44 C O N T E X T 1 5 7 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 8 CLARA WILLETT Caring for war memorials The centenary of the Armistice in November has concentrated attention on war memorials, their importance to their local communities, and how they can be conserved and cared for. During the centenary of the first world war, communities throughout the UK have been commemorating those who gave their lives. From re-enactments of soldiers’ farewells to crochet poppies, these initiatives remind us that even though the world has changed enormously, our wish to commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice remains just as strong. The local war memorial is often a simple stone cross with inscriptions of the deceased. Its appearance, particularly around Armistice Day, becomes an important focus of pride and civic concern. These memorials are not only important in allowing us to remember the fallen, but they are also vital historical records of the first world war.There are estimated to be around 100,000 war memorials in the UK, 44 per cent of them being constructed of stone (external and internal). The primary aim is for the war memorial to be presentable and the inscriptions legible. This often entails cleaning. The most common method is commercial steam cleaning (which generates a combination of superheated water and steam).Working at temperatures of between 120 and 150°C and pressures of 30–150 bar, the machines can quickly and effectively remove soiling. They require care and patience from the operator to make sure the stonework is not over-cleaned. Over-cleaning can damage the stone surface. A cleaner appearance can lead to an increase in the frequency of cleaning and, as a consequence, increased maintenance costs. Ironically, overcleaning can result in the inscrip- tions being even harder to read. It is often said that high temperature steam can have a biocidal effect, destroying biologi- cal growth (including subsurface roots) and preventing future regrowth. Calculations based on temperature at depth indicate that the steam would have to be in contact with the stone for more than 40 minutes for this effect to be achieved. This method is just one from a range of cleaning options that should be considered. Hand cleaning with stiff bristle brushes may be a more effective and sensitive option, particularly on more fragile areas. Although this is labour intensive, its simplicity compared to the logistics of setting up bulky machinery makes it a highly convenient and effective option. Should we expect a memorial of almost 100 years old to look as good as new? The gen- eral consensus from War Memorials Trust, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Historic England is that a war memorial should look cared for.This means that inscriptions should Tottenham war memorial (Photo: Robin Forster) (opposite) In 2016 a grant was awarded for the conservation and repair of the Bootle war memorial, near Liverpool, with the support of Historic England and War Memorials Trust. The inclusion of a bronze figure of an airman is unusual for the first world war as air warfare was still very new. The memorial was also upgraded to Grade II* in recognition of this special significance (Photo: Historic England)