Having died in 1797 at the age of just 38, Mary Shelley’s mother and noted feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, was buried in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church.

“Her remains were deposited, on the fifteenth of September, at ten o’clock in the morning, in the church-yard of the parish church of St Pancras, Middlesex,” wrote Godwin afterwards. “A few of the persons she most esteemed, attended the ceremony; and a plain monument is now erecting on the spot, by some of her friends…”

Apart from the fact it is where her mother was buried, the grave played an important role in Shelley’s story. Not only is it said that her father, William Godwin, taught her to read her name by tracing the letters on the gravestone, it later became a place of key importance for Shelley in her developing relationship with Percy Bysshe Shelley.

In fact, it was at this gravestone that Mary and the poet would meet in secret prior to their elopement to Europe (some even speculate it was here that they first consummated their love). Secrecy was a necessity – Percy Shelley was already married and Mary’s father disapproved of their relationship.

Interestingly, Wollstonecraft is no longer buried here (although the gravestone still stands there). In 1851, as per the wishes of Mary Shelley, Wollstonecraft’s remains – and those of her husband which were buried there after his death – were removed by her grandson, Percy Florence Shelley and reinterred in the Shelley family tomb in St Peter’s Churchyard in Bournemouth.

The tomb is Grade II-listed. The lettering was restored in 1992 to mark the bicentenary of the publication of Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

PICTURE: The gravestone in St Pancras Old Churchyard (Chris Beckett/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/Image cropped and lightened)

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This year marks the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s thought-provoking novel, Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus, so we thought that before the year is out (the novel was actually published in January, 1818), we’d take a look 10 London locations integral to her story.

First up, it’s to Somers Town, which lies just to the north of Euston Road, where Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Mary Shelley) was born on 30th August, 1797, the second child of feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and journalist, philosopher and novelist William Godwin.

Wollstonecraft sadly died 12 days after the birth due to complications. Mary was left in the care of her father and half-sister Fanny Imlay (Wollstonecraft’s first child whose father was an American adventurer named Gilbert Imlay) and, after her father remarried in 1901, a step-mother Mary Jane Clairmont (with whom Mary would have an acrimonious relationship).

While Mary was provided with little formal education during her childhood, her father saw that she received a broad education in a range of subjects, generally described as unusually advanced for the time.

The family’s home was located at number 29 in the Polygon Building on the north side of Clarendon Square – it was demolished in 1904 and the site is now occupied by a block of council flats called Oakshott Court. There’s a commemorative plaque to Wollstonecraft on the side of the complex in Werrington Street – it was erected by the Camden London Borough Council (pictured).

Mary Shelley, meanwhile, is also commemorated in a mural in Polygon Road which depicts many of the famous figures associated with the area (her parents and future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley are also depicted in it). The mural, the work of Karen Gregory, was commissioned by the Greater London Council in the 1980s.

PICTURE: Ellaroth (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Poet. Painter. Visionary? William Blake failed to find great success in his lifetime and died in relative obscurity but is now known internationally for his controversial and innovative works in the written word and visual arts.

Blake was born on 28th November, 1757, at 28 Broad Street in Soho, the third son of hosier James Blake and his wife Catherine (he was christened at St James’s Piccadilly). Little is known of his early life although accounts suggest he had some spiritual experiences – including a vision of a tree full of angels – as a young boy and also showed an interest in the visual arts at an early age.

William-BlakeAbout the age of 10, he started attending Henry Par’s drawing school before, at the age of 14, becoming an apprentice to James Basire, engraver to the Royal Society and Society of Antiquaries. Among his early assignments was to make drawings of the monuments and paintings at Westminster Abbey – interestingly, Blake’s earliest extant drawings are of the opening of King Edward I’s coffin on 2nd May, 1774.

In 1779, his apprenticeship completed, Blake enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy of Arts and at the same time, made his living as a copy engraver. His clients included the radical bookseller Joseph Johnson through whom he became introduced to people like Joseph Priestley. He also began producing original works on historical themes apparently with the aim of forging a career in the painting of history.

In 1782, Blake married Catherine Sophia Boucher and they took up life together at a property near Leicester Square, later moving to Lambeth. They were to have no children.

Experimenting with new methods of engraving, in 1788, he published the first of what he was to call his “illuminated books” – All Religions are One, and There is no Natural Religion – with his first illuminated book of poetry, Songs of Innocence, coming a year later (its sequel Songs of Experience was published in 1794). In 1789, he published The Book of Thel, combining his new method of engraving with “prophetic” verse.

Later works in prose and poetry – created while Blake was still working as an engraver – continued to explore his increasingly radical views on religion and politics. They included The Marriage of Heaven and Hell published in 1790, The French Revolution in 1791, America: A Prophecy in 1793 and Visions of the Daughters of Albion the same year.

In 1800, Blake moved to Felpham, West Sussex, thanks to his friendship with one William Hayley who engaged his skills on several projects. It was while living here that Blake began work on his epic poems Milton (printed in 1810-11) and Jerusalem (completed in 1820).

Following an incident in 1803 in which Blake removed a drunk soldier from his garden, Blake was charged with high treason but acquitted after a trial at Chichester.

Having meanwhile moved back to London, in 1809 Blake made a last effort to gain the public’s attention with his work and held an exhibition of his paintings and watercolours at his family home in Broad Street (now home of his eldest brother James). But the exhibition did not elevate his profile as he may have hoped and during his last years, Blake increasingly sank into obscurity amid tightening finances and, although he continued to produce poetry, paintings and engravings, he found it hard to find work.

Blake died on 12th August, 1827, at his home at 3 Fountain Court on the Strand and was buried in an unmarked grave at Bunhill Fields. The stone which now stands there (pictured above) was added later.

It was during the Victorian-era that Blake’s work made its way into the hands of a larger audience than it ever had while he was alive, thanks to Blake enthusiasts like his first biographer Alexander Gilchrist and people associated with the Romantic movement.

His work continued to gain attention into the 20th century (in particular around the centenary of his death in 1927) and by mid-century had become what Robert N Essick says in Blake’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, “one of the cultural icons of the English-speaking world”. Interest in Blake and his works has continued both in the UK and around the world.

A new room dedicated to showing Blake’s works opened at Tate Britain in May.

Around London…

October 7, 2010

• A new online portal showing the history of women through their relationship to buildings around the UK – including in London – has been launched. Visible in Stone: A history of women through buildings, 1850-1950 is the work of English Heritage in conjunction with the London Metropolitan University Special Collections, The Women’s Library and TUC Library Collection. Among the collection of historic photographs, posters and advertisements are the stories of many London buildings – everything from the 18th century Unitarian Chapel at Newington Green in the city’s north where women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft found “support and stimulation” when founding her school, to the Harrod’s Shoe Lounge as it looked in 1919, and the first public conveniences built for women (the Ladies’ Lavatory Company opened its first, near Oxford Circus, in 1884). English Heritage is also asking people to upload images of buildings that played a role in the lives of their grandmothers. To do so, head to www.flickr.com/groups/visibleinstone.

• Milestones passed in the past week include the 15oth celebration of London’s Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. The charity was founded in October 1860 by Mary Tealby after she found an abandoned puppy and commenced caring for it and other lost dogs in a disused stableyard in Holloway. Writer Charles Dickens was among it’s early supporters. The home has cared for more than 3.1 million animals since it was established (it started caring for cats in 1883) and in 2009 took in more than 10,000 dogs and cats. For more information, see www.battersea.org.uk.

• Lastly, London’s free Metro newspaper is holding a ‘Postcards from the Future’ competition showing images of London as it might become should our worst fears about the impact of climate change be realised. View a gallery of stunning images (or find out how to enter) here.