VISIT | Seeing the Story beyond the Horse at Mells | Somerset
Of The Loved and The Lost
A compelling sculpture inhabits St Andrew's church in the quiet village of Mells in Somerset - the war memorial to Edward Horner
A hidden connection between architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and the Horner family
Moving farewells to those who served in the First World War and never returned home - these are the lost generation of Britain
"...the horse and rider - a family's tribute to a son lost to the Great War..."
This horse and rider sculpture dominates this church. A memorial which represents a singular man lost to a family whose grief probably dominated them like in the way that only grief can. It a powerful piece of art. A statement of respect, of war, of character and of the intransigence of life and death. But mostly it speaks of the man. His original grave marker lies nearby. The closest his family could get to bringing his body back home.
I call it Lutyens’ horse but it seems slightly wrong because this magnificent horse and rider sculpture was actually designed by Alfred Munnings. The mighty pedestal it sits upon is the design of Sir Edwin Lutyens, nostalgic architect and designer. But I think of it as Lutyens’ horse for the very real reason that Lutyens and the Horner family that the memorial represents were connected. And even now after these characters are gone, the village of Mells in Somerset has an enduring connection with Sir Edwin Lutyens. A deep personal connection. A connection which speaks of something more than just occupation, of task.
In 1916 Lutyens was asked to design a memorial not for Edward Horner, but his brother-in-law, husband to his sister Katherine Horner and son of the British Prime Minster Raymond Herbert Asquith.
Raymond was the eldest son, a member of the Coterie (an exclusive social circle of bright young things including Edward Horner) and whose death in the war haunted his wife and his father. Raymond was shot in the chest in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on the Somme; and buried at Guillemont. He died the way honourable British officers of this class wanted to die, an example of endurance beyond death. Smoking a cigarette whilst pretending he hadn’t been mortally wounded. He was 37 years of age.
Lutyens gave the Horners a memorial fit for Lieutenant Raymond Asquith, 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards which endures on the wall of the church here at Mells.
In piam memoriam Raymondi Asquith Coll. Wintoniensis et Balliolensis scholaris Coll. Omnium Animarum socii qui in foro et republica ad omnia ingenii virtutisque praemia spe et votis aequalium destinatus medio in flore aetatis armis pro patria sumptis fortiter pugnans occidit defunctum terra tenet longinqua et amica desiderio inexpleto prosequuntur sui
N. VI NOV. MDCCCLXXVIII OB. XV SEPT. MCMXVI
The English translation reads:
In loving memory of Raymond Asquith Scholar of Winchester College and Balliol College Fellow of All Souls College Who was destined by the hopes and desires of his contemporaries To win all the rewards of intellectual talent and virtue. In the middle of the flower of his life He took up arms for his native-land and died fighting bravely. A distant and friendly land holds him now he is dead. His family and friends mourn him with unrequited longing. Born on the 6th of November 1878, died on the 15th September 1916
Just over a year later, the Horner family who had lived in the Manor House at Mells since the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII had to face the loss of the only surviving son Edward William Horner – another victim of the Great War.
Their elder son, Mark died from scarlet fever aged 16 years in 1907 which left Edward as the only surviving male heir. When the war broke out in August 1914, Edward enlisted with the North Somerset Yeomanry but owing to family assistance he was transferred into the 18th (Queen Mary’s Own) Hussars, a cavalry regiment. On the Western Front, Edward was seriously wounded in May 1915 when a piece of shrapnel lead to him having to be operated upon to remove his kidney. A serious medical condition prior to antibiotics and modern medical antiseptic practises. His parents Sir John and Lady Horner were allowed to visit their son in hospital at Boulogne in France; as well as his alleged fiancé Lady Diana Manners, the influential socialite and member of the Coterie.
Edward survived but despite being ordered and forced to take a back step from the war, he managed to get a transfer back to the front line. On the 21st November 1917, Lieutenant Horner’s company was in the defence of the village of Noyelles in the Battle of Cambrai. Edward Horner died from wounds he received that day. He is buried at Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery, Manancourt, Somme, France. He was 28 years old.
These two men, Raymond Asquith and Edward Horner, whose bodies were left to lie (as with all of the Great War dead overseas) near where they fell, were remembered here at Mells.
In 1920 the Munnings Horse and Lutyens platform inscribed with the words of Shelley:
He hath outsoared the shadow of our night
And Lutyens was at the heart of this place. A place for memorial and re-design. Lutyens would go on to design the great Cenotaph in London and the be the inspiration behind the war cemeteries and memorials of the First World War. For a family, and a particular slice of society, Lutyens would allow them to farewell their young men who had gone to war and never returned. His fingerprints would last long after at Mells.
In the 1920s, Lutyens re-designed Mells Manor after it burned down just before Edward’s death in October 1917. He would design the village war memorials which is sited in a particular place of his choosing; and even in the churchyard, the avenue of Yew trees is a touch of Lutyens’ horticultural design which still remains to this day.
But for a horse and rider, the memory of a man and a Lutyens design, maybe this village of Mells might not be all that it is today.
And one more thing to note, on both the grave for Edward Horner and Raymond Asquith lies the epitaph chosen by the family for each man. In each case, they have the same words.
Small time, but in that small most greatly lived
This star of England
It is from Henry V, Shakespeare’s drama of an English leader leading the charge for his men and his country at war in France.
Their memories linger on in Mells.
Directions and Map |
Find the the village church of St Andrew in Mells in the middle of this small Somerset village