ealing Council, who built a major link road in 1924 through his land at Greenford Farm. It must have been about then that he made his career change to registered architect and surveyor, perhaps with the encouragement of his father-in-law. Rita’s parents also moved from London to Newbury in 1925, and their daughter and son-in-law moved in with them to Wentworth House on Stroud Green, a Queen Anne house, demolished by the early 1960s to be replaced by the flats at Wentworth Court.

Archie was now able to indulge his more artistic leanings and by the 1930s his architectural practice was flourishing. Berkshire and Hampshire Record Offices have many plans and drawings of different types of premises produced by him for councils’ Surveyor’s Departments from the 1930s to the 1960s. They include designs for semi-detached houses in Bath Road, Thatcham, plans for 12 almshouses and a superintendent’s house for the Trustees of Donnington Hospital, conversions from farm buildings to agricultural cottages at Chamberhouse Farm, Thatcham, alterations to schools at Brimpton and Stratfield Mortimer, a plan of Albert Hall in Kingsclere with proposed extensions, and alterations to the Pheasant Inn at West Shefford.
For Hungerford, he drew up architectural drawings of floor plans and front elevations of Salisbury Row for a Yorkshire builder who owned the property. Also of interest are plans of Newbury Museum’s Cloth Hall and surrounding buildings drawn up by him in 1953. By 1955 Archie’s practice was situated at 41A Cheap Street, prominently
situated next to the Post Office. He took on a partner, Frederick Gotelee.

He and his wife remained living with his parents-in-law in Wentworth House until his widowed father-in-law married in 1936 his much younger pupil, Marjorie Bacon, and left Newbury. Archie doesn’t ever seem to have lived in Speen, where he produced his print of the war memorial. But there is evidence of his interest in the heritage of the local area. In 1943 he had written an article describing Newbury in the series Old Towns Revisited in Country Life magazine. In 1954 he addressed the AGM of the Newbury branch of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England.

Archie and Rita moved briefly to the Volunteer in Crookham (possibly making use of Rita’s prize of a two-seater Morris Cowley car won by her in a raffle in aid of hospital funds in 1927), then finally settled at White Heather in Headley. Rita died there in 1960, and Archie himself in 1967.

 Speen war memorial today photographed by Phil Cannings Ref: 30-0820C

Sources: Historic England website; West Berkshire War Memorials website; Uxbridge and West Drayton Gazette, 18 June 1937; Reading Mercury, 24 June 1939; Middlesex County Times. Various dates, 1914-1962; The Children’s Homes website http://www.childrenshomes.; Berkshire Electoral Registers, 1840-1965; Tubb R B. Newbury Road by road; North Wiltshire Herald, 23 December 1927; RIBA library catalogue; Censuses of Great Britain 1891- 1911; Berkshire Record Office catalogue; Hampshire Record Office catalogue; London Electoral Registers, 1832-1965; 1939 Register; National Probate Calendar.

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