First civilian killed in WW1 ‘should have a memorial’

A memorial to the first civilian killed in Scarborough during the first world war is being called for.

Leonard Ellis was also the first civilian killed in the whole country as a result of the conflict, says Wayne Murray, who wants a plaque on the site of Ellis’s death.

Ellis was a porter at Clare & Hunt chemist on the corner of South Street and St Martin’s Avenue, on the South Cliff. The building is still there.

His large, poor family had moved from the countryside to the town in search of better prospects. However, his father John died in the workhouse in Dean Road in 1909. Ellis’s wife and one of their children died in 1901, leaving him on his own with their other two children.

It is thought that the German bombardment of 16 December 1914 killed Ellis just as he was turning the key in the door of the chemist. He was the first of 19 local civilians killed in the war.

His funeral was big as he was in the Salvation Army and played drums on its marches. The only photo of him known to exist shows him in his uniform. The funeral was reported in the New York Times, says Mr Murray, who has been in touch with a descendant, Linda Ellis.

Scarborough Civic Society has declined to erect a plaque as the circumstances don’t meet its strict criteria.

Secretary Paul Riley said: “We are continually asked about blue plaques from well-meaning people but we have to maintain the integrity of the scheme.

“We have advised Wayne that he could commission a blue plaque, costing around £350, and erect it with the permission of the house owner and council planning department, which would be much cheaper than a memorial bench from the council”, Mr Riley said. Mr Murray is now hoping to do this.

Mr Riley continued: “Whilst Mr Ellis doesn't qualify for a blue plaque under the civic-society criteria, there is information about him and the bombardment online. His name is included in the information which Christine Hepworth provides on her popular town walks which take in the streets attacked in 1914. And his [unmarked] grave is included prominently in the guide produced by the Friends of Dean Road & Manor Road Cemeteries”.

The society tries to follow the English Heritage guidelines for erecting blue plaques.

Scarborough doesn’t have any blue plaques relating to WW1 or the bombardment; it has the Oliver's Mount war memorial and plaques in churches.

Mr Murray is from Northern Ireland and has been in Scarborough for 16 years. 

He lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident five years ago. While recuperating, he became fascinated with local history. He unearthed about a dozen old bottles while working at the park-and-ride carpark in Seamer Road and has collected many more since.

Along with many other artefacts, they are displayed at his mini-social history museum in the Vaults below the Market Hall, called From Scardeburg to Scarborough. He says: “It is dedicated to the buildings, streets and people who are long since gone. I am trying to establish a social-history museum in the town as we do not have one. I think we should have a building about the town, the people, how they lived and what they used in everyday life. I love Scarborough history”.

He would like to get a life-size statue of Charles Laughton erected in West Square near the Victoria Hotel, where he was born in 1899.