Originally installed over a staircase in the Baltic Exchange in 1922, this World War I memorial commemorates exchange members who were killed during the conflict.

Designed by John Dudley Forsyth, the memorial takes the form of a three metre high half dome depicting the winged Victory stepping from a boat into a Roman temple where she is greeted by various Roman figures. Shields and badges of colonies and dependencies of the British Empire are incorporated into the image with the Royal Coat of Arms at the centre.

Below the half dome are five two metre high ‘Virtue Windows’ with representations of the virtues – truth, hope, justice, fortitude and faith. Two panels on the sides list key battles from World War I.

The windows were originally accompanied by marble panels listing all those who had died.

The memorial was unveiled by General Sir Herbert Alexander Lawrence on 1st June 1922, and dedicated by the Bishop of Willesden, William Perrin.

It survived World War II’s Blitz intact but in 1992 was badly damaged when an IRA bomb significantly damaged the building. Of the 240 panels in the memorial, only 45 were completely intact.

The Baltic Exchange was subsequently demolished (St Mary Axe, aka The Gherkin, now stands on the site). The damaged memorial, meanwhile, was taken from the building and restored. It’s been displayed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich since 2005.

WHERE: National Maritime Museum, Romney Road, Greenwich (nearest station is Cutty Sark DLR); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum.

PICTURE: Top – The half dome of the memorial (image_less_ordinary (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)); Right –  One of the Virtue Windows (john.purvis (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

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One of the star sites in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, the tomb of Horatio, Lord Nelson, is certainly grand.

Located in what is known as the Nelson Chamber, it centres on a polished back sarcophagus which sits on a stone plinth surrounded by columns with a mosaic floor featuring nautical motifs underneath.

But what makes this tomb unusual is that the sarcophagus actually predates the cathedral itself – and it wasn’t originally made for Nelson.

The sarcophagus was initially commissioned by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII, and made by Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano in about 1524. But when Wolsey fell out of favour – and eventually died in disgrace – the then unfinished sarcophagus was seized by King Henry VIII.

King Henry intended to use it for himself and commissioned Benedetto to rework it but it wasn’t complete when he died and while his children – King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I – had intended to complete it after his death, none did so.

It was Queen Elizabeth I who moved the unfinished work out of Westminster to Windsor but during the Commonwealth various pieces designed to accompany the completed tomb were dispersed.

They included four large bronze angels that Benedetto had completed in 1529 which were intended to stand on the tomb’s four corners – for many years these were used as decorative features on gate pillars at Harrowden Hall in Northampshire but were finally recovered by the V&A in 2015 after a national appeal and can now be seen there.

The sarcophagus itself remained at Windsor until King George III presented it to the Admiralty in tribute to Lord Nelson.

Suitably fitted out, his remains were enclosed within when he was buried in St Paul’s crypt on 9th January, 1806.

Nelson’s body, which had been preserved in a keg of brandy on its journey aboard the HMS Victory back from the Battle of Trafalgar where he was killed in 1805, is actually held inside a wooden coffin which sits inside the sarcophagus. This coffin was made from the mainmast of the French ship L’Orient which was presented to Nelson following victory at the Battle of the Nile.

Meanwhile, the sarcophagus itself, which would have been topped with Wolsey’s cardinal’s hat had it fulfilled its original intention, is now topped with a coronet – a symbol of Nelson’s title of viscount.

A monument to Nelson, the work of John Flaxman, can also be seen inside the cathedral.

WHERE: Nelson Chamber, The Crypt, St Paul’s Cathedral (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Mansion House and Blackfriars); WHEN: 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday; COST: £20 adults/£17.50 concessions/£8.50 children (online and group discounts; family tickets available); WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk.

PICTURE: Above – Michael Broad  (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – reverendlukewarm (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

The grave holding the remains of Puritan preacher and writer John Bunyan, who died in August, 1688, now celebrates  the famed author of The Pilgrim’s Progress with an effigy lying atop a chest tomb. But it was not always so.

Bunyan, was in fact, first buried in the Baptist corner of the burial ground but it was understood that when the tomb of his friend John Strudwick was next opened (it was at Strudwick’s London home that Bunyan had died), his body would be moved into it. It’s thought this was done which Strudwick himself died in 1695.

Bunyan’s name was inscribed on the side of the monument over the tomb which took the form of a relatively unadorned stone chest in the Baroque style.

By the mid-1800s, however, this had fallen into decay and a public appeal was launched for the tomb’s restoration.

More than simply cleaning up the existing tomb, however, the Portland stone monument was completely reconstructed in 1862.

Designed by sculptor Edgar George Papworth, the new monument was again constructed as a chest, but this time with an effigy of Bunyan lying on top and two relief panels on the sides depicting scenes from his famous book.

The now Grade II* monument has been further restored a couple of times since, including after World War II when it was damaged by bomb shrapnel.

WHERE: Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, 38 City Road (nearest Tube station is Old Street); WHEN: 8am to 7pm weekdays/9.30am to 7pm weekends; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Bunhill-Fields.aspx.

PICTURES: Top – Edwardx (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0); Right – David Adams

Many people are aware of the memorial to 17th century playwright and poet Ben Jonson that sits among the who’s who of the literary world commemorated in Westminster Abbey’s famous Poet’s Corner. But fewer people visit the poet’s actual grave, located a short distance away in the northern aisle of the nave.

And while visitors to the northern aisle of the nave may think its a small stone set into the wall above the floor itself, with the inscription ‘O rare Ben Johnson’ (note the ‘h’ used here in his name), which marks the grave’s location, we’re not quite there yet.

The stone, which was indeed the original stone covering Jonson’s grave, was actually moved from the floor to this position when the entire nave floor was being relaid in the 19th century. For the actual location of Jonson’s grave you have to head back to the aisle’s floor and there, just to the east of a brass commemorating John Hunter, you’ll find a small, grey lozenge-shaped stone which marks the actual grave site (and bears the same inscription with the same spelling).

The inscription can also be found on his Poet’s Corner memorial. It was apparently put on Jonson’s grave stone when one Jack Young passed by the grave as it was being covered and gave a mason 18 pence to carve it (Young is said to have been knighted later on).

All that’s very well but what really sets Ben Jonson’s grave apart from the other more than 3,500 graves buried in the abbey is that Jonson is the only person known to have been interred below the abbey floor standing upright.

The poet died in a somewhat impoverished state and it’s that which is said to explain the unusual arrangement. One version of the tale has the poet begging for just 18 square inches of ground for his burial from King Charles I; another has him telling the Abbey’s Dean that he was too poor to be buried with his fellow poets and that a space two foot square would serve him (the Dean apparently granted him his wish which meant Jonson’s coffin lowered into the ground end on end).

The fact he was buried upright in his coffin was apparently confirmed in 1849 when a clerk saw skeletal remains of a standing person in the spot Jonson was buried while doing another burial nearby.

The monument in Poet’s Corner, meanwhile, was erected in the early 1720s by the Earl of Oxford. It features a medallion portrait of him with actor’s masks and a broken golden lamp symbolising death on top. It was designed by James Gibbs and attributed to the sculptor JM Rysbrack.

WHERE: North Aisle, Westminster Abbey (nearest Tube stations are Westminster and St James’s Park); WHEN: Times vary – see the website for details; COST: £23 adults/£20 concession/£10 children (discounts for buying online; family rates available); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org

PICTURES: Top – The original grave marker now set in the wall; Below – The tile marking the actual grave site (Google Maps – images have been treated to improve resolution).


It should probably come as no surprise that this rather elegant memorial in the former graveyard of St Pancras Old Church is that of architect – and founder of a rather remarkable museum – Sir John Soane (as well as his wife Eliza and their oldest son, John).

The tomb, described by architectural commentator Nikolaus Pevsner as an “outstandingly interesting monument”, was, of course, designed by the heart-broken Soane, the architect of neo-classical buildings like the Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery, following the death of his wife on 22nd November, 1815.

Erected in 1816, it features a central cube of Carrara marble with four faces for inscriptions topped by a domed canopy supported on four ionic columns. A Portland stone balustrade surrounds the whole structure as well as stairs down to the subterranean tomb itself.

Among the symbolic decorative elements on the monument are a pine cone finial – a symbol of regeneration, a serpent swallowing its tail – a symbol of eternity, and reliefs of boys holding extinguished churches – symbols of death.

Sir John’s son, John, was buried in the tomb after his death in 1823 and Sir John himself was interred following his death on 20th January, 1837.

The monument is said to be only one of two Grade I-listed monuments in London – the other being Karl Marx’s gravestone in Highgate Cemetery. It is also famously said to have formed part of the inspiration for Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s design of famous K2 red telephone box.

The Soane tomb was vandalised in 1869 – and it was suggested at the time that it should be relocated to Lincoln’s Inn Fields for its protection.

It was more recently restored in 1996 by the Soane Monuments Trust and again, after more vandalism, in 2000-01 as part of a restoration of St Pancras Gardens by the London Borough of Camden.

The graveyard of St Pancras Old Church, incidentally, is also the site of The Hardy Tree.

WHERE: St Pancras Gardens, Pancras Road, Camden Town (nearest Tube station is Kings Cross St Pancras); WHEN: Daylight hours; COST: free; WEBSITE: https://posp.co.uk/st-pancras-old-church/; www.camden.gov.uk/parks-in-camden.

PICTURES: Michael Day (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0).

Located in Kensal Green Cemetery in London’s north-west, the mausoleum of circus equestrian performer Andrew Ducrow (1793-1842) is one of the largest and most decorated in the cemetery. Fitting, given Ducrow – who was also proprietor of Astley’s Amphitheatre – was known as the “Colossus of Equestrians”.

The grand Grade II*-listed tomb on the cemetery’s Central Avenue was designed by George Danson, theatrical designer for Ducrow’s horse shows, and is a pastiche of styles with Greek and Egyptian influences among others.

The elaborately decorated tomb features reeded columns, lotus capitals and sphinxes as well as beehives, reliefs of angels holding wreathes, masks of comedy and tragedy and plenty of pegasi.

The crumbling tomb, regarded as one of the most outstanding funerary monuments of Victorian England, was actually first erected for Ducrow’s wife 1837 at a cost of £3,000. It was further embellished for his own internment – including an inscription which reads in part, rather immodestly, “erected by genius for the reception of its own remains”.

WHERE: Kensal Green Cemetery, Harrow Road, Kensal Green (nearest Tube station is Kensal Green); WHEN: 9am to 6pm, Monday to Saturday; 10am to 6pm Sunday (summer opening hours); COST: free; WEBSITE: www.kensalgreen.co.uk.

PICTURE: Loz Pycock (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

One of the more uniquely designed tombs in London, that of Victorian explorer, soldier, linguist and diplomat Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890; not to be confused with the actor of the same name) was created in the shape of a Bedouin tent.

Located in the cemetery of St Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church in Mortlake in south-west London, the Grade II* tomb was designed by Burton’s strongly Catholic wife, Isabel, Lady Burton (1831-96), who is buried in it with him (his body was brought back from Trieste, Italy, where he expired; hers added after he death several years later). The tent’s form was apparently inspired by one the couple stayed in during a visit to Syria.

The tomb, which is constructed of stone from the Forest of Dean and Carrara marble and topped with two gilt stars, looks a fitting tribute for Burton who not only took part in the search for the source of the Nile but also scandalously translated the texts The Arabian Nights, The Perfumed Garden and The Kama Sutra into English.

The coffins of the couple can be seen inside the tomb through a large window in the rear of the roof which is accessed by a short ladder. The interior is also decorated with a range of items including religious paintings, statues and other items symbolic of the Catholic faith as well as strings of camel bells.

The inscription on the front of the mausoleum features a commemorative sonnet by poet Justin Huntly McCarthy as well as the inscription, “This monument is erected to his memory by his living countrymen”.

The tomb was restored in 1975 and more recently in 2012-13.

The interior of the church also features a memorial to Burton (who actually described himself as an atheist). It takes the form of a stained glass window which depicts Burton as a medieval knight.

WHERE: St Mary Magdalen Church, 61 North Worple Way, Mortlake (nearest overground station is Mortlake); WHEN: Reasonable hours; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.stmarymags.org.uk.

PICTURES: Maureen Barlin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/image cropped)

One of the more eccentric grave monuments in London, this massive triangular shaped memorial in a Pinner churchyard was erected by landscape gardener and horticultural writer John Claudius Loudon for his parents.

Located in the churchyard of St John the Baptist, the massive Grade II-listed monument is shaped like an inverted V with an arch piercing the base and features what appears to be a stone coffin stuck through it about halfway up the structure.

On one end, it bears an inscription to Scottish merchant William Loudon, who died on 29th December, 1809, and, on the other end, another to his wife Agnes, who died on 14th October, 1841.

It’s been suggested – and the words on the ornamental ironwork in the arch, ‘I Byde My Time’, are seen as supporting this theory –  that the reason for the odd design lies in the terms of a will which stipulated Loudon and his wife would only inherit a sum of money if their bodies stayed above ground.

That theory kind of falls apart, however, given that they are actually both buried below the monument. Another theory suggests the monument was deliberately designed to show that the couple were socially above – or perhaps closer to God – than the rest of those buried in the graveyard.

John Claudius Loudon, who died in 1843 – just a couple of years after the monument was erected, is buried at Kensal Green.

WHERE: St John the Baptist Church, Church Lane, Pinner (nearest Tube station is Pinner); WHEN: Reasonable hours; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.pinnerparishchurch.org.uk

PICTURE: Top – Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0/cropped); Right – Peter Reed (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0/cropped)

One of the first joint commissioners of the London Metropolitan Police, Sir Richard Mayne was also the youngest ever commissioner, and – with a stint of some 39 years, between 1829 and 1868 – the longest serving commissioner in the service’s history.

Mayne was born in Dublin, Ireland, on 27th November, 1796, as the son of Judge Edward Mayne of the Queen’s Bench in Dublin. He studied at Trinity College, graduating in 1818 with an arts degree and then at Trinity College in Cambridge, graduating with a Master of Arts in 1821.

He was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in February, 1822, and commenced practice as a barrister in England’s north where he would spend the next seven years.

In 1829, he was selected by Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel – without interview – after applying to serve as one of the two new commissioners of the Metropolitan Police. Just 33-years-old, he was officially known as the “Second Joint Commissioner” with Colonel Charles Rowan his senior colleague.

The pair – with his military background, Rowan brought his organisational and leadership skills to the job; Mayne his legal expertise – took up their posts on 7th July, 1829, and from their offices in 4 Whitehall Place (the back entrance was in Scotland Yard) set about creating the new police force.

The first constables of the new force were sworn in at the Foundling Hospital on 16th September and commenced their work patrolling the streets of the capital on 29th of that month.

Supported by his new income of £800 a year, Mayne married Georgina Marianne Catherine in 1831. The couple’s children would include Richard Charles Mayne who became a Royal Navy vice admiral.

In 1850, when Rowan retired, Mayne became the First Commissioner with Captain William Hay appointed the Second Commissioner.

In 1851, Mayne took personal charge of policing at the Great Exhibition and, despite Hay’s protests that he should have done that job given his military background, so successful was Mayne’s efforts that he was made a Knight Commander of the Bath (he had been made a Companion of the Bath in 1848 at the same time Rowan had been made a Knight Commander of the Bath – it had been suggested by some at the time that Mayne should have received the same honour as Rowan but it’s worth noting the latter had been a Companion of the Bath for his military services since 1815).

When Hay died in 1855, an Act of Parliament was passed changing the force’s structure so that it was to be headed by a single commissioner with two assistant commissioners. Mayne would serve in the role of sole commissioner for the next 13 years.

His period as sole commissioner was not a particularly happy one – the force’s handling of the Hyde Park riot of June, 1866, and the force’s mishandling of the Clerkenwell bombing in December, 1867 were two events which led Mayne to offer his resignation (which wasn’t accepted).

Mayne died while still in office at his home in Chester Square in Belgravia on Boxing Day, 1868, as the head of a force which had grown to almost 8,000 officers and policed a huge area.

Mayne, who was survived by his wife, was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery. A monument to him was unveiled there on 25th January, 1871.

Mayne’s legacy – his work in the formation of the Metropolitan Police – can still be felt in the capital today as well as in other police forces, not only in the UK but around the world.

PICTURE: Portrait of Richard Mayne in an illustration from an 1869 edition of The Illustrated London News. (Via Wikipedia).


The mausoleum of wealthy London socialite Hannah Courtoy, located in the grounds of Brompton Cemetery in West London, resembles something akin to an Egyptian-style tomb monument – making it a rather unusual addition to the graveyard. But more bizarre still is that some believe it may contain a time machine.

Courtoy, who had controversially inherited a fortune from merchant John Courtoy with whom she had three daughters but never married, died in 1849. She was buried in this rather odd-looking mausoleum (along with two of her three daughters).

It has been claimed that the tomb was designed by Joseph Bonomi, a sculptor and Egyptologist who is actually buried only a short distance away, with those who believe so pointing to Egyptian imagery – including scarab beetles, a symbol of eternal life – decorating the tomb’s imposing bronze portal as evidence of his involvement.

And that’s where the time machine idea also comes in – some Victorians were known to believe that the ancient pharoahs of Egypt had discovered the secret of time travel and it has been floated that Bonomi might have discovered this secret when on expedition in Egypt, brought it back with him to London and employed what he learnt in the construction of this mausoleum (hence why it took four years to build).

The claims around this tomb are that the mausoleum, located close to the centre of the cemetery, is not in fact a time machine but some kind of teleportation device. And that the builder, working in collaboration with Bonomi, was Samuel Warner, the inventor of the torpedo, who is also buried nearby, this time in an unmarked grave.

WHERE: Brompton Cemetery (South Gate off Fulham Rd. North Gate off Old Brompton Rd) (nearest Tube stations are West Brompton and Earl’s Court); WHEN: 7am to various closing times daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/brompton-cemetery.

PICTURES: Edwardx (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0).

 

Frank C Bostock is not a name you’d probably immediately recognise but his grave monument gives a big clue to his profession.

Born in 1866 into a family that ran a travelling menagerie (his grandfather was the famous George Wombwell who is buried at Highgate Cemetery), Frank, who became a lion tamer while still a teenager, initially worked as part of the family operation.

In his late 20s, however, he travelled to the US where he established his own menagerie in New York initially in Brooklyn and later at Coney Island. He later returned to the UK and there set up a massive touring exhibition, known as the Jungle, that travelled from city to city.

Bostock died, ostensibly from the flu, on 8th October, 1912. He was buried at Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington in what was by all accounts a grand affair.

The Grade II-listed rectangular white marble grave cover, made by Millward and Co, is topped with a carved figure of a sleeping lion.

There’s said to be a couple of traditions associated with the grave – one says people stroke the lion’s left paw for luck, the other says people place flowers under the lion’s paws for the same.

WHERE: Highgate East Cemetery, Swain’s Lane (nearest Tube station is Archway); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: £4 adults/children under 18 and members free; WEBSITE: highgatecemetery.org/visit/cemetery/east.

PICTURE: Taken in July, 2011. Julian Walker (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).


A cache of papers and items found in Vincent Van Gogh’s former south London home – and dating from 1873-74, the period he lodged there – have shed new light on his time in the city.
The papers, which include insurance documents, a small pamphlet of prayers and hymns, and scraps of paper painted with watercolour flowers (probably not the work of Van Gogh), were found under the floorboards and between the attic timbers of the house at 87 Hackford Road in Stockwell. They were discovered during a renovation of the early Victorian terraced house in which Van Gogh lived in while working as an assistant for an art dealer in Covent Garden. During the period he stayed at the house, it has been suggested that the Dutch artist fell in love with Eugénie Loyer, the 19-year-old daughter of his landlord (although his love was apparently not reciprocated). He also apparently became devoutly Christian during his time there (perhaps explaining the prayer pamphlet). The home’s current owners Jian Wang, a former professional violinist who originally hails from China, and his wife Alice Childs have reportedly been renovating the property in order to use it as a base for visiting Chinese artists in collaboration with the nearby San Mei Gallery. For more on the house, see www.vangoghhouse.co.uk. A near life-size photograph of the facade of the Hackford Road house forms part of Tate Britain’s upcoming display The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh in Britain which opens later this month (more on that shortly). PICTURE: An English Heritage Blue Plaque adorning the house (Spudgun67 – licensed under CC BY 2.0).

Located at the western end of West India Quay in Docklands, the Hibbert Gate is a smaller scale replica of an original gate that stood at the main entrance to the quay for more than 130 years.

The gate was originally installed in 1803 and was topped with a model representing an East Indiaman, the Hibbert, which was named for George Hibbert, one of the principals of the West India Dock Company (and who apparently had a financial interest in the slave trade). The ship ran between London and the West Indies before later being used to transport convicts to Australia.

The gate, which became the emblem for West India Docks and was even incorporated into the Poplar Borough Council’s coat-of-arms, was removed in 1932 due to traffic measures. The model was initially preserved and moved to the Poplar Recreation Ground but vandalism and bomb damage saw it eventually fall apart.

The replica gate, commissioned by the Canary Wharf Group and topped with a replica model by artist Leo Stevenson, was installed in the year 2000, marking 200 years since the construction of the quay.

It was unveiled on 12th July by then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. Part of the signage accompanying the gate reads that it was meant to be “memorial to the man – the replica in no way represents support for slavery”.

PICTURE: Prioryman (Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0/image cropped)

A 16 metre long splinter of stone sticking up in the air at the southern end of London Bridge, the Southwark Needle (its official name is actually the Southwark Gateway Needle) was erected in 1999.

Made of Portland stone and sitting on an angle of 19.5 degrees, it was designed by Eric Parry Architects as part of the Southwark Gateway Project which also included the creation of a new tourist information centre.

There’s been much speculation about what the pointed obelisk actually represents with some believing that the sharp spike is a kind of memorial to those whose heads were placed on spikes above the gateway which once stood at the southern end of London Bridge.

It seems, however, that the subject remembered in the monument is rather more mundane – it’s a marker and apparently points across the Thames the Magnus the Martyr church which marked the start of where London Bridge was formerly located (several metres to the east of the current bridge’s location). And for those trying to figure out how the needle points to that, word is that is the line of the base of the marker which points to the start of the old bridge – not the sharp end of the obelisk.

The needle is now commonly used as a meeting point.

PICTURE: Donald Judge (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The remains of Captain Matthew Flinders, a Royal Navy explorer who led the first circumnavigation of Australia and is credited with popularising the name the country now bears, have been found by archaeologists working on the HS2 rail project in Euston. While the general area in which he was buried – the former St James’s burial ground – has long been known, archaeologists were able to narrow down the location of his grave among the 40,000 on the site thanks to a lead breast plate placed on top of his coffin upon which, conveniently, his name was written. The HS2 project will see a high speed rail link constructed between London and Birmingham and as part of the preparations for the project, the largest archaeological dig ever to take place in the UK is underway on the site of what will be the London terminus. Flinders was buried in St James’s burial ground in 1814 but when Euston station expanded westward into the burial ground in 1840s, his headstone was removed and the location of his grave thought lost (despite a persistent myth that he was buried under Platform 15). There is already a statue of Captain Flinders at Euston Station – unveiled on the bicentenary of his death in 2014 (originally at Australia House), it depicts both Flinders, busy charting Australia’s coastline, and his cat, Trim. There is now talk of a memorial marking the site of the grave.

Located in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church, the Hardy Tree takes its name from its association with novelist Thomas Hardy.

Before Hardy found fame as the author of such novels as Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Far from the Madding Crowd, in the 1860s he worked as an assistant to a West End-based architect, Arthur Blomfield.

Blomfield’s firm, in order to make way for a new line for the Midland Railway, was commissioned by the Bishop of London to exhume bodies from their graves in the churchyard and relocate them.

Hardy was given the job of supervising the removal of the corpses – apparently among those exhumed was a coffin containing a man with two heads!

It’s said that after he had removed the bodies, Hardy had to decide what to do with the headstones which remained and came up with the idea of placing them in a rather lovely fanned collar around an ash tree growing in a part of the churchyard unaffected by the railway line.

Whether Hardy was actually responsible for the placement of the gravestones remains somewhat uncertain (although it’s a nice story). But his work in the graveyard is believed to have at least partly inspired his poem, The Levelled Churchyard.

The moss-covered gravestones and tree have since merged and now make a fascinating monument to the churchyard’s past life, attracting Hardy pilgrims from across the world. And, of course, the churchyard is also famous as the site where Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, planned her elopement with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, while she was visiting the grave of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft not to mention Charles Dickens’ famous reference to it in A Tale of Two Cities and its association with so-called ‘resurrection men’ or ‘bodysnatchers’ in the 19th century.

PICTURE: Stef (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

This year marks 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, so it’s timely to have a look at the life of this famous Londoner.

Shelley was born on 30th August, 1797, in Somers Town, London, to feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft and political philosopher, novelist and journalist William Godwin. Her mother died soon after her birth, leaving her upbringing to Godwin (and his second wife Mary Jane Clairmont who apparently didn’t get on with Mary).

While she received little formal education, she was tutored in a range of subjects – everything from literature to art, French and Latin – by her father and visiting tutors. Godwin described her as having a great desire for knowledge.

She first met her future husband, the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, while still a teenager. Shelley, who was estranged from his wife, had struck up a friendship with her father and was subsequently a regular visitor to their house.

Mary and Percy began secretly meeting each other at Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave in St Pancras Churchyard and then on 28th June, 1814, the couple eloped to France, taking Mary’s step-sister Claire Clairmont with them but leaving Shelley’s pregnant wife behind.

They went on to Paris and then, through war-ravaged France, to Switzerland. At Lucerne, however, a lack of money forced them to turn back and they returned to London where Mary’s father refused to have anything to do with her.

Now pregnant, Mary and Shelley moved into lodgings with Claire in Somers Town and later in Nelson Square where they were known for entertaining his friends. Shelley’s wife, meanwhile, gave birth to his son – something that must have been hard for Mary – and it is believed that he was also a lover of Mary’s step-sister Claire.

Mary gave birth to her first child, a daughter, on 22nd February, 1815, but she died just 12 days later. That same year, the death of Shelley’s grandfather brought himself considerable wealth and with their financial situation now relieved, in August, 1815, they moved to Bishopgate, in Windsor Great Park. In January, 1816, Mary gave birth to her second child, a son, William.

In May, 1816, the couple travelled with their son William and Mary’s step-sister Claire to Geneva in Switzerland where they hoped to improve Percy’s health. It was during the time they spent there that a ghost-writing contest in June, 1818, led her to write what would be the basis of the novel Frankenstein – credited with introducing genre of science fiction into English literature.

Returning to England, the Shelley’s took up residence in Bath (Clairmont was pregnant by Lord Byron and they wanted to keep this from the Godwins). Harriet Shelley, Percy’s estranged wife, drowned herself in the Thames on 9th November and it was following that, that on 30th December, Mary and Percy married at St Mildred’s Church in London with Mary’s father and step-mother as witnesses.

In March, 1817, the Shelley’s took up residence in Marlow where Mary gave birth to second daughter, Clara Everina Shelley, on 2nd September. Then in March, 1818, the family – along with Claire Clairmont and her daughter – travelled to Italy where it was hoped the warmer climate would help Shelley, who had been diagnosed with pulmonary disease.

There they lived at various addresses and were in Venice when Clara died of dysentery on 24th September, 1818. They traveled to Rome in April the following year and there, on 7th June, William died of malaria, leaving the couple devastated.

Their fourth child and only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley, was born in Florence on 12th November. Their Italian sojourn continued for the next couple of years until, on 8th July, 1822, Percy Shelley and his friend Edward Williams were drowned in a squall in the Gulf of Spezia.

Determined to show she could write and look after her son, Mary Shelley returned to England in mid-1823 and lived in The Strand with her father and stepmother until in the summer of 1824 she moved to Kentish Town. Her novel, The Last Man, was published in 1826 followed by The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837) as well as working on numerous other writing projects.

Shelley never remarried although she was linked to various men romantically including American actor John Howard Payne whose offer of marriage she rejected.

After her son Percy left university in 1841, he came to live with her and between 1840 and 1842 Shelley travelled to various locations in Europe with her son. Sir Timothy Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s father, died in 1844 with the result that Shelley and her son were now financially independent.

Percy married Jane Gibson St John in 1848 and Mary lived her son and daughter-in-law, splitting their times between the ancestral Shelley home – Field Place in Sussex – and Chester Square in London as well as accompanying them on their travels overseas.

Shelley suffered considerable illness in the last years of her life – including debilitating headaches and bouts of paralysis in her body – before on 1st February, 1851, she died at the age of 53 from a suspected brain tumour at the Chester Square property.

She had asked to be buried with her mother and father, but Percy and Jane instead buried her at St Peter’s Church in Bournemouth closer to their home. In order to fulfill her wishes, they had the bodies of her parents exhumed from St Pancras graveyard and reburied with her.

Despite gaining respect as a writer in her own lifetime, Shelley’s reputation in the literary arts was overshadowed by that of Percy’s after her death. But in more recent decades her overall writing career has come to be more closely examined and applauded.

If you missed it, for more on Mary Shelley’s links with London, see our special series 10 sites from Mary Shelley’s London.

PICTURE: Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell (oil on canvas, exhibited 1840/NPG 1235). © National Portrait Gallery, London (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

We’ve come to the end of our series on significant London sites related to Mary Shelley – in honour of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein – so it’s time for a quick recap before launching our next Wednesday series…

1. Somers Town…

2. St Pancras Old Churchyard…

3. Marchmont Street, Somers Town…

4. Church of St Mildred, Bread Street

5. The Temple of the Muses, Finsbury Square…

6. St Giles-in-the-Fields…

7. Charles and Mary Lamb’s house…

8. Chester Square…

9. A lock of Mary Shelley’s hair…

10. Memorials to Percy Bysshe Shelley…

 

 


A new permanent World War I memorial was unveiled at Brompton Cemetery earlier this month dedicated to the 24 members of the Royal Parks and Palaces staff who died in the Great War. The inscribed memorial stone, placed on one of the chapel’s colonnades (pictured above), also commemorates all the parks, gardens and grounds staff from across the UK who never returned from the war. It was unveiled at a service conducted by Reverend Canon Anthony Howe, Chaplain to the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace, the gardens of which were managed by the Royal Parks during World War I. Meanwhile, the foundations for a new permanent wildflower meadow honouring the 2,625 Chelsea Pensioners buried in the cemetery were also laid near the Chelsea Pensioners’ monument (pictured below). The meadow will feature flowers which appeared in French fields after the Battle of the Somme including poppies, cornflowers, loosestrife, mallow and cranesbill. Two benches, positioned to either side of the Grade II-listed memorial, have been donated by the Royal Hospital Chelsea as a place for quite reflection. For more on the cemetery, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/brompton-cemetery. PICTURE: The Royal Parks/Paul Keene.

With World War I commemorations taking place last weekend, so we thought it fitting to take a look at one of the city’s memorials.

Located in Hyde Park, the Cavalry Memorial (also known as the Cavalry of the Empire Memorial), which commemorates the more than 4,000 members of the cavalry regiments killed during the “Great War”, depicts St George (patron saint of cavalry), shown as a knight, triumphing over the defeated dragon coiled beneath his horse’s hooves.

It’s said that St George was modelled on 1454 bronze effigy of Richard de Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick, and that the horse was adapted from a 15th century engraving by Albrecht Dürer.

The pedestal underneath is decorated with a frieze of galloping horsemen from different countries within the Empire and the statue is accompanied by a stone backdrop, originally designed to shield the statue from Park Lane, upon which are bronze plates listing cavalry units from across the British Empire that served in World War I along with the names of the four cavalry officers who became field marshals – Haig, French, Allenby and Robertson.

Designed by army vet Captain Adrian Jones, the bronze sculpture was made from guns captured during the war (Jones also sculpted the Quadriga atop Wellington Arch on Hyde Park Corner). The Portland stone pedestal was designed by Sir John Burnet.

The Grade II*-listed memorial, which was proposed in 1920, was originally unveiled by Field Marshal John French, 1st Earl of Ypres and the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) on 21st May, 1924.

It was originally located at Stanhope Gate but was moved to its present site to the west, near the bandstand, in 1961 after Park Lane was widened.

For more on Hyde Park, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park.

For more World War I memorials in London, see our previous special series here.