Pictures from the St. Pancras Churchyard

May 18, 2011 at 8:34 am (Uncategorized)

Now, at long last, I have recovered the pictures from my trip to England in March!  From a photographic standpoint, the pictures that I took of the Brontë Parsonage in Haworth are undoubtedly the best.  Regardless, I’m attempting to move at least semi-chronologically through the trip and include adequate explanations; expect to see the Brontës emerging in my posts of the next few days!

To the right, you see the base of the famous Thomas Hardy Tree, located in the Old St. Pancras Churchyard, only a few blocks from the British Library.  I’d originally gone to this churchyard in search of the Mary Wollstonecraft/William Godwin monument.  This churchyard, as I discovered in the course of my research, had a vexed history.  As C. Kegan Paul writes in Fraser’s Magazine in 1878,

Old St. Pancras churchyard has seen strange vicissitudes.  The Metropolitan and the Midland Railways broke in on its peace; and when I visited it some years ago to search for Mary Wollstonecraft’s original grave, I thought I had seldom seen a place of the dead so descreated.  Once more the wilderness blossoms as the rose; it has become a public garden, will tended and fair.  But neither in its shame nor its reparation did Mary Wollstonecraft lie there.  When the railways invaded the spot, Godwin had lain some years by his wife’s side, their grandson Sir Percy Shelley removed their remains to the Bournemouth churchyard to the grave where he  had laid his mother. [17 (June 1878): 761-762].

Kegan’s description of the railways’ “invasion” is typical of nineteenth-century perceptions of the conflict between technology and history, I’d argue: even more extreme language attends newspaper accounts of the exhumations in St. Martin’s Churchyard in the 1860s.  Thomas Hardy himself, however, was instrumental in orchestrating the removal of bodies from St. Pancras Churchyard to make way for the railway, which now passes less than one hundred yards from the church.  The stones that surround the base of the Thomas Hardy Tree originally marked some of the graves which he saw removed.  More detailed information is available in The Victorian Web‘s article.  Above and to the left, you see another picture of the tree, silhouetted against the infamous railway itself.

Last, but not least,  I’ve included a picture of the original Mary Wollstonecraft/William Godwin tomb to the right. As you can see, the inscriptions on the tomb are all but illegible, and the trees which shaded her daughter’s reading are no longer standing.  This tomb is located very close to the railway; it occurred to me to wonder if it was moved in the course of the exhumations, but I’ve yet to find any evidence to suggest this.   

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2 Comments

  1. Chuck said,

    Hi… My interrest and knowledge in the Victorian’s ere, I have to say, was so far, “less than basic”… However, I’m working at the British Library and after months walking through ‘Somers Town’ next to the Old St Pancras churchyard… It’s like I finaly had the need to come over, visit the churchyard and let the magical emotion that I felt at that place do the rest…

    I recently wrote an article on my blog trying to demonstrate this churchyard as either Mary Shelley’s “paradise lost” and probably one of the places where some pieces of Frankenstein’s creature were unburried..

    Ah forgot to say, unfortunatly for you, I write in french…

    Most of my info on that article are from the web, but some others from “the BL’s electronic ressources” too.

    Regards.

    Blog:
    http://surfinmururoha.wordpress.com

  2. Dr Rita Ranson, University of Le Havre (France) said,

    Hi!
    I am also interested in Hardy’s involvement in Saint Pancras excavation; but the monument I am interested in, is John Walker’s memorial stone, which is closed to the Wollstonecraft’s stone. I have recently come accross a new book “St Pancras burial ground” by Phillip A Emery and Kevin Woolbridge. Published 2011. Gilford Monograph. On p. 195 you can read what follows: “The remains of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, William Godwin and Mary Jane Godwin were all moved to a cemetary in Bournemouth in 1851. (Young &Young 1986, 180, i.e. Young E. and Young W. London’s Churches, London). I think that this tends to confirm your hypothesis that this tomb might have been moved; it is quite plausible if you consider that plans were drawn for the St Pancras Gardens. I would suggest also to make some research about Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts whose contribution to the preservation of the tombs in St Pancras Gardens is of primary interest.
    Once again, I would like to stress that my research is rather centered on the above-mentioned lexicographer (John Walker); I am no specialist of the Wollstonecraft family. I just hope this comment would help.
    Rita Ranson

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