The World War One Garden of Reflection in Chorley is now a landmark feature and living memorial in Astley Park

As part of our Chorley 150 series, local historian Stuart Clewlow shares the background story to Chorley's Garden of Reflection.

Friday, 30th July 2021, 2:06 pm
Updated Friday, 30th July 2021, 2:36 pm
The Messenger sculpture in the Garden of Reflection in Astley Park, Chorley
The Messenger sculpture in the Garden of Reflection in Astley Park, Chorley

With the opening of the hugely popular Chorley Flower Show this weekend, we thought it fitting to share the background story to the equally popular and now landmark feature of Astley Park, the Garden of Reflection.

During a simple ceremony the garden was officially opened by visiting TV Garden celebrity Adam Frost and Sir Lindsay Hoyle, MP, at the Chorley Flower Show 2018.

Chorley’s Garden of Reflection, was funded by the Armed Forces Community Covenant Grant Scheme, and was commissioned to provide a lasting memorial to the men and women of Chorley borough who served during World War One and as an acknowledgment of the centenary of the end of the conflict.

The Garden of Reflection in Astley Park, Chorley

The war memorials that already exist across our borough come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, with none being the same as another and there is certainly no set rule as to what could be regarded as a superior or more suitable form of memorial than the next.

Created by multi award-winning garden designer John Everiss, the garden was designed in such a way as to make a positive impact within the Walled Garden area of Astley Park, whilst not detracting from the heritage of the site.

The area centres around a performance stage and with the beauty of Astley Hall as a backdrop, the scene is set for people to sit and contemplate, reflect, learn or be entertained.

Far from simply seeing the Garden of Reflection, it is very much a case of experiencing it.

The opening of the Garden of Reflection in Astley Park, Chorley in 2018

Life in the trenches has come to epitomise our perception of World War One and so it has heavily influenced the design of the garden.

However, it was a credit to our borough that we did in fact have representatives serving in the Royal Navy, Army, Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force and in countless other supporting roles.

And so, far from glorifying or celebrating conflict, the Garden of Reflection commemorates the lives of all those from Chorley borough who were a part of it.

This living memorial is engaging on all sorts of levels, for all ages and abilities and can be enjoyed by everybody.

The opening of the Garden of Reflection in Astley Park, Chorley in 2018 with, left to right, Stuart Clewlow, Thompson Dagnall, John Everiss and Keith Craig

It can be a place to sit quietly and contemplate what sacrifices our ancestors made during the war and at times when the performance stage is in use, it becomes a place where you can be entertained and enjoy the surroundings.

John explained: “The flooring is constructed from millboard similar to the duck boards found in the trenches.

"The dry stone walls are constructed from local sandstone, to replicate many of the local mills where the men and women who joined up would have made a living.

"The performance building with its giant timbers and steel roof covered by grasses evoke life in the trenches and dugouts.

The information board at the Garden of Reflection in Astley Park, Chorley in 2018

"Also, if you look closely you will find small pieces of flint and brick, sourced from the Somme where our local soldiers fought and died.

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Everyone visiting is encouraged to take the opportunity to sit next to the stone sculpture, ‘The Messenger’, by acclaimed sculptor Thompson Dagnall.

Hand-carved from a large single piece of sandstone, his presence within the garden is to generate thought and contemplation; is he enjoying a performance in the garden, dwelling on the thought of sounding the bugle to signal a charge from the trenches, or has he just finished playing ‘The Last Post’ in honour of fallen comrades?

The interpretation of the sculpture and the garden overall is very much an individual and personal analysis.

Sit next to him, take a ‘selfie’, share it on social media for example and be a messenger of today- telling the world that Chorley borough has not forgotten the sacrifice made by thousands of its men and women during World War One.

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Carved in the large quarried blocks of stone, is the words of a little known poem “A Letter to Daddy”, which was written by a child mill worker from Chorley during the war.

It is from a postcard within my local military collection and struck a chord with John during the gardens development stage as it provides a local link to the past.

Although the poem is not famous by the standards of the time, all we know is that it was written by a little girl with the initials M.L. to her father serving in action.

It allows us to reflect upon the feelings of those whose loved ones served in the war and, in the setting of the garden, we can explore the thought of whether or not the father in the poem is ‘The Messenger’ or became one of those our messenger was mourning.

It was apparent from the start that the project had great educational potential which would enrich the message delivered by the garden itself.

As a result, the Garden of Reflection has been enhanced by the production of a video documentary which explores the design process, field research across the battlefields and cemeteries in France, provides a social history aspect and of course, includes the development and construction of the garden.

A major premise of the documentary was to set the garden aside from the generic history of World War One and highlight some of the local stories, influences, and artefacts with a local provenance.

To assist with developing this, I was honoured to be invited onto the project by John.

It was an absolute privilege to travel the battlefields and cemeteries of Festubert, Serre, Bethune, Amiens and the grand Thiepval Memorial to the Missing with Thompson and film maker Keith Craig.

Battlefield relics, flint and other stone were collected for inclusion in the garden and throughout, we filmed in locations which were all relevant to the service personnel from the borough.

Wreaths were laid on behalf of the people from Chorley borough was also a great opportunity to take a dozen or so medals from my collection to the memorials and cemeteries, to reunite them with the Chorley borough men who did not live to receive them.

To find out more about the Garden of Reflection, the design process and its construction, you can watch a specially commissioned video here: .

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Filming for the documentary project