Another afternoon with the dead and famous – a visit to St Pancras Old Church and churchyard Part 1

 

 

Old St Pancras church – note Victorian ‘improvement’ of additional tower.
©Carole Tyrrell

Part 1 The Church and the Hardy Tree

Despite their transformation into swish new, trendy areas of London,  Kings Cross and St Pancras still retain their historical origins if you know where to look.

However, I can remember when St Pancras was the station that time forgot. In fact if Stephenson’s Rocket had puffed its way along a platform at one time I wouldn’t have been surprised, The MIdland Grand, an enormous rabbit warren of a building was still awaiting its Cinderella like transformation in 2003/4.  Now, reborn as St Pancras Renaissance, it’s always a magnificent sight to see as you perambulate along the Euston Road.

But behind St Pancras International, as it’s now known,  there is still a part of London that has welcomed  visitors and immigrants from all over the world and is testament to the capital’s ever-changing history.

In this quiet part of North London, if you listen hard enough you can still hear the running feet of The Beatles or Mary and Percy Shelley discussing their elopement as they take a Sunday afternoon stroll. But, even more gruesomely, you might also hear body snatchers plying their trade.

This is St Pancras Old Church and churchyard.  But it’s not to be confused with St Pancras New Church which is the one with the weirdly proportioned caryatids that face the Euston Road.

The Research History Group of Brompton Cemetery visited on an overcast September afternoon when the churchyard, or park, as it’s now known seemed sombre and silent under the canopy of the 160 year old tress.  But it wasn’t always like this. Our knowledgeable guide, Lester Hillman, told us that during the 19th century, instead of the elegant iron railings that border the front of the churchyard , there had been pubs and adjacent to the church there had been a terrace of houses.

The famous music hall star Dan Leno had been born in one of them.  During the 1850‘s there had been balloon ascents as well and I did wonder how the permanent residents of St Pancras had ever got any of their eternal rest.

Charles Dickens who lived opposite the churchyard as a child described it as:

‘ a desolate place surrounded by little else but fields and ditches’

This seems incredible now as the area is so built up. Dickens featured St Pancras in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ in which one of the characters, Jerry Cruncher and his son, Jerry Jnr, visit the churchyard in order to ‘fishing’. This was a euphemism for body snatching which was rife at the time.

Jerry Cruncher’;s friends going fishing from A Tale of Two Cities.
©Goodreads

Although the churchyard is now much smaller, during 1689-1845 88,000 burials took place in it and It’s estimated that 1.5%  of the 66 million Londoners who have lived in the capital over the centuries have been buried here. It closed to burials in 1850 and was acquired by parish authorities becoming a public park in June 1877.

We first visited the church which is very attractive and to walk through its door is to walk into London’s past. Roman, Norman and Tudor brickwork are almost cheek by jowl with each other and the memorial of the very first burial is preserved on a wall near the altar.  This is to a Mary Berisford who was interred on a very auspicious day, 21 August 1588, which was the day of the Spanish Armada. On the opposite wall is the memorial to Daniel Clark (died 1613) and his wife, Katherine (died 1627) and he was cook to Elizabeth 1st.    This large monument is dedicated to William Platt and his wife and they look as if they’re sitting in a box at the theatre.

The memorial to William Platt and his wife inside the church
©Carole Tyrrell

A piece of a Roman altar is embedded in the top of the present one. It was found nearby and seems appropriate as St Pancras was a Roman saint.

According to the guidebook, the church:

‘may possibly date back to the 4th century…..the present building has been here since the 11th or 12th century  close to the River Fleet.’

A picture of the church in 1827 taken from an information board.
©Carole Tyrrell

The river now runs underground but continues to supply Highgate Ponds.  Lester informed us that the 17th generation descendant of Richard III swam in them daily. However, little remains of the medieval church.

A memorial to a bygone occupation that of pew opener
©Carole Tyrrell

As we left the church to enter the churchyard I spotted a wall memorial to a Amelia Rogers whose occupation was given as ‘pew-opener’. This undoubtedly referred to the days when there were box pews with doors and she was obviously greatly valued.

 

One of the features for which the churchyard is renowned is The Hardy Tree.  This is an ash tree which has grown in and around the headstones placed around it.  Sadly, the tree isn’t looking very healthy these days and an exclusion fence has had to be placed around it as branches have fallen from it. Fungus is clearly visible.  The Hardy connection comes from the novelist Thomas Hardy.

Thomas Hardy (1840-19280
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

During 1862-67, as a young man, he studied architecture under Arthur Blomfield, in London. At this time, the Midland Railway was being built over part of the churchyard and Hardy was given the task of supervising the proper exhumation of human remains and the dismantling of tombs.

In The Early Life, Hardy recounts being involved with the overseeing of churchyards that were being cut through by railroad companies. His employer, Arthur Blomfield, described “returning from visiting the site on which all the bodies were said by the railway companies to be reinterred; but there appeared to be nothing deposited, the surface of the ground quite level as before” In order to make sure the bodies were actually buried properly, Hardy was asked to check one such job at irregular intervals. One evening, accompanied by Blomfield, he watched as a coffin fell apart. Out dropped a skeleton and two skulls. When years later he met Arthur Blomfield again, “among the latter’s first words were: ‘Do you remember how we found the man with two heads at St. Pancras?'” http://casterbridge.blogspot.com/2009/05/levelled-churchyard.html

In 1882, 20 years later, he wrote the poem ‘The Levelled Churchyard’ which may refer to this period.

‘O passenger, pray list and catch
Our sighs and piteous groans,
Half stifled in this jumbled patch
Of wrenched memorial stones!

“We late-lamented, resting here,
Are mixed to human jam,
And each to each exclaims in fear,
‘I know not which I am!’

The wicked people have annexed
The verses on the good;
A roaring drunkard sports the text
Teetotal Tommy should!

“Where we are huddled none can trace,
And if our names remain,
They pave some path or p-ing place
Where we have never lain!

“There’s not a modest maiden elf
But dreads the final Trumpet,
Lest half of her should rise herself,
And half some local strumpet!

“From restorations of Thy fane,
From smoothings of Thy sward,
From zealous Churchmen’s pick and plane
Deliver us O Lord! Amen!”

 

The Hardy Tree is a London legend but no-one’s quite sure if Hardy himself placed the headstones there. However, it was certainly created at the right time. With the Eurostar coming to St Pancras in 2007, another part of the churchyard was lost and there has been a Hardy Homage.  A graceful swirl or half circle of headstones marks the spot

The homage to the Hardy Tree when Eurostar took a piece of the churchyard away.
©Carole Tyrrell

Part 2: Escape from the Black Hole, the inspiration for a British icon and Frankenstein

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

A Walk in the Past – a churchyard tour Of St Pancras Old Church – St Pancras Old church guidebook

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Pancras_Old_Church

 http://casterbridge.blogspot.com/2009/05/levelled-churchyard.html

https://www.theflyawayamerican.com/st-pancras-old-church-london/

http://thelondondead.blogspot.com/2014/06/polly-peachum-and-black-hole-of.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Wollstonecraft

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Never_Was

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angela_Burdett-Coutts,_1st_Baroness_Burdett-Coutts

https://www.historytoday.com/archive/months-past/angela-burdett-coutts-born-london

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-incredible-chevalier-deon-who-left-france-as-a-male-spy-and-returned-as-a-christian-woman

https://www.them.us/story/chevalier-d-eon-trans-woman

 

 

The final message …..a thoughtful gift from Banksy

Like many others I turned out on a wet Sunday morning to look at the elusive artist, Banksy’s, temporary emporium of homewares in trendy ‘Tech City’ Croydon.

He created ‘Gross Domestic Product” in response to a greeting card company attempting to copyright his name. He was advised that in order to stop it happening he needed to create his own own homeware brand.  This is how the shop came into being.

Amongst a baby’s cradle surrounded by CCTV monitors and the Union Jack vest worn by Stormzy at Glastonbury I found this.  The epitaph said it all and this is the artists statement on it.

It may soon be available to buy on Banksy’s online store.

Symbol of the Month – The Good Samaritan

The row of tombstones along the wall of St Margaret’s Church, Rochester.
©Carole Tyrrell

The tombstones in St Margaret’s churchyard, Rochester are arranged like teeth along one wall. It faces out onto the Medway and, if you’ve got the strength, to look over there’s also a steep slope beneath. But it was here that I found the Good Samaritan headstone.  Never underestimate the power of a lovely sunny day to really bring out the beauty of a good carving.

A man is depicted on it, lying half naked being comforted by another man while a horse, presumably the victim’s, stands nearby.  In the distance two figures, presumably men, walk away with their backs to the scene.  It’s a well carved little picture and  I immediately thought of Parable of the Good Samaritan.

The epitaph beneath the carving.
©Carole Tyrrell

I am indebted to the Kent Archaeological; Society for the transcript of the epitaph. .  Even at 400% magnification, all I could make out was

‘…….Wife….

….this life…

…1777…..

…Children..’

It actually reads:

(In memory of)

Catherine Wife of Will Bromley

Departed this life

The ( ) Feb 1777

aged 33 years

Also Six Children

Will Bromley

departed this life

( ) June 1783 aged 41 years

Also William Gerrad Bromley died

the 30th of January 180(7) aged (36 years)

 

The Parable of The Good Samaritan comes from the Gospel of Luke, verses 10:25-37 and here is a shortened version taken from the World English Bible:

‘Jesus answered, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?”’

He said, “He who showed mercy on him.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

The Samaritan who stopped to help is described as Good but in reality Jews and Samaritans hated each other. They were known to destroy each other’s temples but few people have heard of the Samaritans nowadays. According to Wikipedia, the parable is now:

…….often recast in a more modern setting where the people are ones in equivalent social groups known not to interact comfortably. Thus, cast appropriately, the parable regains its message to modern listeners: namely, that an individual of a social group they disapprove of can exhibit moral behaviour that is superior to individuals of the groups they approve.’

The old road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
Shared under Wiki Commons

At the time in which the Parable is set, the Jerusalem to Jericho road was known as ‘The Way of Blood’ due to the amount of blood that was spilt on it from attacks on travellers by robbers.  It was extremely dangerous.  In fact Martin Luther King Jr in his ‘I’ve been to the Mountaintop’ speech given the day before his death, had more sympathy for the Levite and priest who ignored the victim and went on with their journeys. He described the road as:

‘As soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road … In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’’]

Wikipedia

 There are several other interpretations of the Good Samaritan parable and if you are interested you can find them here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Good_Samaritan

The phrase ‘Good Samaritan’ has become part of modern language and denotes someone who helps a stranger. There are several worldwide hospitals named after him and it has inspired art, fiction, photography and sculpture amongst others.   This is a 17th century painting from 1647

Bathasar van Cortbernde The Good Samaritan (1647)
Shared under Wiki Commons

 

and here is a modern sculpture from Nova Scotia.

Monument to William Bruce Almon by Samuel Nixon St Paul’s Church Nova Scotia 2019
Shared under Wiki Commons

 

However, the only images that I could find that resembled the headstone carving were from 19th century bibles which were much later than the carving on the headstone. This is taken from the 1875 Children’s Picture Bible Book.

This image come from the Children’s Picture Bible Book 1875.
Shared under Wiki Commons

 

So was the wife or the husband buried in St Margaret’s churchyard the Good Samaritan or was the image chosen to remind the viewer to be one to their fellow men?  We may never know.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+10%3A25-37&version=KJV

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Good_Samaritan

https://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/research/monumental-inscriptions/rochester-st-margarets-church#03

 

Symbol(s) of the Month – the tools of the trade

This memento mori comes from the churchyard of Boxgrove Priory Church. Note the crossed pickaxe and possibly a spade at the left hand side of the skull.
©Carole Tyrrell

The tools of the trade refer to those used by the sexton in his duties as maintaining the local churchyard. The word ‘sexton’ is derived from the Latin word ‘sepeliarus’ which roughly translates as ‘the custodian of sacred objects’. He or she is an officer of the church, a member of the congregation and is also in charge of maintaining the church buildings.

The sexton’s tools can include:·

    •  A spade or shovel·
    • A turf cutter which is recognisable by its triangular blade·
    • A pickaxe

These can often be depicted either on their own or crossed and are reminders of mortality as they are connected with the dead. I used to think that they only appeared on the headstones or memorials of gravediggers but this hasn’t proved to be the case.  Instead they appear to be a form of memento mori and a reminder of the viewer’s ultimate destination.     There are variations as in this one on the headstone of Ann Baker in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Sevenoaks.  In this combination of symbols, a coffin takes centre stage as it appears to either be rising ominously out of the ground or is being deposited into it.

This fine set of tools includes a coffin, a pick axe, a spade and possibly a scythe. These are on the headstone of Ann Baker in St Nicholas churchyard, Sevenoaks
©Carole Tyrrell

The epitaph states that she was the wife of Stephen Baker and there is a headstone with that name on it nearby.  There is a nicely carved skull on it and I wondered if, as Ann’s symbols are larger and  appear to be professionally carved, that perhaps the family had gone up in the world.

 

Thismagnificent set of symbols comes from Halstone churchyard. They comprise a spade, a book (presumably a Bible), an Angel of Death and a skull and crossbones.
©Stephen Sebastian Murray

This fine example comes from St Peter’s, Falstone, Northumberland and  contains several key mortality motifs.  A spade or shovel , an open book, perhaps the Bible or a prayer book, a skull and crossbones and a winged angel above.

This example of a skull with a tool amongst other motifs comes from the churchyard of Rochester Cathedral in Kent.

Skull and tool, Rochester Cathedral graveyard.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

I have found two other magnificent examples in Edinburgh and Northumberland churchyards but am awaiting permission from the bloggers  to be able to use them.

However, sextons have another claim to fame as they also appear in literature and plays. For example, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act V, Scene 1,  the two gravediggers who are digging Ophelia’s grave debate whether she should have a Christian burial as she is a suicide.  Later in the same scene,  a sexton unearths Yorick’s skull giving rise to one of Hamlet’s most famous lines:

‘Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well.’

Several famous rock singers have worked as grave diggers including Joe Strummer, Dave Vanian of the Damned and Tom Petty .   However, the claim that Rod Stewart was one is only an urban myth.

Charles Dicken featured a sexton, Gabriel Grub, in a ghost story that appeared in The Pickwick Papers called ‘The Goblin and the Sexton’.  Gabriel is not a happy man. On Christmas Eve, he walks along Coffin Lane to the churchyard to finish digging a grave which is to be used the next day.  Along the way he takes out his ill temper on a boy singing a Christmas carol and then meets the Goblin sitting cross legged on a headstone.  This Christmas night will change Gabriel’s life forever.  According to the Victorian web this story was Dickens’ version of Rip Van Winkle and is an example of ‘a curmudgeon chastised.’

The Goblin and the Sexton by Phiz aka Hablot Knight Browne from Dickens The Pickwick Papers
Shared under Wiki Commons

 

It seems appropriate that sexton’s tools should feature so prominently in some churchyards. After all, he or she is the last person to take care of your body after death; whether you are buried or your ashes are deposited there and also the preservation of your memorial.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless indicated

References

http://headstonesymbols.co.uk/ngg_tag/sexton-tools/

https://flickeringlamps.com/2018/07/28/memento-mori-symbols-of-death-in-st-cuthberts-kirkyard-edinburgh/

https://churchmonumentssociety.org/resources/symbolism-on-monuments#s

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravedigger

http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/phiz/pickwick/24.html

https://familychristmasonline.com/stories_other/dickens/gabriel_grub.htm

 

What I did over the summer and what is to come……

St Peter & St Paul churchyard Seal Kentt. A magnificent view of the North Downs from the back of the church.
©Carole Tyrrell

Dear readers

It has been an eventful summer for me, to say the least. I moved house again for various reasons and now live in Rochester, Kent.  For those of you that don’t know it, it’s a town associated with Charles Dickens and is on the banks of the River Medway.

But I have also been busy researching 18th century memento mori’s in Kent churchyards, both around Sevenoaks and Rochester. It was quite surprising to see the differences in carvings from church to church and parish to parish.  They started out as naïve, almost crude, motifs and then professional stonemasons became involved.  In the churchyard of St Peter & St Paul church in Tonbridge there were still 2 tombstones dating back to medieval times. A blog post on my research, or I prefer to call it, poking about in churches and churchyards, is forthcoming as is Symbol of the Month amongst others.

So although shadowsflyaway has been quiet over August I’ve been gearing up for the autumn.

To whet your appetite for the Memento mori post here is one from the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul in Seal, Kent which is almost like a piece of Folk Art in my opinion…

Memento Mori, St Peter & St Paul, Seal, Kent. I think it’s almost like folk art.
©Carole Tyrrell

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

Highgate Cemetery mourns loss of 200-year-old cedar tree which ‘felt like the death of a relative’

Trees in cemeteries can live to ripe old ages and this tree in Highgate Cemetery predated the cemetery. It was a towering and beautiful presence within Highgate and I shall miss it.

This article is from London’s evening standard 10 August 2019

The Cedar of Lebanon has been cut down due to safety concerns ( Dr Ian Dungavell )

Locals are mourning the loss of a beloved tree which has stood at the centre of Highgate Cemetery for nearly 200 years.

The majestic Cedar of Lebanon has been in the middle of the site’s west side since its inception in the 1830s, bearing witness to hundreds of burials in that time.

Despite best efforts to keep it alive, the mighty cedar has been condemned by tree surgeons, amid fears it could collapse.

The decision was eventually made to cut it down, in what one trustee compared to the feeling of losing a “much-loved relative”.

Dr Ian Dungavell, chief executive of the Friends of Highgate Trust, told the Standard: “It was a bit like switching off the life system on a much-loved relative. This tree has seen so much.”

Staff at the cemetery had started to notice fungus on the tree, which has survived a lightning strike and deep winters throughout its life.

The tree is based above the Lebanon Catacombs (Rex Features)

Experts were called in, who said that large sections were beyond saving.

Dr Dungavell said they “did not want to believe” the report but took the decision to trust the experts.

One tree surgeon involved in cutting the Cedar down even visited the site to bid farewell to the tree before work commenced to remove it.

Meanwhile, volunteers were invited to visit and to witness it in its final days before it was felled.

“For any tree it’s upsetting if its been around for that period of time,” said Dr Dungavell, referencing the other longstanding trees at the site.

“It’s hard not to anthropomorphise them, to think, ‘what have they seen?'”

Sheldon Goodman, a tour guide and curator of the Cemetery Club website, also expressed his sadness at the situation.

“I’m a cemetery lover so the precedence this tree had is amplified in me, but knowing it’s fate, although unavoidable and necessary, doesn’t dispel that a little bit of London’s history is dying with it. You watch from the sidelines, powerless to do anything,” he told the Standard.

“Seeing the circle without the Lebanon would be like seeing Pisa without the tower, or Sydney without the bridge. The architecture becomes a nonsense without it.”

Mr Goodman said the Cedar deserved recognition as a famous tree of London, as he felt it was somewhat a “hidden secret”.

“It’s a guardian that has fallen on its sword and it’s silently watched over the fortunes of the cemetery for so many years; to see it succumb to disease and a climate it hadn’t really evolved for is such a shame,” he said.

The Cedar of Lebanon is based above the Lebanon Catacombs, which contain a number of burials in lead-lined coffins.

It is described as being like a “giant bonsai”, due to its unique placement and was part of the site when the land was part of Ashurst House, which was sold in 1830.

Dr Dungavell said a collapse would have been “horrific”, if branches had fell and smashed into them.

As well as being a constant presence in the cemetery and viewed by thousands of visitors in person, the tree has also been seen on screen.

Most recently it featured in the film Hampstead, with Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson sharing a picnic underneath its towering branches.

The west side of the cemetery is the site of hundreds of burials, including the private tomb of late music star George Michael.

Each side of the cemetery attracts thousands of visitors each year, with large numbers visiting the east side to see the final resting place of philosopher Karl Marx.

 

 

Happy 4th birthday!

©Carole Tyrrell

Happy 4th birthday shadowsflyaway!

There’s no Symbol of the Month this month as it’s shadowsflyaway’s 4th birthday!

Yes, it’s been 4 years since I started this blog and it’s been a joy to share my enthusiasm for symbols and other cemetery related stories with you.

I thought that I might have exhausted the supply of symbols on which to write about but no I always find a new one and undoubtedly there are still more out there waiting for me.

I always look forward to exploring a new cemetery or churchyard as there’s often a new gem for me to discover. Recently I have been poking about in medieval Kent churches and discovered a devil’s doorway, windows with eyes and a fine selection of 17th and 18th century names in a list of churchyard burials.  Sadly, I don’t think that Beardsel, Chariot or Sundial are going to rediscovered but you never know…..and also some of the finest memento mori.

But mostly I’ve enjoyed letting the dead speak to me through the symbols they chose to have as their lasting message to the world.

This photo was taken in the churchyard of St Peter & St Paul in Seal, Kent.  The view from the back of the churchyard looks out onto the North Downs and it was literally a view to die for (sorry couldn’t resist that one)

So let’s drink a toast, mine’s a lemon and lime flavoured water, and let’s see where we go in shadowsflyaway’s 5th year!

 

Madam, have you paid the correct fare for that coffin? Part 3 of exploring Brookwood Cemetery and the Necropolis Railway

US war rave section, Brookwood Cemetery
©Carole Tyrrell

I hadn’t visited Brookwood Cemetery for over 20 years and remembered it being sprawling, vast and with large empty sections. It was the largest cemetery in the world at the time of the creation of the Necropolis Railway and, at 500 acres, is still the largest in Europe.   Under azure skies  during the 2018 hot spell we alighted at Brookwood station and found that the entrance into the cemetery was closed.

So we took a longer route into the cemetery and wended our way through the village  The pub that had been by the station when I last visited was now offices.  I always thought that it should have been called The Coffin’s Rest but it was probably something a lot less amusing.  The cemetery was once privately owned but is now in the safe keeping of Woking Council.  Its first burial was the still born twins of a Mrs Hore who lie in an unmarked grave.  There is an actors section not far from the train station and amongst Brookwood’s permanent residents are Evelyn De Morgan, painter John Singer Sargent, novelist Rebecca West and more recently, the architect of the Olympic Velodrome Zena Hadid. After walking through undergrowth we came upon the War Graves section of Brookwood.

According to the War Graves information board:

‘Brookwood has the largest section of Commonwealth war graves in the UK. It contains over 5000 Commonwealth war graves as well as 800 war graves of other nationalities.’

 As we walked through the different sections with their lines of dazzling white crosses we all felt a real sense of how it must feel to see endless lines of them in France and Belgium.

We got an idea of how dramatic the huge French and Belgian war grave cemeteries would look in size.
©Carole Tyrrell

‘The military cemetery was established just after the end of the First World War and then extended after the Second World War.  It has the Cross of Sacrifice designed by Blomfield and Lutyens Stone of Remembrance as seen in European military cemeteries.

There are also two memorials; the 1914-18 on which is recorded 260 service personnel whose graves are unknown and also the 1939-1945 which records over 3400 men and women of the Commonwealth and forces who dies at sea, in raids on Occupied Europe and also special agents who lost their lives in enemy territory.’

 

We walked through the American, Canadian and RAF sections and saw that the Chelsea Pensioners were also represented. In fact it was in the American section that the final scenes of the original Omen were filmed. In the distance we could hear gunfire which was presumably from nearby Pirbright army barracks and added to to the scene.

After leaving the military section, a path called Pine Walk led us through the Muslim burial section.  A Muslim has to be buried within 24 hours and when I’d last visited there had only been a handful of memorials. Now it is a large, rambling section and Zena Hadid is interred here.  Minarets and domes held sway here instead of crosses, solemn angels and doves.  However, It was plain to see from one grave that the incumbent was a fan of a certain sport.

 

By the entrance from the station there is a preserved piece of the original track and Mr Clarke explained that the original rail station was named Necropolis Junction.  Then we set off to follow the Railway’s tracks.

 

The North station buildings are now long gone although a small sign saying Railway Walk marks the spot. The area is fenced off and was sold off to a group that specialised in above ground burials.  But the platform edge could still be seen through the chain-link fencing.

We then continued the scenic walk along the avenue of towering redwoods for which the cemetery is rightly celebrated.  The shade was very welcome and flitting butterflies accompanied us..  I saw one of the largest Comma butterflies I’ve ever seen gratefully basking on a tall, thick Redwood tree trunk before summoning up the energy to fly on.   Butterflies were everywhere and often air dancing in pairs.  A member of the party briefly saw a rabbit hopping across a path and into bushes.  I said ‘You know you’re in the country now.’

Instead of the vast empty spaces that I recalled,  there are now several religions and sects that have taken over vacant sub-plots and so you will find Catholic, Zorastrian, Muslim and Persian sects nestling next to a Swedish religion’s permanent religions amongst others. A far cry from the Victorian view of never shall they meet even in death from the Bishop of London in the 19th century.

Eventually the large rambling Victorian South station chapel buildings came into view.  The station buildings fell prey to arsonists in the 1970’s and were subsequently demolished.  But the platform has been left in place and a small yew hedge marks what was once the track bed. The station chapel and mortuary chapel are now the home of the Brotherhood of St Edward.  This is a sect which has an Orthodox background and when I last visited had had a healthy number of young members. However, times change and now there are only 4.

Someone’s got a sense of humour in the Brotherhood, Brookwood Cemetery
©Carole Tyrrell

We were very fortunate as an elderly Brother, dressed in Orthodox style costume, came out to invite us inside and to show us round their chapel which had been converted from what was the old mortuary chapel. There is a small museum on Brookwood and the Railway housed under the stairs. The chapel interior was far more ornate than I remembered and the Brother indicated the side benches which were in place of pews. They weren’t designed to sit on but rather to perch on. He explained that they usually stand or prostrate themselves during services.  Paintings of icons lined the walls and he explained that modern day icon painters used acrylic paints instead of egg tempura as it was cheaper.  The Brothers produce beeswax candles which they sell from their chapel.

I glanced over at the adjacent building as we entered the chapel as I  could see the lawn where ,on a Brookwood Open Day during the 1990’s, I had bought marzipan chocolate covered coffins from Jean Pateman of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery.

Under the unforgiving sun, we all met at the lodge by the main entrance and enjoyed some welcome shade under trees as well as tea and biscuits. But I noticed a group gathering around something on the ground.  Another Brookwood surprise.   It was the novelist, Dennis Wheatley’s, memorial tablet. The Prince of Thriller Writers as the inscription read.

Dennis Wheatley’s memorial plaque. Hr wrote classics such as The Devil Rides Out.
©Carole Tyrrell

If you are planning to visit Brookwood allow at least a day to get round it and you may be alone for most of it.  There is a Brookwood Society group : https://www.tbcs.org.uk/ and they hold monthly guided tours.  If you come by train and the cemetery entrance is closed then ensure that you have directions from the station to the main entrance. Brookwood is impressive and well worth the trip!

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

 

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Necropolis_railway_station

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Necropolis_Railway

http://www.bbc.com/autos/story/20161018-the-passenger-train-that-carried-the-dead

https://www.london-walking-tours.co.uk/secret-london/london-necropolis-railway.htm

https://www.john-clarke.co.uk/brookwoodnecropolis.html

https://www.cwgc.org/find/find-cemeteries-and-memorials/44400/brookwood-military-cemetery

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brookwood_Cemetery

 

 

 

 

 

Madam, have you paid the correct fare for that coffin Part 2 – exploring Brookwood Cemetery and the Necropolis Railway

Vintage photo showing Necropolis Railway in action, Brookwood Museum/
©Carole Tyrrell

If I wanted to be flippant I could have subtitled this post ‘The Tracks of my tears’ as 1, and a group of members of The Dracula Society, enjoyed a guided tour along the fragments of the Necropolis Railway in deepest Surrey.   Our guide, John Clarke, had given a fascinating talk on the Railway after discovering the abandoned North station buildings at Brookwood in the 1970’s.

The Necropolis Railway was commonly known as The Stiffs Express and ran from a dedicated platform at Waterloo station to Brookwood station or Necropolis Junction as it was originally known.  It was created by Victorian enterprise and entrepreneurship in 1854 as its owners eagerly anticipated a lucrative trade from transporting up to 10,000 bodies a year to the new Brookwood Cemetery.   This was approximately 23 miles out of London and was envisaged as relieving the pressure on overcrowded city churchyards.  The Railway had two stations; North and South. One was for Anglicans and the other was for Non-Conformists which was basically anyone who wasn’t an Anglican.

The Victorian class system was rigidly enforced on the Railway even in death. Charles Blomfield, the Bishop of London, declared that it was completely unacceptable for the families of people from different social classes, living or dead, to be forced to share the same train on the journey to the cemetery. After all, no-one wanted people who had led ‘decent and wholesome’ lives to be placed in the hearse car beside those who had led ‘less moral’ lives.  You might think that once someone’s dead what does it matter…..

The Railway wasn’t cheap. Here are the fares with their modern equivalent:

1st  class  6s       = £92

2nd class  3s 6d  = £23

3rd class  2s 6d   = £12

Coffin tickets were priced for 1st/2nd/3rd     class according to the type of funeral booked.

A train left Waterloo at 11.40am and there was a return one to Waterloo at 3.30pm so mourners could be out in the countryside most of the day. This meant that, unless the funeral was on a Sunday, a working person would have to lose a day’s pay.  However refreshments were available at both stations and consisted of home cooked ham sandwiches and fairy cakes. At the talk, Mr Clarke revealed that there had been a sign over the counter announcing ‘Spirits served here.’  There were only two accidents during its 90 years of existence and neither involved fatalities.

But the anticipated trade didn’t take off.  Instead of 10,000 burials per year it was at best roughly 2000 and by the 1930’s the train journeys had tailed off to 1 or 2 a week.  It was the Luftwaffe that finally killed off the Necropolis Railway and it closed forever on 11 May 1941.  After the end of Second World War its surviving parts were sold off as office space.

But we still found its traces around Waterloo. On Westminster Bridge Road the magnificent booking hall still stands with most of the original features intact although the London Necropolis Railway sign has long since gone.  The booking hall dates from 1902 and used to be the HQ of the British Haemophilia Society but is now the offices of a Maritime broker.

Then we walked up Lower Marsh and into Hercules Street to see what remained of one of the 3rd class platforms.  These were meant for working people and, as we looked along the underneath of the platform from ground level, someone in our group pointed out the metal posts on the pavement beneath. These were inscribed with the word ‘LIFE’ whereas the platform up above had been concerned with Death. A hotel is now in place of where the cortege dramatically swept through Waterloo station as they entered.

The Railway was revived in 2017 by the London Dungeon as a Halloween attraction called The Death Express.

Then onto Brookwood Cemetery which I had last visited 20 years ago.  I was looking forward to seeing if it had changed….

Part 2 Brookwood Cemetery, its link with the Omen and a last surprise.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Necropolis_railway_station

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Necropolis_Railway

http://www.bbc.com/autos/story/20161018-the-passenger-train-that-carried-the-dead

https://www.london-walking-tours.co.uk/secret-london/london-necropolis-railway.htm

https://www.john-clarke.co.uk/brookwoodnecropolis.html

https://www.cwgc.org/find/find-cemeteries-and-memorials/44400/brookwood-military-cemetery

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brookwood_Cemetery

 

Symbol of the Month – Old Father Time

Old Father Time on an almost horizontal headstone, Pluckley, Kent
©Carole Tyrrell

Ah, the perils of searching for symbols in old churchyards. I had to almost lie horizontally on the ground to take a photo of this one in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Pluckley, Kent.  I was a little nervous that the headstone would fall on top of me but what a headline that would have made!

At the time I had no idea what it represented and just thought it looked interesting.  In fact it wasn’t until much later when I’d had a chance to look at it properly that I realised the identity of the figure in the carving.  I then wished that I’d also taken a photo of the epitaph.

It is in fact a depiction of Old Father Time.  It’s a lovely example. As you can see he’s sitting with one hand holding a fearsome looking scythe with a bent and gnarled stem and the elbow of his other hand is resting on an hourglass.  He is a very old man with a white beard, large angel wings on his back and is flanked on either side by two angel heads.  What better symbol for a life that had ended?

So far I have only discovered a few other examples.  There is a 17th century version on a tombstone in a Hendon churchyard and a huge, modern one again resting on an hourglass within Warzaw’s Powarzski cemetery.  I can’t show them in this blog as one is on a stock images library and so not royalty free and I am awaiting permission to use the other image.  However I found this one on Wikipedia but its location is not given.

Old Father Time and a grieving widow. An unknown Irish memorial.
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

We traditionally associate Old Father Time with the New Year celebrations. He is the representation of the outgoing Old Year welcoming in the New Year which is usually portrayed as a smiling baby.  But Father Time has also been described as a gentler version of the Grim Reaper as they share the same accoutrements of a scythe and hourglass.

 

He is considered to be the personification of age and is related to the ancient Greek god Chronos and also the Roman god Saturn. Father Time’s ageing, worn out body is a reminder that time ultimately devours all things and that none can escape.  The grains of sand in the hourglass count out not only his life but all lives.  Although he has a long, white beard, a sign of age, it has been interpreted as a reclamation of purity and innocence.  But, as the hourglass can be inverted, so can a new generation, the New Year, restore the source of physical vitality. However, time is not always destructive as it can also offer serenity and wisdom.

Cronos, from which chronology derives, was the ancient Greeks word for Time and the Romans knew him as Saturn. According to Wikipedia:

The ancient Greeks themselves began to confuse chronos, their word for time, with the agricultural god, Cronus, who had the attribute of a harvester’s sickle.  The Romans equated Cronos with Saturn, who also had a sickle and was treated as an old man, often with a crutch. The wings and hourglass were early Renaissance additions.’

 The Roman Chronos was originally an Italian corn god known as the Sower and a big festival known as the Saturnalia was held to celebrate the harvest.   So there is a link between these ancient gods and Father Time in that they both symbolically harvest, or cut down the mature crops, to make way for the Spring’s new growth.

Father Time appears throughout many cultures and also in art, books and sculpture amongst others.  In one of Hogarth’s later work, The Bathos, he appears lying down surrounded by his familiar objects, all now broken.

The Bathos by William Hogarth in which Old Father Time lies surrounded by his broken symbols.
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons.

But in St Nicholas’ churchyard  Old Father Time keeps an eternal watch over a life that has ended,  resting on a still crisply carved hourglass.  It is full, the scythe has harvested and so the endless cycle of life continues.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

Stories in Stone, Douglas Keister, Gibbs Smith, 2004

http://www.thecemeteryclub.com/symbols.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Father_Time

http://headstonesymbols.co.uk/

http://www.mortephotography.co.uk/index.asp?pageid=647016

https://wordsonstone.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/father-time-the-weeping-virgin/

https://literarydevices.net/bathos/

https://www.novareinna.com/festive/oft.html

https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-1-4612-6287-9_24

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Father%20Time

http://www.speel.me.uk/gp/chyardmonsintro.htm

©Carole Tyrrell