From The Vaults

11 November 2021
The Rose and Poppy Gates at Twickenham Stadium

This weekend, as is tradition, the competing rugby teams will enter Twickenham Stadium through the Rose and Poppy Memorial Gates. Unveiled on 29th April 2016, the gates are a tribute to all rugby players from around the world who have lost their lives in war. This drawing in our collection shows the proposal for their design.

When the Rugby Football Union approached sculptor Harry Gray to design a commemorative artwork for Twickenham, an early idea had been to install a sculpture showing a rugby player passing a ball to a First World War soldier. However, Gray felt that an overt, figurative war monument might not correlate with the mood of excitable match-day fans and players preparing to take to the field. Instead, he proposed the Rose and Poppy Gates - a more contemplative form of commemoration, but one which would become an integral part of the match-day routine at the stadium.

The design proposal shows the gates as viewed from the West Car Park, with the entrance to the West Stand visible in the background. Whilst the new metal gates would replace existing wooden ones, the sculptures which were already positioned on the gate pillars were retained. The lion, who has stood atop the central pillar since 1972, is still flanked by the four bronze sculptures designed by Gerald Laing and installed in 1995: The Kicker, The Winger, The Scrum-Half and The Forward. The view of the gates in the proposed design is very similar the view of the gates today. However, one element of the design which would be further developed were the floral embellishments; in the sketch, the flowers are fewer in number and, while their variety of form is discernible, the drawing gives only a small indication of their true significance.

The metal flowers which decorate the gates undergo a metamorphosis, starting as fifteen English roses at the bottom - modelled on those worn by the Grand Slam-winning England team of 1914 - and gradually changing shape to become remembrance poppies towards the top. This motif offers a subtle representation of the transition from player to soldier, but Gray did not want the design to appear too floral or sentimental. Careful consideration of the materials for the sculpture led him to an innovative solution: the poppies are cast from First World War German shell casements, still bearing their stamps from the munitions factory. The remnants of shells once fired in anger now adorn the gateway that welcomes rugby players and fans from across the world.

The Rose and Poppy Memorial Gates are intended to raise questions and encourage reflection, but they do not seek to present a triumphant celebration of war. Their design might seem understated, but their imagery is deeply symbolic and their important match-day role ensures that those they commemorate are never forgotten.