WWI Conscientious Objector Graffiti At Richmond Castle Pictured, As 'Important Record' To Be Preserved

'The only war worth fighting is the class war'.

13/05/2016 11:44

Pictures of "delicate" graffiti drawn in pencil by conscientious objectors held in Richmond Castle during the First World War have been revealed in a series of pictures by English Heritage, which will preserve the art.

In May 1916, 16 men - mainly from the north of England- were incarcerated in cells at the 19th-century North Yorkshire castle before they were transported to France to face court martial and a possible firing squad.

The graffiti, scratched on to cell walls, features pencil drawings and inscriptions, including slogans, poetry, portraits of loved ones and even a few examples of "dark humour", according to English Heritage. 

The prisoners, known as the Richmond Sixteen, included a Sunderland footballer, a clerk at the Rowntree's chocolate factory in York, a bookseller from Ely and men of faith.

English Heritage
Pictures of 'delicate' pencil drawn graffiti by conscientious objectors held in Richmond Castle during the First World War have been revealed

“You might just as well try to dry a floor by throwing water on it, as try to end this war by fighting,” Richard Lewis Barry, a socialist who worked in a lace manufacturing factory in Derbyshire, wrote on one wall. 

English Heritage will use a £365,400 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to save the graffiti from "crumbling into oblivion". The work, part of its "Voices of Rebellion project", will allow public access to the cells for the first time in more than 30 years. 

Kate Mavor, English Heritage’s Chief Executive, said: “These graffiti are an important record of the voices of dissent during the First World War. It is remarkable that these delicate drawings and writings have survived for 100 years.

English Heritage
Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire

"Now we can ensure that they survive for the next century and that the stories they tell are not lost.”

Mavor added that high levels of moisture and damp meant the layers of lime wash and plaster on the walls were crumbling and flaking off.

Sunderland centre-forward Norman Gaudie, a Quaker, was one of the men held at Richmond Castle before being shipped to France to face court-martial and the threat of firing squad.

His daughter-in-law, Marjorie Gaudie, said: "It is important to remember men like Norman. They were courageous men.

"He acted from the deepest conviction that all life is sacred. He knew it was wrong to take a life and so he refused to fight.

"He was prepared to die for his belief and that took immense courage," she added.


Marjorie Gaudie, daughter-in-law of Norman Gaudie, centre forward for Sunderland FC and one of the Richmond Sixteen, said: “On the eve of Conscientious Objectors’ day it is important to remember men like my father-in-law, Norman Gaudie.

"They were courageous men. He acted from the deepest conviction that all life is sacred. He knew it was wrong to take a life and so he refused to fight.

"He was prepared to die for his belief and that took immense courage.”

As well as the graffiti of the Richmond Sixteen, the walls of the castle are covered in thousands more drawings, etchings and inscriptions from the first half of the 20th century, from the First World War to the Cold War, English Heritage said. 

For the first time, a full inventory of all the graffiti will be compiled to give a deeper insight into all those who spent time within the walls. 

On 29 May 1916, the Richmond Sixteen were taken from their cells and sent with other conscientious objectors to Henriville military camp, near Boulogne in France.

The men were given 24 hours to consider if they would follow orders or risk being shot for continuing in their disobedience. Soon after the men were ordered to help unload war supplies, they refused and were sent for court-martial.

In the meantime, however, news that the men from Richmond were going to be sent to France had leaked out and Arthur Rowntree, MP for York and a Quaker, took up their case at the highest level and was soon calling for their release.

On 24 June 1916, in a dramatic scene, the court-martial passed a sentence of death but this was immediately commuted to 10 years of hard labour.

One of the conscientious objectors later wrote, “We came to realise that a great, perhaps decisive victory had been gained. Once and for all, we hoped the government had been brought to face the question of its ultimate treatment of COs.”

  • English Heritage
    Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire - the nineteenth century cell block where the the conscientious objectors were imprisoned is at the foot of the tower.
  • English Heritage
    The cells at Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire. Graffiti left there by conscientious objectors during the First World War will beconserved by English Heritage, thanks to a major £365,400 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Photograph: Anthony Chappel-Ross for English Heritage.
  • English Heritage
    English Heritage Senior Curator Kevin Booth examines graffiti left by a conscientious objector during the First World War at Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire. The graffiti will beconserved by English Heritage, thanks to a major £365,400 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Photograph: Anthony Chappel-Ross for English Heritage.
  • English Heritage
    Ending the War Richard Lewis Barry About 1916 In this playful inscription Richard Lewis Barry, a socialist conscientious objector from Long Eaton, Derbyshire, described the futility of fighting. We do not know whether this was a quote recalled from memory, or written in Barry’s own words. This was one of many graffiti Barry inscribed on his cell wall. He was determined to make his mark and express his political opinions, both within and beyond the cells.
  • English Heritage
    Refusing to be a soldier-Percy Fawcett Goldsbrough-August 1916 Hidden behind the door of one of the upstairs cells is an inscription written by Percy Fawcett Goldsbrough, a socialist conscientious objector from Mirfield in West Yorkshire. Goldsbrough was put into the cells for disobeying orders – or as his graffiti describes it, for ‘refusing to be made into a soldier’. Soon after making his mark on the cell wall he was court martialled, sentenced to 112 days’ imprisonment and transferred to Durham civil prison.
  • English Heritage
    ‘Home Sweet Home’-Creator Unknown-Date Unknown. The date and creator of this musical score remain unknown. However, the song ‘Home Sweet Home’ would have struck a chord with those held in the cells. Isolated from their families and drawn from across the country, it is unsurprising that those held here would have turned their thoughts to the comforts of domestic life. ‘Home Sweet Home’ was one of the most popular songs of the 19th century. Perhaps this reassuring and familiar tune was transcribed from memory by a homesick conscientious objector.
  • English Heritage
    Annie Wainwright - John Hubert (Bert) Brocklesby-May 1916 This delicate sketch is of Bert Brocklesby’s fiancée, Annie Wainwright. She was evidently at the fore of his thoughts while he was imprisoned at Richmond, and her portrait may have given him strength and comfort. Perhaps it was similar reassuring memories of a loved one that prompted a later prisoner to relabel the drawing ‘My Kathleen’. Although their engagement endured the war, Bert and Annie never married. Struggling to find permanent work after the war, Brocklesby decided to travel to Vienna with the Friends’ War Victims Relief Committee. Annie, whose brother had been killed in action, could not support this decision. He would be helping the very people who had killed her sibling. Soon after Brocklesby left, the engagement was broken off.
  • English Heritage
    Bull’s Head-Richard Lewis Barry-About 1916. A bull’s head was the only thing which Richard Lewis Barry - a socialist conscientious objector from Long Eaton, Derbyshire - believed he could draw. Even this, he thought, required a label to ensure that no one would misidentify the illustration. Next to his drawing Barry notes his name, address and membership of the Independent Labour Party and No Conscription Fellowship.
  • English Heritage
    Norman Gaudie’s Mother-John Hubert (Bert) Brocklesby-25 May 1916. Norman Gaudie was a conscientious objector held at Richmond Castle in May 2016. This portrait of his mother was drawn by his friend and fellow conscientious objector, Bert Brocklesby. Her likeness was taken from a photograph smuggled into the cells in a secret pocket. After seeing the drawing Gaudie wrote to his mother, ‘I close my eyes partly and imagine it is really you.’ Perhaps it provided some solace.
  • English Heritage
    RICHMOND CASTLE Light switch and Graffiti in cells 'Beer is best...left alone'. The graffiti, many of iti left there by conscientious objectors during the First World War will be conserved by English Heritage, thanks to a major £365,400 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
  • English Heritage
    Calendar and Timeline-John Hubert (Bert) Brocklesby-May 1916. This makeshift calendar and timeline record the journey of John Hubert Brocklesby from his home in Conisbrough, South Yorkshire, to the cells at Richmond Castle. After refusing to join the Non-Combatant Corps (NCC), Brocklesby was remanded in custody. He was held at Pontefract Barracks before being ordered to make his way to the base of the northern NCC, Richmond Castle. This timeline records several periods of detention at Richmond for refusing orders, including 48 hours on a punishment diet of bread and water (‘B W’).
  • English Heritage
    Class War-Unknown-About 1916. In his inscription, this socialist conscientious objector asserts his belief that ‘The only War which is worth fighting is the Class War.’ Like many socialists he argues for solidarity among the working classes of all nations. After all, he writes, the working-class men of England had no quarrel with working-class men of Germany. If only they stood together and refused to fight ‘there would be no war’.
  • English Heritage
    Floral Lace Pattern-William Thomas Angrave-27 July 1916. Drawn by William Thomas Angrave, this intricate floral design is probably a pattern for lace. Before the war Angrave was a draughtsman designing lace in Long Eaton, Derbyshire. This was a town booming on the profits of the lace trade.William was transferred from the Sherwood Foresters, Derby, to the 3rd Northern Non-Combatant Corps (NCC) at Richmond on 13 July 1916. The NCC had been set up in March that year, and its members were subject to army discipline, but didn’t take part in battle or carry weapons. Soon after arriving he was court martialled and sentenced to six months’ detention with hard labour.
  • English Heritage
    Every Cross Grows Light-John Hubert (Bert) Brocklesby-22 May 1916. On 22 May 1916 Norman Gaudie, one of the conscientious objectors held here, laughed while out of his cell on exercise. However, it was his fellow objector Bert Brocklesby who was mistakenly identified as the culprit and confined to his cell. In his diary Gaudie wrote how ‘old Brock’ ‘did not waste the time for he drew on his cell wall a man lying on the ground struggling under the load of a heavy cross’. The lines below the drawing are from a 19th-century poem which was sung as a hymn in Methodist churches.
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