The lure of strange symbols……a springtime saunter to St Peter’s, Bridge, Kent

View of St Peter’s from the churchyard copyright Carole Tyrrell

I was drawn to make my first church crawl post lockdown by the lure of ‘strange symbols’ at St Peter’s in Bridge, Kent.  It’s in a village, well hamlet really, where the number of pubs outnumber the shops.   The church is only open on one day of the week and, knowing only too well the vagaries of country bus services, I planned it like a military campaign with timetables etc. 

Blackthorn blossom foamed over the hedgerows and the acid yellow of rapeseed was beginning to spread over the fields. It felt good to be outside on a sunny April day.  St Peter’s church nestles at the end of the high street and I could see its distinctive ‘candle snuffer’ spire when I got off the bus.  I have missed poking about inside churches although I have had a good poke about in churchyards over the last year.

St Peter’s is a really pretty and ancient church surrounded by a small churchyard. Spring flowers were dotted around the headstones and in the remembrance section by the wall.  Bluebells were still in bud, there was the understated yellow of primroses, purple violets, dandelions and the leaves of Garlic Mustard gave colour around  the stones    There was a part of the churchyard that was overgrown and a side path led to a more modern section. But I wasn’t alone as I explored.  2 squirrels cavorted amongst the large trunks of the yew trees and from the large field beyond the churchyard wall there were many enthusiastic baaa-ings and bleats from a flock of sheep and lambs. 

According to Tim Tatton-Brown from the Kent Archaeology Society,

‘there is evidence of burials in the churchyard since 1474 but there are no markers for them.

Violets in the churchyard copyright Carole Tyrrell

Bluebells copyright Carole Tyrrell
Primroses copyright Carole Tyrrell
Dandelions on ancient lichens and stones. Copyright Carole Tyrrell

But what of the symbols?  There was a sprinkling of skulls and winged souls but no ‘strange symbols’ – yet. So I assumed that, as the book which had recommended them had been published in the 80’s, they might have eroded away.  So I went inside.

View of churchyard copyright Carole Tyrrell
A trio of skulls copyright Carole Tyrrell
View of churchyard copyright Carole Tyrrell

‘If you are here alone. Does anyone know where you are?’ announced a printed sign on the welcome  table which made me feel a little spooked.  Most of the pews were cordoned off and I was soon admiring the colourful and beautiful stained glass.  The sun shone through the chancel windows creating little patterns on the carpet.  Tom’s window, which is a recent addition from 2019, is a masterpiece of modern stained glass and is in memory to a boy who lived for 100 days.  My camera couldn’t do it justice.   The window was designed by Grace Dyson, a glass painter and conservator at the highly regarded Cathedral Studios based at Canterbury Cathedral.

A 19th century stained glass window copyright Carole Tyrrell
Modern stained glass copyright Carole Tyrrell
Tom’s window which was dedicated in 2019 copyright Carole Tyrrell
The sun shining through the chancel windows created tiny patterns copyright Carole Tyrrell
Beautiful patterned stained glass copyright Carole Tyrrell

There has been a church on this site since 1189 and it is now regarded as a chapel of ease.  St Peters became a church during the 12th and 13th centuries. There are still traces of the 12th century and again, according to Tim Tatton-Brown:

the nave may be 11th century but there’s no proof of this.  The bells in the tower may have been cast in the 14th century by William de Belyetre of Canterbury.’

Until 1850 part of the church was used as a schoolroom. St Peter’s was restored in the 19th century by the architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott during 1859-60 and some say that it has been over restored.   It was then that the outer walls were covered in knapped flint. However, there are still traces of the 12th century building in the nave, chancel, south aisle and tower base.   I walked up to the altar and there were the strange symbols at last!

The ‘strange symbols’ copyright Carole Tyrrell

Mounted on a wall was a carved relief with biblical scenes carved on it.  These were the strange symbols mentioned in Peter Haining’s Ghosts of Kent.  The ones that I could recognise were of Adam and Eve by the tree of knowledge with a strange bird climbing it, Cain and Abel, and Abraham sacrificing his son. The others were too damaged to read.  The figures all have little scripts issuing from their mouths  – a little like a ancient century comic strip.  Nobody’s sure if its 16th century or if it was originally set into a 12th century doorway.  I agree with the Kent Archeological Society that it was a tympanum. According to Wikipedia:

‘a tympanum is the semi circular or triangular decorative wall surface over an entrance, door or window…it often contains sculpture or other imagery or ornaments.

There’s more work to be done on this which will form a future post.

Fragments of a memorial to a previous vicar, Malcolm Ramsey copyright Carole Tyrrell

On the other wall of the chancel facing the sculpture were fragments of a relief memorial to another vicar of the church named Malcom Ramsey who died in 1538. He was the vicar of Patrixbourne and Bridge for 44 years.  The fragments form part of an inscription.

The top half of the effigy to Macobus Kasey copyright Carole Tyrrell
Lower half of effigy of Mac0bus Kasey copyright Carole Tyrrell

There is a wooden effigy, split into 2 halves, on one side of the altar which is of a 15th century priest called Macobus Kasey who died in 1512.  However, there was no guidebook to tell me anything more.

Upper half of memorial panel dated 1635 copyright Carole Tyrrell
Lower part of memorial panel dated 1635. copyright Carole Tyrrell

There is an ancient memorial set in the chancel wall on the same side as the effigy.  It has a date of 1635 on it but I am not sure if it’s a headstone or a memorial.  I wanted to take a photo but there was a chair in front of it which I decided to move. However, the chair weighed a ton and it felt as if someone was actually sitting in it.   In the end I had to drag it across the tiles but only a little way.  I took a photo of the memorial and then decided to take another one of the effigy. My camera wouldn’t focus.  It had been working perfectly before I moved the chair.  So I dragged the chair back into position and the camera worked again.  A little strange I thought.

The chair I moved by the altar copyright and a panel set into the wall. copyright Carole Tyrrell
Near the entrance there are Romanesque style arches which end in either cat or lion’s heads.  These date from 1859 and replace earlier, much cruder, ones. copyright Carole Tyrrell

I walked back towards the church door and turned round to have a last look at the church interior.  I could now hear loud sounds from the direction of the organ and the font but I hadn’t heard anyone come in.  Coincidence – who knows? The church had grown colder as well. 

But it was time to go and have a look at the field of sheep and lambs and catch a view of the church from across it. 

View of St Peter’s from across the field of sheep and lambs copyright Carole Tyrrell

 ©Photos and text Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading

Symbol of the Month – The Celtic Cross

Another symbol from the archives while I finish editing my first church visit of 2021. The lure of strange symbols can lead you into all sorts of interesting places…..

The Surrey Celtic Cross Brompton Cemetery
©Carole Tyrrell

Stylised animals, sinuous snakes, Celtic knots and traditional strapwork, flowers, angels and even a cat! The decoration on Celtic crosses within cemeteries can be varied and interesting. But it wasn’t until I was exploring Brompton Cemetery with an apps designer that I really began to look at them more closely. He spotted the Viking style animals on Margaret Stevenson’s cross near the Chapel and we were soon seeing spirals and the more emblematic strapwork known as Hiberno-Saxon art or Insular art amongst others.

Celtic Crosses first appeared within cemeteries during the Celtic Revival of the 1850’s and it has since become a worldwide emblem of Irish identity.  The Revival has also been described as the Celtic Twilight and the Cross is seen as its lasting contribution to the western world’s funerary art.  The Celtic Cross has been known in Ireland since the 9th century and in mainland Britain since medieval times.

It’s a form of the traditional cross but with the addition of a nimbus or ring.  The latter is seen as a symbol of eternity as it has no beginning or end. The addition of the nimbus has been attributed to St Patrick who is reputed to have added it to a Christian cross, extended one of the of the lengths to form the stem and then placed it on top of a stepped base. It was this combination of a pagan symbol and a Christian one that became the Celtic Cross. It has also been described as the ‘sun cross’ by those who interpret the nimbus ring as a representation of the sun. The four arms have also been interpreted as representations of the four elements; air, earth, fire and water as well as the stages of the day or the four fixed compass directions.

The more traditional, intricately patterned bands known as strapwork are known for the unbroken lines that make up any piece.  There have been 8 basic designs that have been identified and claimed to be the basis of nearly all of the interlaced patterns in Celtic decorative art. Hiberno-Saxon art is also known as Insular art and examples appear in the Books of Kells. Here are four examples from West Norwood Cemetery.

It was in Brompton that I noticed two examples with single spirals on them. A spiral on a Celtic cross is generally drawn clockwise to represent either the sun or the direction of running water.

Detail of spiral on Celtic cross in Brompton Cemetery, Sadly the epitaph is now illegible.
©Carole Tyrrell

It is one of the most ancient symbols known to mankind.   A double spiral is more difficult to create and has been seen as a depiction of universal balance such as yin and yang or night and day.  The triple spiral or triskele is the most difficult for obvious reasons and has several meanings attributed to it. But the one that I thought was the most appropriate in a funerary context was the triskele being seen as a representation of three worlds: the spiritual, the earthly and the celestial.  The word Triskele is reputed to have come from the Greeks and it’s one of the most complex Celtic symbols.

Also in Brompton, I discovered a Celtic cross with decoration that ended in snakes heads which is interesting as snakes which were revered by the Celts. They saw them as a representation of rebirth as they shed their skins and then live again.  Notice also the Celtic knot in the centre of them.  These have been found in Scandinavia and Western Europe as well as appearing within Celtic insular art. They are supposed to represent eternity or the never ending cycle of life with the closed ends signifying unity.

A Celtic knot with snakes entwined around it from Brompton Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell
Stylised Viking inspired animals and a Celtic knot on a Celtic Cross.
©Carole Tyrrell

So the next time you visit a cemetery or churchyard look out for the Celtic Cross and see what you find. It’s not only Celtic inspired decoration that appears on them. These two examples are from my local churchyard – one features traditional strapwork and the other has a lovely and unusual angel with beautifully carved feathery wings and the nimbus is almost like a halo.

This is the Mills memorial from Nunhead Cemetery and features beautifully carved passionflowers, a deeply significant symbol in the language of flowers, and also the IHS in the centre of the cross.

This lovely example is the Mills memorial from Nunhead Cemetery. It features beeautifully carved passionflowers and IHS at the centre of thet nimbus.
©Carole Tyrrell

And finally, again from Brompton, one with a cat in its centre which is possibly a pun on the name of the family commemorated – Cattenach.

The Cattanach Celtic Cross from Brompton Cemetery. A probably pun on the surname with the cat at the centre of the nimbus.
©Carole Tyrrell

©text and photos Carole Tyrrell

Further reading and references

Symbol of the Month – The Pelican in her Piety

This is another reblog of a n older post from when I began shadowsflyaway and it’s always been a favourite of mine.

I have been out again looking for symbols and have found one or two so looking forward to sharing them with you. I went church crawling earlier this month and visited a church in Kent rumoured to have strange symbols. It certainly did and other curiosities. You never know what you’re going to find in a church and I have often been pleasantly surprised. Beyond the churchyard wall was a field of sheep and lambs, merrily bleating and baa-ing away at each other, and it made me feel so glad to be outside again on a warm Spring day. I also visited a church in the east End of London on a wet, cold day as the tall cow parsley was rampant amongst the tombstones and found something that I didn’t expect. I’m really looking forward to researching and writing about it for next month.

A pelican in her piety. Detail of monument, The Drake Chapel, St Mary's Amersham. copyright Carole Tyrrell

A pelican in her piety. Detail of monument, The Drake Chapel, St Mary’s Amersham.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

This is a more unusual symbol to find in cemeteries and dates from  pre-Christian times.  There are two versions of the legend.  In one, the pelican pierces her own breast to feed her children with her own blood and in the second she feeds her dying children with her own blood to bring them back to life but as a result she dies herself.   In both of them the pelican is a potent motif of self-sacrifice and charity.  It’s also seen as a powerful  representation of Christ’s  Passion in that he gave his life for us and rose again.  The symbol is known as a pelican in her piety.

However, the legend of the pelican is found in Physiologies, an anonymous  Christian work from Alexandria which dates from the 2nd century.  It contained legends of animals and their allegorical interpretations  which is where the attribution of the pelican’s sacrifice to the Passion of Christ come from.   It states that

‘ the pelican is very fond of its brood, but when the young ones begin to grow they rebel against the male bird (the father) and provoke his anger, so that he kills them, the mother returns to the nest in three day, sits on the dead birds, pours her blood over them, revives them, and they feed on the blood.

The pelican in its piety was very popular during the Middle Ages and can be found on altar fronts, fonts and  misericords in churches.  Also, when tabernacles were occasionally suspended over the altar, they were shaped like pelicans as was one in Durham Cathedral.

Later, in St Thomas Aquinas’s hymn ‘Adoro te devote.’ or Humbly we adore thee’, in the penultimate verse he describes Christ as:

‘the loving divine pelican able to provide nourishment for his breast’

In  Nicholas Hilliard’s famous 1573 portrait of Elizabeth I which is known colloquially as the Pelican portrait she wears a prominent piece of jewellery which features a pelican feeding her young with her blood which symbolised her role as Mother of the Nation.

The pelican also appears in Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Act IV in which Laertes says:

‘To his good friend thus wide,

I’ll open my arms.

And, like the kind life-rendering pelican

Repast them with my blood.’

The  renowned bird appears in key Renaissance literature.  For example, Dante in The Divine Comedy refers to Christ as ‘our Pelican’. John Lyly in Euphues of 1606 also wrote:

Pelicane who striketh blood out of its own owne bodye to do others good.’

John Skelton wrote in 1529 in his Armorie of Birds:

‘They sayd the Pellycan’

When my Byrds be slayne

With my bloude I them nevyve.  Scripture doth record the same dyd as our Lord

And rose from deth to lyve.’

However, the belief that the pelican nourishes her children with her own blood is a myth.  It may have arisen from the fact that pelicans have a large pouch attached under their bill.  When the parent is about to feed its chicks, it macerates small fish in this pouch and then whilst pressing the bag against its breast, it transfers the food to the babies.

However, its use in Victorian cemeteries may indicate a resurrection motif in that the pelican gives er life to her children so that they are resurrected.   It is quite a rare one to find  although it does appear within churches especially on wall memorials, altars and fonts.

This is a sculpture from a church in Germany. copyright Andreas Praefcke
This is a sculpture from a church in Germany.
copyright Andreas Praefcke

This is a magnificent impressive pelican sculpture from a church in Germany.

There is an impressive monument in a Cuban cemetery which has a large marble pelican and children carving on it and there is also one on a memorial in Arnos Vale Cemetery near Bristol.  This is an especially poignant one as is it is to a young doctor, Joseph Williams, who insisted on treating the local workhouse inmates for cholera, during the 1849  Bristol epidemic.  Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, he succumbed to it himself and subsequently died. Here the pelican and her young are a true representation of self-sacrifice.

This is one is in my local church, St Georges in Beckenham and appears on a monument to Dame Ann Frances Hoare who died in 1800 at 64.

And this one is from the Drake Room in St Mary’s Church Amersham.

Here is a more recent use of the Pelican in her piety on a World War II blood donor appeal.

Word war II Scottish blood donor recruitment poster. www.wikipedia

Word war II Scottish blood donor recruitment poster.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.


Pfarr- und Wallfahrtskirche St. Philippus und Jakobus, Bergatreute Hochaltar: Vogelnest, 2007, photographer Andreas Praefcke

How to read symbols, Clare Gibson, 2009, Herbert Press

An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, J C Cooper, Thames & Hudson 1979

A wandering spirit and wandering bones in SE London

In darkest Eltham, there is a headstone dedicated to an Aborigine who came to England in the 18th century. It was the New World meeting the Old World. The English had begun to colonise New South Wales which had been his home although he called it by another name.  The country itself wasn’t called Australia when he left his home for England.  In fact, it wouldn’t be called that until 1804. It was known as New Holland.  He was a young man who died in England and never returned home. 

So who was he?

And why is he buried here? After all, Aborigines believe that, until the bones are returned to his ancestral homeland, he is destined to remain forever a wandering spirit, homeless and alone. If he’s actually still here.

I was out exploring, during the Christmas/New Year relaxation of lockdown. when I visited the churchyard of St John the Baptist in Eltham.  It has a fine old churchyard with a few 18th century memento mori.   Then I found this headstone by the boundary wall which is dedicated to Yemmerrawanyea, a native of New South Wales. The full epitaph reads:


Memory of


a Native of


Who died the 18th of May 1794

In the 19th Year of his


I was intrigued as the headstone is a substantial one and it isn’t everyday that you discover an Aborigine grave.

This is a silhouette portrait of Yemmarrawanyea which was created by William Wentworth who was his landlord during his time in London. Wentworth spelled the name as Yuremany

There are several spellings of the name but I will keep to the spelling on the headstone as it’s easier. 

In the 18th century, the British had begun to colonise what they called New South Wales and they wanted to establish relations with the Aborigines.   George III was very keen for this to happen and the first Governor of the colony, Arthur Phillip, resorted to kidnap to get one man, Bennelong, involved. There will be more on him later.

Yemmerrawanyea was a member of the Wangai tribe, part of the Eora nation of Aborigines.  They lived in the Port Jackson area on the south bank of the Parramatta river where Sydney is now.  He was known to the settlers and Capt Watkin Tench, as ’ a good tempered, lively lad who became a great favourite with us, and almost constantly lived at the Governor’s house.’  He had clothes made for him and he waited at the Governor’s table.  He was a servant.

In February 1791, aged 16, he was initiated according to Aboriginal custom, by having a front tooth and part of his jaw knocked out by a Kebba which was a stone or rock.  This allowed him to use the name Kebarrah which was only given to men who had undergone this ritual.  It was done according to Keith Vincent Smith:

‘… February 1791 at a bay in the Gamaragai territory on the north shore of Port Jackson.  It was Bennelong who officiated, removing the teeth with a specially cut womera or throwing stick. Though Yemmerrawanyea ‘suffered severely, losing apart of his jawbone, he ‘boasted the firmness and hardihood, with which he had endured it.’ wrote Capt Tench.

A portrait of Bennelong in Regency costume.which is signed on the back W.W. This may be William Wentworth, his landlord in London.

He came to England with Bennelong when Phillip returned home to England in 1792-93 after his first stint as the British Governor of the colony of New South Wales.  Apparently, they went on the very long sea journey ’voluntarily and cheerfully’.  Bennelong could speak English but I have been unable to discover if Yemmerrawanyea could also do so.  However, they did have English lessons during their visit.

This could be either Bennelong or Yemmerrawanyea at a fashionable gathering. I haven’t been able to find a credit for it but it came from this site: .

In 1793, they arrived in Falmouth, Cornwall and then travelled onto London.  Mayfair to be precise and there they mixed in high society.  Fashionable Regency clothes were made for them and they were tutored in reading, writing, and English. There are still expense claims on file for their visit.  The men visited St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and even went bathing in the Serpentine.  I did wonder what Regency society made of them and vice versa. 

At a fashionable gathering, Bennelong and Yemmerrawanyea performed a native song accompanied by clapsticks and you can hear a modern recreation of it here:

They said that the song was ‘in praise of their lovers; but the meaning of the song has been lost. Only two words have been translated and were apparently about jumping kangaroos.

Edward Jones, (1752-1824) who was in the audience, wrote down and published the words and music and called it ‘A song of the natives of New South Wales.’  It appeared in Musical Curiosities in 1811.  Jones was the composer, Welsh Harpist, folk music collector and bard to the Prince of Wales who became George IV.

However, in October 1793, disaster struck when Yemmerrawanyea fell ill and began to drastically lose weight.  After injuring his leg, his health declined even further.   He and Bennelong were taken to Eltham which was then a village and he was treated by Dr Gilbert Blane. He was the Prince of Wales’s physician.  They lodged at the house of William Kent who had been employed by the former Home Secretary, Lord Sydney. This again emphasises the circles in which the two men moved. But it was to no avail as Yemmerrawanyea died on 18 May 1794 aged roughly 19 from a lung infection.  This may have been tuberculosis but no-one’s quite sure.

Entry in St John the Evangelist parish records recording Yemmerrawanyea’s burial and death.

There are still bills preserved at the National Archives for his burial and,according to Keith Vincent Smith:

‘A gravedigger covered Yemmerrawanyea’s grave with turf at a cost of 1 shilling and 6 pence.  The headstone costs £6.16.00’,

This was a substantial cost for a headstone. 

There have  been several campaigns to have his remains returned to Australia but their current location in the churchyard is unknown.  In fact, they may no longer be there due to the practice of graves being re opened and re used for burials to reduce overcrowding. The headstone has also been moved and restored several times.

In 1982, 3 Aboriginal men made what is believed to be the first Australian Aboriginal pilgrimage to visit Yemmerrawanyea’s grave. But they were unaware that his body may have been removed and that the headstone may not even be over his grave.

Bennelong returned to what is now Sydney in 1795 and went back to the bush.  He was considered by some of Sydney’s white society to be a ‘thorough savage’ who couldn’t be tamed.  Relations between the Aborigines and the colonists were deteriorating as Keith Vincent Smith says:

‘as more and more land was cleared and fenced for farming and they were seen as savages who were unwilling to give their country and become labourers and servants to the colonists.’

Bennelong died on the 3 January 1813 and his grave has been finally been located. The New South Wales Government has announced that it has bought the house and garden in which he is buried.  It would be turned into a public memorial with a museum commemorating the impact of the European invasion on the indigenous people of the Sydney area. The site of the Sydney Opera House is located at Bennelong Point which was named after him.

These were 2 important figures in Aboriginal society and have left their traces in Australia and England.    Yemmerrawanyea’s grave is of cultural significance to the Aboriginal people and their history.   it seems sad that the stone is the only surviving trace of him in the churchyard and yet it’s it’s a reminder of the New World visiting the Old World.  So that passers-by, like me, stop and wonder who he was. how he came to Eltham and remember him.

Gwandalan Yemmerrawanyea

©Text and photos by Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading: – informative article on Yemmerranyea which I have quoted from.

A touching epitaph to the one left behind. St John the Baptist, Burford

shadows fly away

St John the Baptist, Burford,

This was the inscription that made the most impression as it was so touching and heartfelt.  It perfectly expressed the deceased’s belief, that although they had pre-deceased their partner, they believed that they would both wake again on Judgement Day and be reunited.

The first part of the epitaph on a unknown Monument, So John te Baptist, Burford

The second part of the epitaph on an unknown monument, St John the Evangelist, Burford

Its simplicity is what makes it stand out simple and yet I have no idea on which monument the inscription was despite looking through my photos from the day. But it made a powerful impression. In many ways it was more powerful than far more ornate monuments and tombs.

However, when the Penguin Book Cover Generator was doing the rounds on social media just prior to Christmas last year it provided inspiration…

View original post 22 more words

Happy New Year with another version of the Handshake symbol.

Hello all – I think I can just about get away with still wishing you all a Happy New Year!

Well, here we are in another lockdown and so I won’t be poking about in churchyards or cemeteries for a while.

So I took the opportunity to look through my photos from last year just before the first lockdown when I could still be out and about in local churchyards and cemeteries which I haven’t previously posted.

The above headstone is from All Saints in Frindsbury near Strood. The church perches on top of a hill looking down on the town and its churchyard was recommended to me by an old friend. There were some spectacular views of the River Medway down below as its sapphire stream glinted in the Spring sunshine.. When I got there, the trimming of the long grass around the memorials had literally stopped in mid cut and I had to be careful where I walked. I didn’t want to trip over kerb stones hidden in the long grass.

I found this and, although the shaking hands motif is usually associated with a man and wife saying goodbye, here it looks as though a mother and son are saying goodbye. The hands are those of a man and a woman and, although, the father has been added on at the bottom, the son was the first to be buried there. William Masters died young at only 20 and his mother died 22 years later.

In the shaking hands, the deceased is traditionally holding the hand of the living as they part. It can mean goodbye or the deceased guiding the living into eternal life later. It is usually associated with marriage with the visible cuffs delineating them. The frilly hand on the right hand side is a woman and the left hand one is the man with the plainer, more formal cuff.

It was an interesting churchyard and was also in the middle of two cemeteries – the East and the West. These were mainly 19th and 20th century burials but a bright Spring carpet of primroses and foaming white Blackthorn blossom made them appear colourful and bright.

I will be discussing one of the more enigmatic symbols that I found in All Saints in the next blog.

A Christmas card to you from me

What a strange long trip it’s been as a member of the legendary ‘60’s band, The Grateful Dead, once said and it could apply so well to 2020.

At this time last year I suspect that hardly any of us were prepared for COVID and its devastating effects.  Who could have predicted what was to come?

But here we are.

Still trying to make sense of it all and how our lives have changed.

But, when exploring cemeteries and churchyards,  you often discover evidence of previous epidemics such as cholera or the Spanish flu.  For example, Joseph Bonomi’s headstone in London’s Brompton Cemetery is inscribed with the names of 4 of his children who died of whooping cough in one week.

During this pandemic people have turned to cemeteries and churchyards as quiet places in which to exercise or just sit and enjoy the fine Spring weather and the reduced carbon emissions.  

The angel on this year’s card comes from Brompton Cemetery and she often wears a coat of ivy. 

I hope no-one thought that Shadowsflyaway was running out of steam with no Symbol of the Month last month for the first time in five years since this blog began.   In October, I had teething troubles with an unexpected update from WordPress but that has resolved itself.  But this time it’s the effects of lockdown, and travel restrictions and a lack of funds. 

However, there are still so many stories to discover and share with you.   I love the thrill of finding an undiscovered gem hidden under tendrils of ivy or beneath the spreading yew tree that has sheltered it for centuries.   

I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a brighter 2021.

A ‘free range’ walk on the West side – Highgate Cemetery July 2020

The Egyptian Avenue on a Highgate Cemetery ‘free range

One of the greatest cemeteries in London is Highgate in North London. Crammed with the great and good and also some of the not so good it contains some of the most dramatic funerary architecture to be found in the capital.

The cemetery is bisected by Swain’s Lane with Highgate West on one side and Highgate East on the other. Usually the West side can only be accessed by being on an official tour but this year it was a little different……

Social distancing, in this case, was a good thing!  As The Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust(FOHCT) were unable to hold tours during the summer they cunningly decided to offer ‘free range’ tours instead. For £10 you could book a time, agree to follow a few sensible rules on safety etc and then wander round the West side at will. And if you had the energy, as Highgate West is large, have a look round the East side as well. The West is very overgrown and FOHCT like their visitors to be safe.  They didn’t want their visitors to have a nasty accident and then haunt them forever more.

Please note that I have covered Highgate in a previous post – 16/2/2016 to be exact so some memorials mentioned here will have been covered more fully in that post.

So, on 10 July, I entered through the arch of the chapel and into the green cathedral of the West side.  The trees had linked arms above the graves, monuments and memorials to form a canopy over the entire site.  It felt as if everything was bathed in green light as I walked up the hill.  At its highest point Highgate is 375 feet above sea level. Cemeteries are often built on these as their permanent residents are nearer ‘my God to thee.’

I passed the empty chair memorial to a young actress and spotted a pelican in her piety symbol amongst the undergrowth. The overgrown nature of the West side gives it a real charm and mystery.  A helpful steward directed me to the Rossetti group of graves which I’d always wanted to see but he also pointed out the grave of a woman who had died when her dress had caught alight. Apparently this only ceased with the coming of the mini-skirt and possibly central heating.

The Rossettis have their own path named after them but the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti is not buried with them.  Instead his parents Gabriele (1783-1854) and Frances (1800-1886), his brother William (1829-1919) and William’s wife Lucy Madox Brown (1843-1894), who was the only daughter of Ford Madox Brown, his sister Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) and Dante’s wife Lizzie Siddal (1829-1862) occupy the plot.  

Lizzie features as the model in several of Dante’s paintings and the Victorian web points out that she died aged 32 instead of at 30.  She was addicted to laudanum which was derived from opium and was a Victorian cure-all. Laudanum was prescribed for morning sickness and cranky infants amongst others.  It was easy to become addicted and she succumbed.  Lizzie was pregnant at the time of her death, although she may not have known it, and had already had a stillborn child with Dante.   It is still not known  if she died of an overdose or a deliberate act of suicide. However, she was a talented artist in her own right and some of her work was featured in the 2019 exhibition ‘Pre-Raphaelite Sisters.’

But Lizzie has also been commemorated by an act that occurred after her death.  One of Dante’s early biographers  recorded it:

On the day of the funeral Rossetti walked into the chamber in which the body lay. In his hand was a book into which at her bidding he had copied his poems. Regardless of those present he spoke to her as though she were still living, telling her that the poems were written to her and were hers, and that she must take them with her. He then placed the volume beside her face in the coffin, leaving it to be buried with her in Highgate Cemetery. This touching scene will some day doubtless be the subject of a picture. Time, after its wont, hallowed and sanctified the memory of loss, but the bereavement was long and keenly felt. Meanwhile, the entombment of Rossetti’s poems had an effect upon which the writer had not calculated. They were familiar to many friends, and passages of them were retained in the recollection of some. These poems were during subsequent years the subject of much anxiety and wonderment, and the existence of the buried treasure was mentioned with reverence and sympathy, and with something of awe. Seven years later Rossetti, upon whom pressure to permit the exhumation of the volume had constantly been put, gave a reluctant consent With the permission of the Home Secretary the coffin was opened” by a friend of Rossetti and the volume was withdrawn. [Knight 76] from the Victorian Web site

It would haunt Dante for the rest of his life.   In one of his most famous paintings ‘Beata Beatrix’ painted in 1869, which is an amalgam of several drawings of Lizzie, a white poppy features. The red dove represents their love and the poppy the laudanum that hastened her death. It’s derived from poppies. Dante died in 1882 and is buried at Birchington-on- Sea.

Elizabeth Siddal circa 1860 unknown photographer shared under Wiki Commons
Beata Beatrix Dante Gabriel Rossetti completed 1870.

William Rossetti was a founder member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and wrote widely.  He was also the biographer of his family. One of Christina’s most famous poems was ‘Goblin Market’ and she also featured in ‘Pre-Raphaelite Sisters.’

I returned to the path but discovered a selection of the rich and famous as I walked up to the Circle of Lebanon. 

The epitaph says it all
Lucien Freud artist
Jean Simmons actress.- she starred with Kirk Douglas in Spartacus

Alas, the venerable 250 year old Cedar of Lebanon after which it was named succumbed to old age in 2019.   It was a survivor from the Ashurst estate on which Highgate West was built on and was an impressive sight.  Now a wildflower garden stands on the spot. I had come out onto the upper terrace and from there I could see the layout of the Circle much more clearly. There are some impressive monuments here: Nero the lion eternally slumbers on the Wombwell monument. George Wombwell was a Victorian menagarist who owned 3 travelling animal shows.  The monument to John Maple features low relief carvings from the life of Christ. He owned a very successful furniture business which occupied a large site on Tottenham Court Road.   It no longer exists.   The Circle is built in the Classical style and the inner circle contains 20 vaults and another 16 were added in 1870.

The Circle of Lebanon from the upper tier and note the wildflower garden that replaces the Cedar after which the Circle was named.
Nero, the lion, guarding the Wombwell monument.
The Maples monument on the upper tier of the Circle.

The Terrace catacombs were closed although I have been inside them on a previous visit. By contrast they are in the Gothic style and were built on an existing terrace from the Ashurst estate.  The frontage is 8 yards long with room for 825 people in 55 vaults each containing 15 loculi or coffin spaces.  I was reduced to peering through a doorway on this occasion before turning to the magnificent Beer mausoleum which was built for his 8 year old daughter, Ada.

The Gothic style terrace catacombs
The Beer mausoleum

As it was a self-guided tour I had time to admire the summer wildflowers which were growing in profusion.  Cemeteries are good places to find these; Acanthus, ragwort, verbena, Ladies Bedstraw, Vipers Bugloss, Rosemary Willowherb and also a buddleia in full bloom studded with Peacock butterflies on Faraday Path. 

Peacock tucking into a Budleia blossom on Faraday path.
Viper’s Bugloss

A sidepath from the Circle led me along another path which I’d not previously seen.  The atmosphere seemed different and it was certainly darker, perhaps due to a thicker tree canopy, as I walked along it to a gate at the other end.  This would have originally opened onto Swain’s Lane and there was what appeared to be a former gatekeeper’s lodge nearby. It still bore the monogram of the London Cemetery Company who were the original owners of Highgate cemetery.  Time slips have been reported along this path and I wondered if it was the gate through which a man is reported to look out at unwary passers-by.

A possible former gatekeepers lodge
The monogram of the London Cemetery Company

I retraced my steps towards the magnificent Egyptian Avenue one of Highgate’s highlights. Tom Sayer’s monument lay to my right with his faithful dog, Lion, eternally keeping guard and then the  Sleeping Angel.  This is dedicated to Mary Nichols who was a Londoner who died in 1909 from heart failure and diabetes.  It’s a lovely tribute.

Lion guarding the gave of bare knuckle fighter Tom Sayers
The Sleeping Angel on top of Mary Nichols
The Acheler memorial

The horse on top of the Acheler memorial records John Acheler who became wealthy and well known as a ‘Knacker’.  He called himself ‘horse slaughterer to Queen Victoria’.

The Egyptian Avenue!

And then the Egyptian Avenue!  The centrepiece of Highgate West in my opnion. It may be looking a little tired but it’s a magnificent example of how the Egyptian explorations of the 19th century influenced funerary architecture. Note the two large obelisks flanking the entrance and the stylised lotus flowers on the columns as you enter through the arch and into the passage that will take you into the lower tier of the Circle. 

The Avenue was also a catacomb but they were never really popular as other London cemeteries soon realised. After all if Highgate couldn’t sell all theirs then who could? The passage contains 16 vaults on either side which were each fitted with shelves to hold 12 coffins. These were bought by individual families for their own use.

The passage from the Avenue entrance into the Circle of Lebanon.
The vaults on either side of the passage.
The Circle of Lebanon as you emerge from teh Egyptian Avenue.

By then I thought it was time to explore the East cemetery while I still had the energy.   

Wildflowers were also in profusion here: clover, bird’s foot trefoil and vetch Butterflies flew about on the heat of a late summer afternoon. 

Bird’s Foot Trefoil – Highgate East

I saw my favourites; Jeremy Beadle, Malcolm McLaren, Karl Marx and Patrick Caulfield.   There was also the grand piano dedicated surprisingly enough to a pianist, Henry Thornton, who died in 1918 during the ’flu epidemic.

Jeremy Beadle – Highgate East
Patrick Caulfield – a sense of humour
Malcolm Mclaren
Henry Thornton, a pianist

The East side isn’t as overgrown as the West side and as I explored further I found a memorial which highlighted a dog. This was dedicated to Ann Jewson Crisp and her faithful dog Emperor. 

But as I left the East side I spotted another of its more celebrated residents settling down for a siesta behind the Great Train Robber, Bruce Reynolds’, memorial.  It was a cemetery cat who was soon hidden deep in the grass and I didn’t want to disturb him or her.  What a playground!

A cemetery cat having a kip in the last afternoon sunshine.

As I left the East Cemetery and walked down Swain’s Lane to Archway tube station I still had time to admire my ideal des res – Holly Village – which was built by Victorian philanthropist, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts. It is said that she planned it with Charles Dickens. She built the Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial in St Pancras Old Burying ground.

Thj Gothic beauty of Holly Village

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell except where indicated

References and further reading

Highgate Cemetery – maps to East and West cemeteries.

Death Omens – how well do you know them?

Bring hawthorn blossom indoors and death supposedly will follow.

This is from Folklore Thursday and is about the rural traditions of death omens in Herefordshire. I have always found it incredible that these traditions survive in our modern world. The one concerning Hawthorn blossom is one that I already knew about but you do wonder how they began.

Was it coincidence that, hundred of years ago for example, someone heard an owl screech and a death happened soon afterwards. So the two events became forever linked so that if an owl screeched our ancestors expected a death to happen soon after. Or were our ancestors more in tune with nature than perhaps we are and could read the signs and signals.

I hope you enjoy reading this. Happy Halloween!

Hello Brave New World

In case you were wondering why there hasn’t been much activity on shadowsflyaway recently, it’s because WordPress has had an upgrade. I apparently now have a website instead of a blog.

This wasn’t something that I had anticipated but they have upgraded or updated me so here we are. I’m trying to work out where everything is at the moment. But I’ll get there and be posting away before long.

The angel up above is a male angel which is unusual in Victorian cemeteries. He is in Kensal Green Cemetery in London. If you think he look scary or a little creepy without his head, I have seen archive photos of him with a head and, believe me, he doesn’t look any less unnerving!