Outcry over seating at memorial

During the weeks after lockdown when cafes opened for takeaways, indignation flared up when patrons were seen enjoying their drinks by the Oundle and Ashton War Memorial at the top of New Street. 
Oundle community Facebook pages became a forum for heated arguments and complaints about whether anyone should be sitting on the memorial.

Neil Repton began one post: “To those who sit on the war memorial, thinking it is a picnic, food eating area. IT’S NOT! Do not disrespect the fallen.”

Most people who joined the argument agreed with his stance. “My personal view is it should be used as a memorial only not a picnic area,” said one contributor.

Some said the council should put up signs, and some thought that nearby Beans Coffee Stop should take responsibility for people who sat by the memorial.

Phil Gilbert, owner of Beans said that the issue of the memorial has been misunderstood. He said that the actual war memorial is fenced off by the chain barrier, and that no one should sit inside the chained area. Officially, the Oundle Memorial is a “pillar that stands on a plinth which itself stands on an octagonal four-stepped base on a raised paved area”. But the base then stands on a highway roundabout, which is also known as the “circular apron”, which does not form part of the memorial.

“This circular apron is the area where anyone wanting to read the names on the memorial stand, so therefore it acts as an amenity exactly the same as it does if someone sits down to rest their legs,” he said.  

“I only ever see people inside this chain ring late on Friday or Saturday nights, which clearly is not acceptable, nor at any other time.” 

He feels that the weekend cyclists tend to get singled out for blame, when there are many visitors to the town who use the apron as a place to sit while enjoying a takeaway.

“The reason why people use the circular apron to sit on is because there is a total lack of public seating at the west end of town, which is a focal area. If there is no seating, where can visitors take a rest? Many, if not most, of the people who sit on the apron are visitors to the town, and they contribute a lot to the local economy.”   

Mr Gilbert said that his fellow retailers and regular customers agree with these points, despite not contributing to the online discussion.

Emma Baker, Oundle Town Council Clerk, acknowledged the issues raised, but said that the council was unwilling to add additional unsightly signs to the memorial. The council is making preliminary inquiries with NCC Highways about the possibility of adding a pedestrian seating area adjacent to the memorial.

Jennifer Yang
1 December 2020