Absolutist COs recognised

Conscientious objectors barracked in Richmond Castle will be recognised in a new exhibition

A propaganda postcard. | Photo: Courtesy of Richmond Castle Museum.

Four hundred conscientious objectors (COs) barracked in Richmond Castle in north Yorkshire during the first world war will be recognised for the first time in a heritage project announced last month.

The display at the new museum at Richmond Castle, which opened in July, will honour the stories of the men, many of whom were Quakers, and who were among the 20,000 registered as COs in the first world war for religious, moral or political reasons. The incarcerated men were a minority of absolutists who, unlike most COs, refused to serve in the new noncombatant corps based at the castle.

Richard Mason, a curator at English Heritage, said finding the names of the men was a huge undertaking, as ‘until now, there has been no comprehensive record of who they were, where they came from or what made them choose this difficult path’. He said the task involved trawling through military records, external archives, existing databases and taking names from the graffiti scrawled across the cells’ walls. 

According to Richard Mason, the men at Richmond Castle helped ‘trigger the early development of human rights… Their actions changed how future governments dealt with conscientious objectors’.

The list includes the ‘Richmond Sixteen’, who refused noncombatant duties and were formally sentenced to be executed by firing squad, before being sentenced to ten years’ hard labour instead. The men included: Ernest Shillito Spencer, a Quaker clerk in a factory; Bert Brocklesby, a teacher from Conisbrough; and Alfred Martlew, a clerk at the Rowntree’s factory in York.

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