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Lest we forget: Poppies and public commemoration

At the centenary of 2014, 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' became the surprising star of commemorative activity. This collaborative art installation between artist Paul Cummins, Designer Tom Piper and Historic Royal Palaces comprised 888,246 ceramic poppies, planted in undulating waves in the Tower of London moat. In 2018, the Tower again became the focus of national commemoration with its sound and light installation ‘Beyond the Deepening Shadow’ with designer Tom Piper and sound artist Mira Calix. The popularity of these two installations showed that far from declining, First World War (WWI) commemoration was still intensely popular with the British public.

About the project

'Lest we forget' is an innovative project which looks beyond the spectacle of ‘Blood Swept Lands’ by utilising the installations as case studies through which some of the wider issues of WWI commemoration can be understood.

The project will utilise new methodologies from different disciplines to analyse feedback from the public which was collected as part of the installations, creating one of the largest datasets of commemorative activity available for research.

The project will also explore the ways in which people interacted with 'Blood Swept Lands' and ‘Deepening Shadow’ through different media: from volunteering to 'plant' poppies, visiting the installation, sharing photographs on social media, and depositing home-made artefacts at the Tower; to attending a nightly roll-call ceremony, or buying a ceramic poppy.

A view of the over 800,000 ceramic poppies that appeared around the Tower of London over the summer of 2014 to form a major art installation marking the centenary of the First World War. The red ceramic poppies spill down the Tower of London and pool out into the Tower Moat.
A view of the over 800,000 ceramic poppies, including "the Wave" that appeared around the Tower of London over the summer of 2014 to form a major art installation marking the centenary of the First World War.

‘Blood Swept Land’ and ‘Deepening Shadow’ became media phenomena, and this project will also investigate the importance of this engagement and critique the way the project was perceived as a 'success' by the public, media and Historic Royal Palaces.

Finally, ‘Lest We Forget’ will place the installation in the context of WWI commemorations from 2014-2018, by explaining the ways in which multiple public audiences commemorated WWI more widely, and whether attitudes changed over these four years of remembrance. The research will explore what constituted the 'success' of the Tower’s commemorative events and whether this success can be replicated in future projects and programmes.

Research questions

This project asks the following key research questions:

Meaning & expression: In the context of war commemoration over the last century, how can a study of Blood Swept Lands establish the ways in which the public made sense of the First World War centenary? 

Participation: How can a study of the Blood Swept Lands project inform understandings of public engagement with commemorative art installations? What influence did this public engagement have on the understanding and interpretation of the installation?

Legacy: What effect has the installation had on people’s perceptions and expectations of WWI commemoration, and can analysis of the Blood Swept Lands installation enable others to predict future engagement with commemorative programmes in heritage sites and museums?

Outputs and findings

The project team is sharing their research findings though the delivery of a number of conference papers and academic articles alongside a number of other outputs:

We are also delighted to be working with the Historical Association to deliver a Teacher Fellowship programme for Secondary School teachers which began in January 2019 and will finish in August 2019.


(En)gauging audience data & research within museums and heritage

A report on the (En)gauging audience symposium.

Research team and funding

Dr Megan Gooch, Creative Producer, Historic Royal Palaces.

Eleanor OKeeffe is the Post Doctoral Research Associate. 

Advisory panel: Michael Day CVO, (formerly Chief Executive of Historic Royal Palaces), Polly Richards (Polly Richards Consulting), Dr Silke Arnold-de Simine(Birkbeck College, University of London), Dr Jenny Kidd (Cardiff University), and Dr Joanne Sayner (Newcastle University).

Follow @HRP_Learning on Twitter for more information and discussion about the project.

UKRI Gateway to Research

June 2018 – December 2019


This project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Early Career Fellowship scheme.

Why Remember? WWI centenary and public commemoration at the Tower of London

The major art installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London marked one hundred years since the first full day of Britain's involvement in the First World War.

 In the run up to the opening of the installation, Historic Royal Palace’s Public Engagement teams worked with researchers to think through some of the issues associated with remembrance in the context of the First World War centenary.

This work became the Why Remember? programme which accompanied 'Blood Swept Lands….' It centred on three questions designed to encourage dialogue about how and why we remember:

Why should we remember the war?

Why are 100 years so significant?

How do you want to remember?

Over the last 5 years the Why Remember? programme has continued to explore those questions, and our academic partners have published research on these themes. 

This film, released at the close of the centenary, and featuring the 'Beyond the Deepening Shadow' installation, encourages people to engage once again with those questions. We hope it will inform our future conversations about commemoration and remembrance.