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The Mercantile Marine First World War Memorial

A Grade I Listed Building in Tower, London

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Latitude: 51.5096 / 51°30'34"N

Longitude: -0.0777 / 0°4'39"W

OS Eastings: 533501

OS Northings: 180710

OS Grid: TQ335807

Mapcode National: GBR VF.P1

Mapcode Global: VHGR0.LBS3

Entry Name: The Mercantile Marine First World War Memorial

Listing Date: 27 September 1973

Last Amended: 28 October 2015

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1260087

English Heritage Legacy ID: 206294

Location: Tower Hamlets, London, EC3N

County: London

District: Tower Hamlets

Electoral Ward/Division: Tower

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: City of London

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): City of London

Church of England Parish: All Hallows-by-the-Tower

Church of England Diocese: London

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First World War memorial by Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens to the missing of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleet, 1928.


MATERIALS: Portland stone with bronze plaques, wrought iron gates.

DESCRIPTION: the memorial stands on the southern side of Trinity Square Gardens, next to the Tower of London and oriented east-west on Tower Hill. It is surrounded by a number of designated buildings and structures.

The memorial, raised on a platform above street level, is in the form of a temple of three bays. Each bay is formed of piers and columns in the long side walls, flanking the central open space. The piers forming the bays have external round arch curved niches in Portland stone, and are clad in rectangular bronze panels laid in a stretcher bond pattern and giving the appearance of rusticated walling. These panels bear the names of the missing, arranged by vessel.

The entablature with cornice is of the Doric order. The low pitched roof with side parapets and capped with a low, flat, circular dome has pedimented gable ends over the entrance arches to the east and west ends. Bronze security spikes are fixed in the wall openings to the southern elevation. To the centre is a square, stepped, attic, reminiscent of the original design for the York City Memorial but surmounted by a drum rather than a War Stone.

The principal dedicatory inscription, in bronze, on the front (south) side of the central attic reads 1914-1918/ TO THE GLORY OF GOD/ AND TO THE HONOUR OF/ TWELVE THOUSAND/ OF THE MERCHANT NAVY/ AND FISHING FLEETS/ WHO HAVE NO GRAVE BUT THE SEA. Elaborate bronze swagged wreaths are set to either side. On the north side is carved 1914 – 1918.

The temple is floored with black and white chequerboard stone paving. A flight of five stone steps, with iron gates, leads up from the street at either end of the temple and from the platform further steps lead down into the garden and Second World War memorial below, on the north side.

This List entry has been amended to add the source for War Memorials Online. This source was not used in the compilation of this List entry but is added here as a guide for further reading, 17 February 2017.


During the First World War, a duty of the Merchant Navy was to be a supply service of the Royal Navy. This role included troop transportation, delivering supplies to the armed forces, shipping raw materials to overseas factories and bringing back the completed products, including munitions, and supplying personnel and ships for military service. It was also vital that the Merchant Navy continued its peacetime role, supplying food and goods to the home nation, import and export shipping, and that the fishing fleet continued to bring catches into British ports.

Losses to civilian shipping were high from the outset of the First World War, but peaked in 1917 following the German government’s announcement of unrestricted submarine warfare. The Ministry of Shipping was responsible for establishing preventative measures to deal with the underwater threat. These included the convoy system, in which warships were employed as escorts to merchant fleets. Nevertheless, 3,305 merchant ships were lost during the First World War, at the loss of some 17,000 lives. These included individuals from around the Empire, manning the diverse vessels of the merchant fleet.

A memorial was commissioned by the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission, and was intended for a site on the bank of the River Thames at Temple Steps. Lutyens, the Commission’s Principal Architect, designed a 16.45m high memorial consisting of two massive piers linked at high level by a deep beam supported by two Doric columns. The piers had alternating arches of a similar style to those in the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval, France which Lutyens was designing at around the same time.

Approval was duly received from the London County Council but the fledgling Royal Fine Arts Commission (RFAC) objected in a letter dated 7 June 1926. The Commission cited two reasons: that it would require the demolition of an arch designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, the creator of The Embankment; and that it would be preferable if the memorial was built east of Tower Bridge, where it would be seen by ocean going vessels which were unable to travel west of Tower Bridge.

Both Lutyens and Sir Fabian Ware, the Vice-Chairman of the Imperial War Graves Commission, were unhappy but their attempts to persuade the RFAC to reconsider the matter were unsuccessful. A new site was chosen at Tower Green, further from the river but still west of Tower Bridge.

It was subsequently discovered that a statute dating back to the time of King George III meant that the trustees who owned the land could not give full approval to the Commission’s proposals. This necessitated the passing of a special Act of Parliament, the Mercantile Marine Memorial Act, which received Royal Assent on 29 June 1927. The memorial was constructed by Holloway Brothers (London) Ltd, and commemorates some 12,000 named casualties. It was unveiled on 12 December 1928 by Queen Mary, deputising for King George V who was ill. The ceremony was transmitted live on radio and was the Queen’s first broadcast.

Following the Second World War, the memorial was extended to a design by Sir Edward Maufe (1882-1974), with sculpture by Sir Charles Wheeler (1892-1974). This is separately listed at Grade II*. The combined memorials commemorate some 35,755 named individuals who have no known grave but the sea.

Sir Edwin Lutyens OM RA (1869-1944) was the leading English architect of his generation. Before the First World War his reputation rested on his country houses and his work at New Delhi, but during and after the war he became the pre-eminent architect for war memorials in England, France and the British Empire. While the Cenotaph in Whitehall (London) had the most influence on other war memorials, the Thiepval Arch was the most influential on other forms of architecture. He designed the Stone of Remembrance which was placed in all Imperial War Graves Commission cemeteries and in some cemeteries in England, including some with which he was not otherwise associated.

Sir William Reid-Dick (1879–1961), sculptor, studied at the Glasgow School of Art. By 1908 he was studio assistant to E Whitney Smith in London. Having served with the Royal Engineers in the First World War, his reputation for monumental sculpture was established, following war memorials at Bushey and Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire (both Grade II-listed), with major commissions including the Kitchener Memorial Chapel in St Paul’s Cathedral and works such as the lion on the Menin Gate (1927), as well as other architectural work and portraiture.

Reasons for Listing

The Mercantile Marine First World War Memorial, situated in Trinity Square Gardens on Tower Hill, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: as an eloquent witness to the service of the men and women of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets, and the sacrifices they made in the First World War;
* Architect: a First World War memorial by the nationally renowned architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens (1869-1944), who designed 58 memorials at home and abroad including the Cenotaph in Whitehall;
* Architectural interest: an exceptional memorial of considerable size and complexity in the form of an elegant Doric temple;
* Sculptural interest: sculpture by Sir William Reid-Dick (1879-1961);
* Group value: with the adjacent Merchant Seamen's Memorial (Grade II*-listed) and the listed buildings and scheduled area of the Tower of London.

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