Exhibition: the University Chapel as a war memorial – by Rebecca Roper

Over the past few months, I have been working with Archive Services for a Club 21 internship researching, curating, and installing an exhibition on the University Chapel as a War Memorial. This installation has just gone up and you can visit it at 13 Thurso Street.

I began by looking through the relevant materials in the collection. There is an entire collection of materials about the Chapel, including service programmes, information booklets, photographs, fundraising programmes, the Chapel’s decoration, and history. This was very interesting, but I had to focus on those things related to the Chapel as a war memorial, not just the general history and functions of the Chapel within the University.

Photograph of the construction of the Chapel (PHU11/4)

Photograph of the construction of the Chapel (PHU11/4)

Originally, campus services were held in the Bute Hall. Beginning in 1914, as part of a wider project of building expansion on the Gilmorehill Campus, Sir John J. Burnet was asked to design a new chapel on the campus, integrating the style into the existing style of campus. There are architectural plans and a watercolour by Burnet which I found really interesting to see and these are included in the exhibition. The construction of the Chapel was delayed once World War I began, and in 1919 it was decided the Chapel would be created as a memorial in the honour of members of the University community who had sacrificed in the war. There was also a need for fundraising and collecting donations, so the actual construction of the Chapel did not begin until 1923, and then a series of strikes and bad weather delayed its completion until 1929.

The Chapel was dedicated on 4 October 1929, and a series of memorabilia from the event are in the Archives’ collection, including student tickets, programmes, and announcements. During the dedication, memorial tablets containing 750 names of members of the University community were unveiled. More names have been added since then, as well as additional panels for World War II.

Photograph of a page from the University of Glasgow Roll of Honour, 1914-19, showing handwritten additions (CH4/4/2/1)

Photograph of a page from the University of Glasgow Roll of Honour, 1914-19, showing handwritten additions (CH4/4/2/1)

These names and changes have also been recorded in the University’s Roll of Honour, something which is a continuing project for Archive Services. The physical copy of the Roll of Honour which is in the Chapel’s archive collection was one of the most fascinating objects I looked at in my research and planning. There are dozens of letters inset in the pages, written by relatives of people whose names were missing from the original memorial tablets, and handwritten additions or removals of names from the book’s list related to these letters. Unfortunately we couldn’t display this copy of the Roll of Honour, as it’s a working reference, but there is more information online if you’d like to look at the digital Roll of Honour .

After I had finished research with the collection, I selected the objects which I thought worked best to tell the story of the Chapel’s memorial while keeping in mind the space available in the display cabinet in Thurso Street. I organized them with themes and a coherent story, and wrote up information panels to go alongside them. Installing the exhibition was also a good experience, where I learned more about the preservation of paper objects, mounting them to protect them on display, and how to organise the objects within a space.

Chapel exhibition in caseThe Chapel is still an important part of campus life today. It’s not just a memorial to those who died in the wars, but also to the decades of campus activities, marriages, and other celebratory events throughout the University’s history, and it remains a beautiful landmark on the Gilmorehill campus. This was a wonderful experience to learn more about the University’s history in relation to the centenary of World War I this past summer, as well as explore what is available in the University’s Archives. The exhibition is now up and available for viewing on the 2nd floor at 13 Thurso Street, Monday-Friday, 9.30am-5pm.

Categories: Archive Services

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