One hundred years after conscientious objectors were imprisoned at Richmond Castle in Yorkshire, a conservation project has been launched to protect the graffiti they left in the cells thanks to a major £365,400 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The walls of the cells at Richmond are covered with hundreds of pencil drawings and inscriptions, which give a unique insight into the conscientious objector movement. The graffiti includes political slogans, religious hymns, portraits of loved ones and even a few examples of dark humour. “You might just as well try to dry a floor by throwing water on it, as try to end this war by fighting,” wrote Richard Lewis Barry, a socialist who worked in a lace manufacturing factory in Derbyshire.
However, the lime wash and plaster walls of the cell block are extremely delicate. Rain water has penetrated through cracks in the roof and the walls of the cell block, leaving the surface so unstable that our warm breath can damage the graffiti, while touching the walls will dislodge lime-wash flakes.
By repairing the roof and walls of the cell block, along with specialist treatment of the graffiti that is most at risk, the Voices of Rebellion project will ensure the graffiti is preserved for future generations. It will also enable the public to view the cells for the first time in more than 30 years. Until then, people will be able to visit the cells virtually via a 360 video.
Fiona Spiers, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund Yorkshire & the Humber, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players this project will help tell one of the less well known stories of the First World War. The graffiti provides a fascinating insight into the history of dissent, and we are delighted to be involved in its preservation for future generations.”