And so we come to our annual countdown of the most popular stories published in 2019. Without further ado here’s the first two…
We’ll publish the next two tomorrow…
So we come to the end of our series of 10 of London’s most curious (and historic) graves. Here’s a recap before we start our new series next week…
Located in Carlton House Terrace, not far from the Duke of York Column in St James’s, is a small headstone dedicated to “Giro”.
Giro was the pet hound – some accounts say he was a terrier but it has also been claimed he was an Alsatian – of German Ambassador Leopold von Hoesch, who took up his post in London in 1932 (initially under the Weimar Republic and then under Hitler’s regime from 1933).
Ambassador von Hoesch and his family, along with Giro, lived at the embassy at number nine Carlton House Terrace.
Until 1934, that is, when Giro apparently chewed through a cable in the back yard and was fatally electrocuted.
Giro was buried in the backyard, the grave marked with a small headstone written in German which describes Giro as “a faithful companion” and records the date of his death as February, 1934.
The headstone, which has been described as London’s only Nazi memorial (although that’s perhaps a bit unfair given the dog had little choice), was moved to its current location behind an iron fence just off the street thanks to building works in the 1960s. The protective plastic shield was added later.
Apparently much loved among his British hosts (and said to be a less than ardent supporter of the Nazis), Hoesch, meanwhile, died of heart failure in 1936 (prompting speculation he had been assassinated by the Nazis) – his body repatriated via Dover where it was shipped home aboard the HMS Scout. His replacement was Joachim von Ribbentrop.
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But what makes this tomb unusual is that the sarcophagus actually predates the cathedral itself – and it wasn’t originally made for Nelson.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.