Faith, Hope and Love – The Queen Alexandra memorial, Marlborough Road, London Part 1

The Queen Alexendra memorial ©Carole Tyrrell

People pass by Queen Alexandra’s memorial every day on their way to and from the Mall.  It’s set back from the road in an alcove and is a rippling Art Nouveau composition, if bronze can be said to ripple.  I am indebted to the Tea and Morphine facebook page for featuring it and as soon as I saw it and found its location I knew I had to go and see it.  I love Art Nouveau and there was an air of mystery to the sculpture.  Who were the figures?  Who was Queen Alexandra? The memorial is very close to the royal monument section of the Mall and, on my way, I passed tourists busily snapping away at memorials of George VI and the Queen Mother as well as walking along the Diana, Princess of Wales, memorial walk. Buckingham Palace is only a short walk away.

But this particular monument is to a Queen who lives on in the many, many memorials to her in every road, avenue, street, park, hospital and even another palace high up in the North London hills that have been named after her. There are 67 Alexandra Roads in London alone. This memorial has a tale to tell of a scandalous sculptor who was persuaded back from exile and ignominy to create his last major work to commemorate the longest serving Princess of Wales in history.

Queen Alexandra as the Princess of Wales in 1881 by Alexander Bassano. Shared under Wiki Commons

Christian IX of Denmark with his family in 1862. From left to right Dagmar, Frederick, Valdemar, Christian IX, Queen Louise, Thyra, George and Alexandra. Shared under Wiki Commons

Princess Alexandra Caroline Marie Charlotte Louise Julia (1844-1925) or ‘Alix’ as her family knew her was chosen, aged 16, as the future wife of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, the son and heir of Queen Victoria.  18 months later they married in 1863 and were crowned in 1902 after Queen Victoria’s death. Alix came from Danish royalty as her father was King Christian IX and her brother was appointed King of Greece as George I.  She was Princess of Wales for 38 years from 1863-1901 and was immensely popular. Fashion conscious women copied her dress sense but she had no political power. 

Instead, she worked tirelessly for various causes and founded her own charity, the Alexander Rose, in 1912 which aimed to support Londoners in poverty.   It’s still going today but, since 2014, it has issued Rose vouchers to enable families to access fruit and vegetables. Alix’s great, granddaughter, Princess Alexandra is its patron. I can still remember buying paper roses on stick pins in June in the 1970’s for Alexandra Rose Day and there is still an Alexandra Rose plant. Alix brought the idea of selling paper roses from her native Denmark.

Princess Alexandra Rose from an online seed catalogue.

But Alix’s marriage was not a happy one. Edward was openly unfaithful with several mistresses, one of which was the actress Lily Langtry. The public believed that their marriage was a love match but Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Edward’s parents, had begun looking for a possible wife in 1858 believing that an early marriage would settle a ‘difficult’ son.  The couple had 6 children, one of whom died after a day and the Duke of Clarence, who had been second in line to the throne, died after an influenza pandemic, aged 28.  There were many rumours about the Duke including that he was thought of as a possible suspect for Jack the Ripper. Alix suffered from increasing deafness which was caused by hereditary otosclerosis and died at Sandringham in 1925 aged 81 from a heart attack. Poet John Masefield wrote an ode dedicated to her with music from Sir Edward Elgar called ‘So many true Princesses who have gone’:

So many true princesses who have gone

Over the sea, as love and duty bade,

To share abroad, Till Death a foreign throne,

Have given all things, and been ill repaid.

Hatred has followed them and bitter days.

But this most lovely woman and loved Queen

Filled all the English nation with her praise;

We gather now to keep her memory green.

Here, at this place, she often sat to mark

The tide of London life go roaring by,

The day-long multitude, the lighted dark,

The night-long wheels, the glaring in the sky.

Now here we set memorial of her stay,

That passers-by remember with a thrill:

This lovely princess came from far away

And won our hearts, and lives within them still.

Photo ©Carole Tyrrell

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

Part 2 – The scandalous sculptor of the memorial, Alfred Gilbert, and the possible meaning of the figures.


Symbol(s) of the Month – A quiver of Arrows and garland of oak leaves

A closer view of the two symbols – the bow and quiver of arrows and the oak leaves. Note the acorn. ©Carole Tyrrell

A country churchyard on a warm, sunny May day can be a peaceful and interesting place to explore. All Saints churchyard in Staplehurst is one of those as it looks down over the village from its hilltop perch.

I have already discussed one of the symbols that I found in there which featured in a an earlier Symbol of the Month. This was ‘The Choice’ which I found in the older part of the churchyard.  After exploring the newer part of the churchyard and seeing ‘nature’s lawnmowers’ aka sheep in the field behind I returned to the older section.  I then discovered this headstone with a combination of two symbols on it.

At first glance you might be forgiven for thinking that this is the grave of a warrior or someone involved in warfare as the combination is formed from a bow, a quiver of arrows and a circlet of oak leaves.  The bow and arrows are a symbol that has been known for centuries and since the earliest times has been associated with hunting and survival.

The headstone is dedicated to Edwin Fitch who died at the fairly young age of 43 on 22 January 1869. The epitaph goes on to state that Edwin left behind a widow and two children; Marianne and Walter William.  There is also another inscription above it that states that the stone was erected as a mark of respect by the Staplehurst Cricket Club.

The epitaph to Edwin Fitch in Staplehurst churchyard. ©Carole Tyrrell

But, as with most symbols, there are other meanings and I am indebted to theartofmourning blog for reminding me of these.   For, although a cricket field can occasionally turn into a polite and gentlemanly battlefield, I was sure that there were softer connotations to the bow and quiver.

The other most obvious interpretation is of Cupid shooting his arrows of love straight to a lover’ s heart. Indeed, he is traditionally portrayed holding a bow with an arrow ready to aim and fire. There are also the famous lines in William Blake’s poem, ‘Jerusalem’:

‘Bring me my bow of burning gold

Bring me my arrows of desire.’

There is also a Biblical link with children. In Psalms 127:3-5 children are described as being:

‘Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.

I interpret this to mean that a man’s children will continue his family line and achieve their place in the world.

The oak leaves underneath the quiver and bow are an ancient symbol of strength and the oak was known as the tree of life in pre-Christian times. According to it is believed to have been the tree from which Christ’s cross was made.

Close-up of the acorn featured on the Fitch headstone. ©Carole Tyrrell

Edwin had an untimely death and we don’t know if he, his family or members of the Cricket Club chose the symbols.  But I believe that it was a final message from him to his family that he left behind and that this thoughts were of hope.

There is also a small verse underneath the epitaph:

‘My wife and children dear I bid you all adieu,

By God’s commands I leave this world and you

And trust my friends whom I have left behind

May give you comfort, and to you be kind.’

In this Edwin clearly hopes that his friends will support his family after he has gone. The Fitch family may have been in financial straits with the death of Edwin as the Cricket Club provided the headstone.

I have found out more about Edwin and his family.  He married Maria Wickings on 9 September 1852 and they had three children together.

  • Marianne born in 1853
  • Walter William born in 1855
  • Charles born in 1858

Sadly, Charles appears to have been stillborn or may have died in childbirth as he was born and christened on the same day and is not recorded on Edwin’s epitaph. Marianne followed her father to the grave in 1875 aged just 22.

I have approached the existing Staplehurst Cricket Club for further information on Edwin but the present club has only been in existence since the 1950’s.  They thought that Edwin might have been the very first member but are undertaking further research.  One current member thought that there might have been a private Staplehurst Cricket Club associated with the nearby Iden Manor.

This is now a nursing home but was once the house of the Hoare banking family. There are members of this family buried in the churchyard.  In 1904 they sold the manor due to impending bankruptcy and they were well known in the area for holding cricket and football matches, flower shows and other events for the village.

Finally, I think that this is a poignant combination of symbols that left a powerful and comforting message to his family.  A man whose last thoughts may have been of his family and now lies under the green canopy of the tall trees of Staplehurst churchyard with his beloved daughter.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

The Hardy Tree – a London literary landmark finally falls.

New Year’s Day 2023 – a sad sight as the Hardy Tree is gone forever. ©Carole Tyrrell

When in Late December 2022, an ash tree finally fell down in Old St Pancras churchyard in central London, it made headlines around the world. For not only was it one of London’s famous cemetery landmarks, as was Highgate’s famous Cedar of Lebanon, but it was also a place of literary pilgrimage.

This was the Hardy tree, its base surrounded by headstones, some of which had become part of it as it had grown.  The legend was that Thomas Hardy, the novelist, when employed as an architectural assistant, had begun to pack headstones around the trunk. These were the stones that had been cleared to make way for the expansion of the Midland railway in the mid 1860’s.  Jon Snow in ‘The Great Trees of London, 2010 explained:

‘In the 1860’s the writer Thomas Hardy, was apprenticed to an architect, Arthur Blomfield, in Covent Garden.  The building of the Midland Railway had disrupted many of the graves in nearby churchyards.  Hardy was tasked with making an inventory and reburying them. He stacked the headstones around a convenient ash tree. (in St Pancras churchyard).’

At least this is the romantic myth.

The information board by the Hardy Tree. ©Carole Tyrrell

I am indebted to the blog ‘The London Dead’ for its research into the Hardy Tree which explored the legend.  The truth is that there is no evidence that Hardy had anything to do with it.  In fact, the tree wasn’t even there at the time.  It may have self seeded and was less than 100 years old.  In 1926 a photo was published in ‘Wonderful London’ edited by St John Adcock which shows ‘a rockery of headstones’ but without a tree.  So, the tree appears to have been much later.

The London Dead also quoted from a book on Hardy apparently written by his widow, Emily entitled ‘The Early Years of Thomas Hardy’.  In the 1860’s he was employed as an architectural assistant to Arthur Blomfield in Covent Garden.  In this she says that:

‘Hardy was not responsible for overseeing the exhumations.  This was the Clerk of Works role.  Hardy was instructed to drop by Blomfield in the evening to keep an eye on the Clerk of Works and make sure that all was proceeding in an appropriately seemly manner.  He was to report back to  Blomfield if it was not.’

There had been rumours of bodies being exhumed and bags ‘that rattled’ being sold onto bone mills from one city churchyard instead of being reinterred. Blomfield did not want this to happen at Old St Pancras. So Hardy was to visit at uncertain hours to check on the Clerk and Hardy’s manager was also to drop in at uncertain times during the week to check on Hardy and the Clerks. The plan was successful and Hardy attended during 5-6pm as well as at other hours.

The plan succeeded excellently, and throughout the late autumn and early winter (of probably the year 1865 or thereabouts) Hardy attended at the churchyard – each evening between five and six, as well as sometimes at other hours. There after nightfall, within a high hoarding that could not be overlooked, and by the light of flare-lamps, the exhumation went on continuously of the coffins that had been uncovered during the day, new coffins being provided for those that came apart in lifting, and for loose skeletons, and those that held together being carried to the new ground on a board merely: Hardy supervising these mournful processions when present, with what thoughts may be imagined, and Blomfield sometimes meeting him there. In one coffin that fell apart was a skeleton and two skulls. He used to tell that when, after some fifteen years of separation, he met Arthur Blomfield again and their friendship was fully renewed, among the latter’s first words were: ‘Do you remember how we found the man with two heads at St Pancras?’

Thomas Hardy (1840-19280 Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

In 2019, I visited the churchyard and was informed by the tour guide that the Hardy Tree was almost certainly going to fall.  It was infected with a fungus and a protective, temporary fence had been erected around it with a gap in the hedge for visitors to look through.  Iain Sinclair in, ‘Lights Out For the Territory’ described the headstones clustered around it as being:

‘like a school of grey fins circling the massive trunk feeding on the secretions of the dead.’

The tree’s final few years were being managed although it had been disturbed by recent storms at the time. It was an impressive sight with the tall ash tree or Fraximus Excelsior to give it the full Latin name, reaching for the sky.

A view of the Hardy Tree in 2019 with the church in the background. ©Carole Tyrrell
Closer view of the Hardy Tree from 2019 in which you can see how the stones and the tree had grown together. ©Carole Tyrrell

I visited the cemetery on New Year’s Day 2023 and the tree did look forlorn as it lay there. A visitor had placed a cut rose on top of a headstone in sympathy and tribute.  If you look closely at the base of the tree, headstones that had grown into it and had been uprooted with its fall can be seen. 

New Year’s Day 2023 and if you look at the end of the trunk you can see that the tree took some of the headstones embedded in it down with it. ©Carole Tyrrell

©Carole Tyrrell

Although the Hardy Tree seems to have ultimately been an urban myth; it is a tale of London and the great changes that the Industrial Revolution brought.  Someone collected the headstones so that the final record of their lives were not lost or broken up and forgotten.   It’s a record of the endless cycle of change and renewal of the capital as, chameleon like, it sheds its skin and becomes something else.  The tree was also part of literary London as Mary Wollstonecroft is buried in Old St Pancras.

But who knows?  Another tree may self seed itself and the Hardy Tree will be reborn again.

Dedicated to Jeane Trend-Hill, taphophile, Londoner and photographer who would have been the first on the scene with her camera. RIP.

©Text and photographs Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading

The London Dead: The Myth of the Hardy Tree; Old St. Pancras Churchyard

The Guardian view on the death of the Hardy Tree: a legend uprooted | Editorial | The Guardian

The Hardy Tree, a Beloved Fixture of a London Cemetery, Topples Over – The New York Times (

Thomas Hardy: Gravestone-encircled tree falls in Camden – BBC News