Norfolk soldier Cecil Upcher inspires new exhibition

A portrait of Cecil Upcher in uniform .

A portrait of Cecil Upcher in uniform . - Credit: Eastern Counties Newspapers

A First World War soldier who used his skill as an architect to design memorial buildings after the conflict has inspired a new exhibition.

Royal Norfolk Regiment memorial cottages. Photo: Bill Smith

Royal Norfolk Regiment memorial cottages. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2011

Cecil Upcher served with the 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment, was wounded in October 1915 and spent time in hospital before returning to the Front.

In mid 1916 he succumbed to shell-shock and, gripped by deep depression, he was invalided home to Norwich.

After the war, Upcher returned to his profession of architecture and designed the First World War Memorial Cottages at Mousehold, and later the nearby Second World War Bungalows.

He also helped restore Pull's Ferry and worked on many church projects across Norfolk.

A sketch of a dugout by Cecil Upcher.

A sketch of a dugout by Cecil Upcher. - Credit: Eastern Counties Newspapers

This legacy will be explained in a new exhibition at the Bridewell Museum called 'Norwich and the First World War: Soldiers and Workers, Duty and Philanthropy', and announced near to Remembrance Sunday.

It focuses on the Norfolk Regiment Memorial Cottages near Mousehold Heath, designed by Upcher and built by the county regiment in 1920 for disabled soldiers and their families.

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The Regiment was determined to commemorate those who died by providing support for its wounded, and Upcher's own experience meant that designing the cottages had a particular resonance for him.

The exhibition explores not just the fundraising, design and building of the cottages, but the stories of the first families who lived there, including moving oral accounts by past residents.

It was curated by Joe Hoyle, a teaching museum trainee with Norfolk Museums Service whose post has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund specifically to work on the service's First World War commemoration programme.

'Researching these men and their harrowing wounds in particular has been a humbling experience,' he said. 'I've had the privilege of speaking to a lady who lived in one of the cottages as a child; she had some remarkable stories about her 'poor old dad'.

'I believe the result is an enlightening, informative and emotional exhibition.'

John Ward, chairman of the Norfolk Joint Museums Committee, said the timely exhibition provided fascinating insights into the sacrifices that many made for their country, 'whether on the front line or at home'.

The exhibition opens on Tuesday, November 24.


The exhibition at the Bridewell Museum in Norwich incorporates a textile sculpture by the internationally exhibited artist Paddy Hartley.

It is on loan to the Museum of Norwich, contained within the Bridewell, from the National Army Museum.

Hartley has used vintage army uniform to interpret the untold stories of soldiers who suffered horrifying facial disfigurements in the First World War by literally stitching their stories into the fabric of the uniform.

He will be giving a talk about this project and his latest work inspired by the theme of remembrance at Norwich University of the Arts on Wednesday, November 25.

Norwich and the First World War: Soldiers and Workers, Duty and Philanthropy will run from November 24 until March 5, 2016

Norwich Castle Museum

Visitors inspired to find out more about Cecil Upcher and the First World War can head to the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum at Norwich Castle, where new displays have been added.

Upcher's sketches and descriptive letters home from the Western Front are the source material for an extension to the First World War displays.

His architectural background provided him with a keen eye for detail, and he includes vivid sketches of his dugouts where he was based, together with exact measurements.

These interactive displays bring the drawings of dugouts and trenches to life with a touch of a button.

Part of the Heritage Lottery Fund grant to the Norfolk Museums Service for First World War centenary commemorations enabled specialist model makers Paragon Creative to be employed to make the models.