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Edith Cavell monument

(unveiled 1920) - St Breward's monument to a heroine

The execution of British nurse Edith Cavell (1865-1915) was greeted with widespread shock. A monument was ordered from De Lank quarry, St Breward and, apart from her marble statue, created in situ. Such a large crowd of onlookers came daily that the enterprising quarry owner started charging entrance fees.

Credit: St Breward History Group, near Bodmin

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Edith Cavell was born in 1865 in Swardeston, a small Norfolk village.  Brought up with a privileged background, she was taught to feel compassion towards other people. 

She became a governess and eventually went to Belgium, where she learned to speak French. In 1895 at the age of 30 she returned to England and decided to train as a nurse. She trained at the Royal London Hospital and for three years worked as the night superintendent at St Pancras Infirmary.  In spring 1906 after ten years of nursing, Edith probably spent a few weeks in Cornwall with nursing friend Eveline Dickinson, the daughter of the vicar of Bodmin.  They then visited Italy, France and Switzerland. In August 1907, Edith returned to Brussels to work in the first ever training school for nurses. 

At the start of the First World War she watched as 50,000 German soldiers marched into the city.  Despite personal risks she allowed her nursing school to be used as a safe house for Allied soldiers who had become separated from their regiments.  She nursed their wounds, gave them money, false papers, disguises and guides to get them out of the country into Holland.  She was tracked down and arrested, then executed on 12th October 1915.

In May 1919 Edith’s body was brought home, escorted by British troops.  There was a service in Westminster Cathedral attended by King George V. Her monument was unveiled in 1920 and stands at St Martin’s Place, London.

Sir George Frampton sculpted the 10 foot figure of Edith Cavell which was incorporated into a high column made of St Breward granite. The column was topped with a Madonna and Child and carved in-situ in the De Lank quarry during the war.  The monument’s creation caused such a crowd of onlookers daily from the local villages that the enterprising quarry owner started charging entrance fees.  In fact the money 'charged' to view the work was actually used to help to pay for the granite war memorial to the war dead in St Breward parish church.  The pedestal of Cavell's monument is inscribed with Cavell’s words to an Anglican priest the evening before her death: ‘Patriotism is not enough; I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone’. 

Photographs from the time show the stone-masons who worked on the monument, as well as a group including Nurse Crahart, St Breward’s respected nurse and midwife, who apparently delivered babies with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. 

De Lank quarry has provided granite for many structures in the UK and around the world, including London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Eddystone Lighthouse, New Scotland Yard, the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and the base of the Cenotaph in Whitehall. 

More recently De Lank granite was used in making the seed displayed at the Eden project (which was sculpted in the quarry before being transported to St Austell) and the water feature in Kensington Gardens in memory of Princess Diana.

Key words: women, nursing

Credit: St Breward History Group nr Bodmin, photo includes Nurse Crahart