Symbol of the Month – The Winged Soul

A lovely example from St Peter & St Paul, Shoreham, Kent.
©Carole Tyrrell

The skull and crossbones. One of the central motifs of 18th century Memento Mori and intended to be a stark and macabre  reminder of the viewer’s inevitable destination.  This would be all that would remain of you after death.

However it wasn’t a very comforting message to either the loved ones left behind or to the living.

But fashions and tastes change, even in funerary symbolism, and the skull and crossbones had served their purpose.

Instead they were replaced by the winged soul. This consisted of a small child’s head flanked by a pair of wings or a garland of leaves.  They have the faces of babies with big, round eyes, plump cheeks and pouting lips and resemble Renaissance putti which are child-like.  Putti represent the sacred cherub as they are known in England.

The winged soul may have been intended to be a more comforting image as the wings represented the soul of the deceased ascending to heaven.  This could also give hope of a resurrection to those left behind.  According to headstone symbols:

‘In the USA the winged soul is known as a soul effigy.’

It was immensely popular and in my explorations of medieval Kent churches and their churchyards I found many examples. In fact, in one or two churchyards they outnumbered the skull and crossbones symbol. They mainly had one winged soul on a headstone but there were sometimes  two or three clustered together as in these examples:

They can also appear in several combinations with other classic memento mori symbols as here:

In addition, every mason seemed to have his own interpretation of feathers as they can be carved as typical fluffy feathers, resemble broad leaves or be very stylised.

With wings in general they are an important symbol of spirituality.  They express the possibility of flying and rising upwards to heaven.  For example, in the Hindu faith, they are:

the expression of freedom to leave earthly things behind…..to reach Paradise.’

New Acropolis

 

However, as the full flowering of the Victorian language of death in the 19th century began to appear the emblems of memento mori were retired. Although a couple, such as the hourglass and ouroboros, were revived.   But I did find two modern examples of the winged soul in the churchyard of St Martin of Tours in Eynsford, Kent.

I had always previously thought of the winged soul as being a more general symbol and just a decorative feature.  I called them winged cherub heads or death heads and never considered that they might have had a specific meaning or purpose.  It was exciting to see so many variations and interpretations sometimes within the same churchyard.  But it depended on the skills of the mason as to how well they were carved and whether they were 2 dimensional or 3 dimensional.

But as a message of comfort it is one of the most poignant in memento mori. The other central motifs emphasise time running out, think about your life now and this is all that will be left. The winged soul suggests an eternal life and a more uplifting message.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated

References and further reading:

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

https://headstonesymbols.co.uk/headstone-meanings-and-symbols/deathheads/

https://stoneletters.com/blog/gravestone-symbols

https://www.boston.gov/departments/parks-and-recreation/iconography-gravestones-burying-grounds

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

https://library.acropolis.org/the-symbolism-of-wings/

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

https://gravelyspeaking.com/2012/12/29/winged-cherubs-head/

https://www.sacred-texts.com/lcr/fsca/fsca11.htm

 

 

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Symbol of the Month – The Pierced Heart

A fine display of symbols on the headstone of Mr Thomas Abbott, St Marys church, St Mary Cray, Kent.
©Carole Tyrrell

I’ll be honest. I’d been out exploring churchyards just prior to the coronavirus and St Mary’s in St Mary Cray was the last on my list. I’d noticed its distinctive steeple from the train on my daily commute and it was on my list so that I could visit and cross it off.  I didn’t expect to find much and my first impression confirmed it. A few ivy clad altar tombs greeted me and then I wandered around the side of the closed church.  What a surprise!  A gallery of 18th century headstones placed in lines with some of the more familiar symbols depicted on them. Ouroboros’s, angel heads, skulls, crossbones and then this fine selection.

As you can see, it boasts a large, sharp scythe, a half open coffin with the incumbent visible, a trumpet blowing from what seems to be a heavenly cloud  and, in the centre, a heart pierced by an arrow.  We usually associate a pierced heart with the ones found on millions of St Valentine’s cards as a representation of Cupid’s love darts. You may be thinking that it doesn’t have the usual heart shape but there may be how the stonemason interpreted it.  This is the Symbol of the Month.

The headstone‘s epitaph reads:

‘In Memory of

Mr THOMAS ABBOTT

Late of this PARISH who departed this life

24 May 1773

In the 75th Year of his life

Also

Near lieth the body of

MRS SARAH ABBOTT  his wife

,,,,who departed ….22 January 1769 aged 69’

A full view of the headstone dedicated to Mr Thomas Abbott, St Marys church, St Mary Cray, Kent
©Carole Tyrrell

 

Although there are other Abbotts buried in the same churchyard I couldn’t find any sign of a headstone or monument dedicated to Sarah Abbott and there was none recorded on the Kent Archaeological Society survey of the churchyard So whether it has vanished over time we will never know.

On Thomas’s headstone, the heart is surrounded by symbols of resurrection and the Day of Judgement when all of the dead will rise. This is the meaning of the half open coffin lid. So is the pierced heart a symbol of everlasting love which means that the Abbotts will be reunited on that day?  After all, Keister suggests that it’s a sign of matrimony which would fit in with both husband and wife being mentioned on the headstone. However, Cooper comments that the pierced heart is also a sign of contrition so perhaps Mr Abbott felt guilty or sad about outliving Sarah by 6 years.

But let’s discuss other representations and interpretations of the pierced heart as well as the heart in general. It’s one of the most powerful symbols and resonates through many cultures and faiths both ancient and modern. Without it, none of us would be alive as it pumps our lifeblood through our bodies.  This is why it has been a central part of religions and cultures since the beginning of time.

Heart symbolism is significant in, Chinese, Hindu and most religions and cultures. For example, it is one of the eight precious organs of Buddha and also the Aztecs whose rituals involved human sacrifice. In these the chests of the victims were sliced open and their still-beating hearts were offered to the gods.  The Aztecs believed that the heart was the seat of the individual and also a fragment of the Sun’s heart.

Section from the Book of teh Dead depicting the Weighing of the Heart showing the heart on one side of the scales and the feather of Maat n the other. Osiris is between them.
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

In Ancient Egypt, the heart was considered to be the source of human wisdom and the centre of emotions and memory. It could reveal a person’s true character, even after death, and was left in the body after mummification. The ancient Egyptians believed that it would survive death where it would give evidence against or for its owner and so was integral to the afterlife.  This culminated in the Weighing of the Heart which appears in the Book of the Dead.  The heart was given to Osiris, the god of the dead and the underworld who placed it on one of a pair of great golden scales.  On the other was a feather which represented Maat the goddess of order, truth and what was right. If the heart was lighter than the feather then the deceased passed on into eternal bliss.  But if it was heavier, due to past misdeeds, then it was thrown onto the floor of the Hall of Truth where Amut, a god with the face of a crocodile, the front of a leopard and the back of a rhinoceros who was also known as ‘The Gobbler’.  Once he had devoured the heart then the individual ceased to exist. The Egyptians concept of hell was non-existence.

But the heart has an even greater significance in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. There are many references to it in the Bible with over a 100 in Psalms alone.  One of the most famous quotations is in 1 Samuel 16.7 in which it is seen as the seat of emotion:

But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.’ (King James Bible).

The heart is seen as revealing the inner person but not only as the centre of human life. It also expresses spiritual or emotional feelings, wisdom, piety and righteousness.  There is also the famous quote from Matthew 5:8;

‘blessed are the pure in heart’

However, the heart also has a darker side as an evil person is often described as being ‘blackhearted.’  In Ecclesiastes 8:11 it’s seen as evil:

‘ Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.’ (King James Bible).

In Christian iconography the heart took on a symbolic role as an indication of God and piety particularly in the Catholic church where Christ displaying a heart in his hands or on his breast is a key image. It’s known as the Sacred Heart and is one of the most practiced and well known of the Catholic devotions.  The sacred heart is seen as a symbol of ‘God’s boundless and passionate love for mankind.’ The pierced heart was also included in the five wounds that Christ suffered during the crucifixion

 

St Augustine 17th century Portuguese painting Museum of Church Paio of San Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

One saint in particular, St Augustine, has a special relationship with the pierced heart. He is often shown holding a heart, in some cases topped by a flame and in others pierced by an arrow. Another passage from the Confessions IX, 2:3 may explain the significance of the pierced heart:

‘Thou hadst pierced (sagittaveras) our heart with thy love, and we carried thy words, as it were, thrust through our vitals.’ 

(The word sagittaveras means literally ‘ shot arrows’ into as in this 17th century painting.

St Valentine’s Day was originally derived from a much darker and bawdier Roman festival called Lupercalia. This took place in Rome from 13-15 February and was intended to avert evil spirits and purify the city.  However, it didn’t involve the giving of chocolates and bouquets of roses. Instead there was animal sacrifice, random matchmaking and couplings which were intended to ward off infertility.  In reality, it was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture and also to the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.  It was finally outlawed as ‘unChristian’ in the 5th century by Pope Gelasius who declared the 14 February to be St Valentine’s Day.   There were two actual St Valentines who were both martyrs.

However, the first person to mention the famous day for lovers was actually Geoffrey Chaucer in his 1375 poem, A Parliament of Fowles (or Fowls). In this he says:

‘For this was sent on Seynt Valentyn’es day

When every fowl cometh here to choose his mate.’

During the Middle Ages it was believed in both France and England that February 14 was the beginning of the mating season for birds and so an ideal date for romance for all.

But it was during the early medieval and early Renaissance when the heart began to resemble the more stylised symbol that we know today.  It took on the shape of a converted A and represented  Amor or Love. Since the 19th century it has been associated with love and romance and the  pierced heart has also been known as the wounded heart due to Cupid’s arrows.

But, due to its placing within other potent symbols of resurrection, I interpret the pierced heart on Mr Abbott’s headstone to be a token of love.  Although he wasn’t buried with his wife he may have hoped that they would be reunited on the Day of Judgement when the angels trumpets sounded and the dead met the living again.

It was one of the most potent symbols that I have found in my explorations and I haven’t seen another one – yet.  The pierced heart has also been one of the most fascinating symbols to research because of its many connotations and associations.  Who would have thought that Chaucer might be the father of the St Valentine’s Day industry that we know so well today.

Was the pierced heart a token of love or a hope of a meeting in the after-life? We will never know but a fascinating collection of symbols for the passer-by to admire.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References and further reading:

Stories in Stone, Douglas Keister, Gibbs Smith 2004

An illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, J C Cooper, Thames & Hudson, 1979

 

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

https://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk/research/monumental-inscriptions/st-mary-cray

https://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/affairs-of-the-heart-an-exploration-of-the-symbolism-of-the-heart-in-art

https://www.midwestaugustinians.org/the-augustinian-emblem

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Samuel%2016:7&version=KJV

https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-rome/lupercalia#:~:text=Lupercalia%20was%20an%20ancient%20pagan,in%20Rome%20on%20February%2015.&text=Unlike%20Valentine’s%20Day%2C%20however%2C%20Lupercalia,off%20evil%20spirits%20and%20infertility.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3960665/#:~:text=In%20the%20weighing%20of%20the,were%20placed%20with%20the%20deceased.

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

https://www.christianiconography.info/augustine.html

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

Another afternoon with the dead and famous – a visit to St Pancras Old Church and churchyard Part 3

Part 3 The Man Who Never Was, Bach, Beatles and a man (or woman) ahead of their time)

he Coroner;s Court behind the churchyard under which 7000 bodies were interred.
©Carole Tyrrell

The Coroner’s Court is situated at the rear of the churchyard and, according to Lester,  7000 bodies had been re-interred beneath it. He hinted at a connection between it and The Man Who Never Was.

This was a Second World War ruse called Operation Mincemeat.  A cadaver was obtained and dressed up to become a Major William Martin, R N and put into the sea near Huelva, Spain.  A briefcase was attached to the body which contained fake papers which falsely stated that the Allied attack would be against Sardinia and Greece instead of Sicily which was the actual point of invasion. When the body was found, the Spanish Intelligence service passed copies of the papers to their German counterparts who in  turn passed them onto their High Command. It was  very successful  as the Germans still believed that Sardinia and Greece were the targets weeks after the landings in Sicily had begun. But the true identity of The Man Who Never Was has never been revealed although there have been several theories. BBC Radio’s The Goon Show which was hugely popular in the 1950’s were fascinated by it and The Man Who Never Was featured in several episodes.

In 1968 The Beatles needed some new publicity photos and so they embarked on a Mad Day Out in London.  Don, now Sir, McCullin accompanied them as photographer.  St Pancras church and churchyard were one of the locations they visited much to the delight of local residents. There are many photos of the day online and this is the very bench on which they sat in these photos.  It’s amazing to look at the photos now as they look so spontaneous and not part of a publicity machine. It’s a step back in time when stars were more accessible.

Nearby is the memorial stone to the English Bach, Johann Christian Bach(1735-1762).

He is also known as the  ‘London’ Bach and was the eighteenth (!) child of Johann Sebastian Bach and the youngest of his eleven sons. He moved to London in 1762and premiered 2 operas at The Kinds Theatre which established his reputation.  Queen Charlotte employed him as her music master and  in 1766 he married a much younger singer, Cecelia Grassi,  but the union was childless.  Bach’s symphonies and concertos were very popular in fashionable London circles but by the late 1770’s his fortunes had reversed. After his death on New Year’s Day 1782, Queen Charlotte had to cover his estate’s expenses and to provide a pension for his widow after his steward had embezzled his money.

Lester said that the memorial stone moves around a lot but not whether it was of its own volition…..

But towering over it is the Burdett-Coutts Memorial sundial. This impressive and attractive, in my opinion, structure was built during 1877-79.  It’s very High Victorian Gothic and could be seen in some people’s eyes as a Marmite construction in that you either loathe or love it.  The sundial is also known as an obelisk and it was created as a memorial to the people buried near the church whose graves were disturbed by the Midland rail works. It comprises of a tall square tower in a Gothic style with a tall Portland stone pinnacle bearing a sundial. Columns of pink and grey granite support it and are on either side of four inscribed marble plaques, These are topped by a Gothic arch and relief sculptures of St Giles and St Pancras.  The steps are decorated with mosaic panels featuring flowers, butterflies and the sun.  There are also animal sculptures at each of the four corners of the enclosure surrounding the sundial.

Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts (1814 -1906) was a wealthy philanthropist who inherited her grandfather’s huge fortune. It was £1.8 million at the time but in modern terms is now roughly £160,000,000.

Baroness Angela Georgina Burdett Coutts (1814-1906)
Painter unknown. Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

The Baroness was always unconventional. She fended off fortune hunters and instead gave practical help to the East End’s poor. It has been said that Coutts is Cockney slang for ‘boots.’  Angela worked with Dickens to set up a home and rescue centre for prostitutes and ‘fallen women’ in London’s Shepherds Bush. A significant patron to artists and actors, the RSPCA and many other causes.

After inheriting Holly Lodge in Highgate, her grandfather’s mansion, she created the nearby Holly Village in 1865 for her staff. These are Gothic style houses set around a village green and are now very sought after. In 1881, the Baroness married her 29 year old American secretary, William Ashmead, when she was 67.   The Baroness was buried in Westminster Abbey after dying aged 92 in 102.  As the saying goes, her works live on in her name.

But there is a name on one of the plaques who also defied conventional and was ahead of his, or her, time.

This was the Chevalier d’Eon (1728-1810) a transgender person who moved in high circles in France and Britain during the 18th century.  The Chevelier’s full name was Charles Genevieve Louis Auguste Andre Timothee d’Eon de Beaumont but Chevelier d’Eon for short. She was born a male and obtained a law degree, published books on the French tax system, was knighted and was also a celebrated fencer. What could come next?  A double life.

In public the Chevalier was a diplomat to Russia and England but in private he was employed by the most secret spy service in France.  This was the Le Secret Du Roi or the King’s Secret.  He reported directly to Louis XV and became, as a result, the temporary liaison to the English court in 1763.  When denied the permanent position he then published a book of French state secrets  which he’d collected during his spy’s life but ensuring that he kept back the most controversial.  This ensured that he remained on Louis XV’s payroll.  A tricky tactician as well and as a result he accepted political exile in England.  He became a celebrated public figure  but in 1770 a controversy began.  It was suggested that she had been born a woman but had been raised as a man in order to collect a family inheritance.  Bets were placed on the London Stock Exchange and it was suggested that she had placed some herself.  However in 1777 she was officially declared to be a woman at the age of 49. Chevalier then negotiated her return to France with the French government. She gave them the remaining incriminating documents still in her possession and agreed to publicly present as a woman for the rest of her life.

But life was dull after being a spy and diplomat and she returned to London never to leave again. But after the French Revolution she lost her pension from her days as a spy.  Despite continuing to write she lived the rest of her life in poverty.   But on her death it was finally discovered that she had been a man all along.

A final, fascinating tale of another unconventional St Pancras resident who left behind a reputation and flamboyance.

And here she lies in a London churchyard with many others who made up part of the capital’s cosmopolitan inhabitants. People who were not afraid to take risks, to go against the grain, to set in motion changes to society even though they would not live to see them.

It was quite a shock to leave St Pancras and walk up to the Euston Road and enter the teeming, bustling modern world again.

©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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

A tiny angel keeping watch in the most haunted Village in Britain (allegedly) – a visit to St Nicholas, Pluckley

St Nicholas church. (apologies for dust on lens)
©Carole Tyrrell

As I walked along the path to the church’s door I spotted the little angel, maybe a Christmas decoration, maybe a holiday souvenir, perched on top of a tombstone within the churchyard.  Was she a warning? But I was nervous and excited at the same time.  What awaited me inside?  I put my hand on the church door.  Would the Red Lady or the White Lady be ready to welcome me…….or would it be both of them? At last I could put it off no longer, pulled open the door and entered.

OK, I admit it. A friend dared me to visit the village of Pluckley which is in Kent and reputed to be haunted by up to 14 ghosts.  ‘When will you ‘pluckley’ up the courage to visit?’ the wag quipped. So I accepted the challenge and set off on Easter Saturday.

However, Guinness World Records has stood down Pluckley’s claim to fame as the most haunted village in the UK. This is a shame as I always had visions of a solemn official from GWR turning up with a clipboard and pen to studiously record and tick off each phantom at their appointed location as if they appear to a timetable. Some of the purported ghosts include:

  • The spectre of the highwayman hid in a tree at the Pinnock
  • A phantom coach and horses has been seen in several locations around the village
  • The ghost of a Gypsy woman who drowned in a stream at the Pinnock
  • The sighting of the miller seen at Mill Hill
  • The hanging body of a schoolmaster in Dicky Buss’s Lane
  • A colonel who hanged himself in Park Wood
  • A man smothered by a wall of clay who drowned at the brickworks
  • The Lady of Rose Court, who is said to have poisoned herself in despair over a love triangle

St Nicholas church in the centre of the village is reputed to be haunted by two female ghosts: The White Lady and the Red Lady. The latter was supposed to be a great beauty who died 500 years ago and was preserved by her husband in a series of lead coffins and then ultimately in an oak chest.  The Red Lady was supposedly a member of the local landowning family, the Derings, and is a sad wraith.  She is said to haunt the churchyard searching for the unmarked grave of her still born son.

There had been a recent piece in the Fortean Times ‘It happened to me’ section from a visitor to the church who claimed that he’d found a hostile atmosphere and heard sibilant whispering. A blogger online discovered that none of her photos of the church or churchyard had been recorded by her camera. ‘The church is eerie’ said one friend who had visited it and another commented that the whole village had ‘an atmosphere’. ‘Oo-er!’ I thought, ’would there be an entire company of ghosts awaiting my arrival?’

It was a gloriously sunny, warm day as I walked the mile or so from the station up to the village.  Fields of bright yellow rape were almost luminous.  I saw my first Peacock butterfly of 2019 as it obligingly posed on a dandelion head and the local sheep bleated in welcome.  Or perhaps it was a warning…

 

Then I encountered my first ghost hunters of the day as a car stopped with an eager looking family inside. The driver asked for directions to the church.  I pointed in its direction and they drove off. Later I saw them driving out of the village again looking somewhat disappointed. As I said earlier ghosts don’t appear to order.

In fact Pluckley was teeming with small groups of ghost hunters walking up and down the High Street or briefly visiting St Nicholas looking hopeful. Some drove off quickly as obviously they had been unable to find a spectre with which to pose for a selfie.  The village’s other claim to fame is that it was used as the backdrop to ITV’s The Darling Buds of May and I could see why. It’s just ‘perfick.’

St Nicholas was easy to find and it’s a real picture postcard church with a candle snuffer spire. It features on the village sign.

There may have been a church on the site since Saxon times and Pluckley is recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Pluchelei’. In the 13th century there was a stone church in place and there have been many alterations and repairs right up to the present day. The Derings have their own side chapel and there are brasses set into the floor that record various family members.

They lived at the grand house of Surrenden Dering from the 1500’s until 1928.  The house was demolished in 1957 after a fire and part of some of its wood after the fire was used to create the oak cover for the font.

 

Inside, the church was bustling but not with eager spectres anticipating my arrival.  Instead it was a group of flower arrangers placing elaborate arrangements around the church.  I should have guessed that the church would be busy over the Easter weekend as the female organist began to practice.  The interior of St Nicholas is small and plain with the Dering Chapel on one side. But no ghosts unless they were masquerading as the helpers, or hiding in one of their pockets.   Another ghost hunting family popped their heads in and then quietly closed the door.

But no, I didn’t feel anything at all other-worldly

I decided to explore the churchyard which had a fine collection of 19th century headstones and some precariously leaning older ones.  They were weighed down by moss and age and any inscriptions or symbols are now lost unless recorded elsewhere.  I had to photograph one interesting symbol almost lying down on the grass as the headstone was almost horizontal.

Old Father Time leaning on an hourglass. I was almost lying underneath it to get this photo! St Nicholas churchyard, Pluckley
©Carole Tyrrell

On the other side of the churchyard was an apple orchard, just beginning to blossom, and attracting butterflies and enthusiastic bees.  A small rug of multi-coloured primroses were beside a grave with a beehive on the headstone.  ‘The local beekeeper?’ I thought and in a corner of the churchyard was a small plot bordered by iron railings on which there was a fulsome epitaph.

After buying postcards in the local shop to prove that I had actually been there and stoutly resisting the temptation to have a cold lager shandy in the Black Horse I retraced my steps to the station.

So is Pluckley the most haunted village in Britain?  Does anything or anyone lie in wait in St Nicholas Church?   Were the flower arrangers or one of their number ghosts?

The jury’s still out on whether Pluckley deserves its title but on another day in another season, perhaps when St Nicholas is not so busy, it could all be so different.  Maybe if I visited during the dark season on a chill autumnal day with perhaps with the chilly fingers of mist wreathing the trees… A forgotten scarecrow blown by a wind that makes it creak and turn towards me in an empty field and the marauding groups of spook seekers are all at home watching their Most Haunted Live DVDs.  This time when I enter St Nicholas it’s changed.

The shadows are longer, it feels claustrophobic and I know, by the prickling of my spine that I’m not alone…… I can only hope that this is my chance at last to meet the wonderful people in the dark..

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

https://blosslynspage.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/the-haunting-church-of-pluckley-in-kent/

https://www.pluckley.net/village-life/history/ghosts/

Symbol of the Month: Gather ye rosebuds while ye may as Death is always waiting

At last the endless sorting out of boxes is over after the move.  I’ve found some money I’d forgotten about, family photos and a lot of books. The Cancer r Research charity shop in the High Street is groaning under the weight of my donations and I have recycled a lot of stuff.

And now down to the important things in life – shadowsflyaway!   I didn’t have an internet connection for a few weeks which was probably a good thing as it made me concentrate on emptying boxes and organising rooms.

But let’s begin with Symbol of the Month!

This month’s symbol comes from a post on Facebook’s Folk Horror Revival page and I was intrigued enough to make this one Symbol of the Month.  I would describe it as a memento mori which is Latin for ‘Remember you must die.’

Tombstone from St Peter’s Church Falstone ,Northumberland
©Stephen Sebastian Murray

It’s a carving on a tombstone featuring a skeleton and a woman or girl facing the viewer. She is holding three flowers in one hand.  In this photo, although the skeleton almost seems to be rising from the ground, he is actually holding a scythe in one hand and an hourglass in the other.  This can be seen more clearly in the clipping from Northumberland’s Hidden History by Stan Beckensall which another reader on the strand of the post kindly attached.

Clipping on headstone from Falstone churchyard, Northumberland. taken from Northumberland’s Hidden History by Stan Beckensall used without permission.

She is wearing a tightly belted dress, perhaps fashionable in her time, and seems carefree despite having Death standing next to her in all his glory. I had the impression that this might have been on the grave of a young girl due to her dress and the flowers.

They reminded me of roses and I immediately thought of the famous phrase, ‘Gather ye rosebuds while you may’ which is a quotation from a poem by Robert Herrick, a 16th century poet.

The poem is entitled: To the Virgins to make much of time and the quotation comes from the first verse:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

   Old Time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today

   Tomorrow will be dying.

So this little scene could be saying Enjoy life while you can as death will soon be here.’   It sounds a little depressing but life was shorter in earlier times. In the 19th century, for example, the average life of a working man was until their late 40’s and women often died in childbirth.  I wander around cemeteries a lot as you can imagine and there are many monuments and memorials to wives and often children who have died young as a result.  On the other hand it can be seen as uplifting in that it encourages the onlooker to enjoy life to the fullest.

Sadly I don’t know who’s buried here but she or he was obviously much missed to have such an impressive scene carved on their tombstone.

© text Carole Tyrrell photos use  with permission.

Epitaph Exploring in East Anglia! Part 2 The Great Churchyard, Bury St Edmunds

And now the good and the bad….(although that can be debatable.)

 

Dedicated to Capt Gosnold and is self-explanatory – it looks quite recent as well.
©Carole Tyrrell

An unacknowledged  Founding Father who may have changed history 

Captain Bartholomew Gosnold(1571 – 1607) 

Although the memorial stone and epitaph is largely self-explanatory there is a lot more to Gosnold’s story.  The explorer and colonist isn’t buried here. Instead he is reputed to lie in Jamestown, Virginia.  This was the colony that he helped found and, where. according to Presevation Virgina he is regarded as being …’the prime mover of the colonisation of Virginia.’

Gosnold was originally a Suffolk man who studied law at Middle Temple after graduating from Cambridge.  He made an influential marriage and had seven children. But the sea and adventure were in his blood and he sailed with Sir Walter Raleigh whom he was soon to outstrip.

In 1602  Gosnold. on the ship Concord. made his first attempt to found a colony in Southern New England. Along the way they named Cape Cod after the large number of the fish they found there and then he continued to sail on along the coast to a place with an abundance of wild grapes.  He called the place Martha’s Vineyard because of the grapes and also in memory of his infant daughter who had died in 1598.  However the colony was abandoned when its settlers decided to return to England.

There was big money and fame to be made from exploring and colonising in the 17th century.  These were usually private ventures and so profit driven. But for Gosnold and his ambitions there was only one snag; Raleigh held the patent for Virginia.   But Queen Elizabeth I, who was on the throne at the time, was very interested in revenue and Raleigh’s star was descending.  He’d already lost £40k on the Roanoke disaster which was a huge sum at the time.  Soon Gosnold held an exclusive charter for a Virginia charter to settle there and this eventually became what is now Jamestown.

Sadly Gosnold wasn’t destined to enjoy his acheivements for long.  He died, aged only 36, on 22 August 1607 as the result of a 3 week illness after only 4 months after landing in the New World.  The burial was an honourable one ‘with many volleys of small shot’ fired over his coffin.

This is believed to be Gosnold’s grave in Virginia.
shared under Wiki Creative Commons
©Ser Amanho di Nicolao

He was one of the prime movers in Virginia’s colonisation and it has since been speculated that without him it might have been Spain that ended up colonising the Atlantic coast.  Elizabeth I’s successor, James 1, was extremely keen to maintain peace with Spain in the 1600’s and Spain was equally enthusiastic to explore the New World.  Without Gosnold who knows what might have happened?

For centuries the location of Gosnold’s grave was unknown.  But, in 2002, a body was excavated in Jamestown which has been presumed to be his.  Preservation Virginia  revealed that it appeared to be a person of high status as a captain’s staff had been placed in the coffin with the body and the coffin had an unusual gabled lid.  DNA was taken and compared with that from a distant descendant of Gosnold’s interred in a Suffolk church but the tests were inconclusive.

I note that his wife is recorded on this memorial plaque so either she didn’t go with him or returned after his death.

And the bad…..or unfortunate…….

Sarah LLoyd – a warning to the passer-by. Charnel House, The Great Churchyard.
©Carole Tyrrell

This epitaph is meant to be a cautionary tale for the passer-by.  The inscription tells Sarah Lloyd’s sad story and again the mason has earned his money if he was paid by the letter.   It’s almost like reading a penny dreadful written in stone.

Reader

Pause at this Humble Stone

a Record

The fall of unguarded Youth

By the allurements of vice

and the treacherous snares

of Seduction

SARAH LLOYD

on the 23d of April 1800

in the 22d Year of her Age

Suffered a Just but ignominous

Death

for admitting her abandoned seducer

into the Dwelling House of her Minstrefs

in the Night of 3rd Oct

1799

and becoming the Instrument

in his Hands of the crimes

of Robbery and Houseburning

These were her last Words

May my example be a

warning to Thousands.

 

This seemed to tell all of Sarah Lloyd’s story but did it?  I did further research and found that there was more to it than the epitaph states. I am indebted to Naomi Clifford’s excellent blog post for this.

The facts are that Sarah Lloyd was employed as a maidservant for Mrs Syer at her house in Hadleigh near Ipswich and had begun an illicit relationship with Joseph Clarke, a local man. On the night of the burglary, she let him into Mrs Syer’s house while Mrs Syer and her live-in companion slept.  The pair then stole various items from the house including a watch and 10 guineas in cash. They also managed to steal Mrs Syer’s pockets, which were small bags, from their hiding place under her pillow.  These contained cash and jewellery worth 40s (£2.00).  According to the court transcript, Clarke then set fire to the curtains in one of the rooms although other accounts state that they started a fire in a stairwell.   Both of them then fled the scene, hoping to have covered up their crime,  but unluckily for them neighbours managed to quickly put out the fire and the house was saved.  Clarke advised Sarah to leave him out of it and, instead, to say that two other men had been involved.

They lay low until Sarah was recognised as she ran across a field and she was eventually arrested by the local constable. She confessed and the stolen goods were recovered from her family home.  The cash was never found and soon Clarke was also arrested.

However, according to the account of the trial Clarke was found not guilty and acquitted whereas, Sarah, although found not guilty of the burglary was found guilty of stealing.  The strongest penalty was awarded.  This seemed harsh to say the least. According to Naomi Clifford  when Sarah appeared at the local Assizes on 20 March 1800 all she said in her defence was:

‘ It was not me, my lord, but Clarke that did it.

Here is a link to a contemporary account of the trial:    (However, be warned that it’s in 16th century phrasing where the ‘s’ has been replaced by a long ‘f’ which renders, for example, ‘passing’ as ‘paffing’.

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Wb1jAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA7&lpg=PA7&dq=sarah+lloyd+the+great+churchyard&source=bl&ots=VStZFRhEFa&sig=ykdosMHb6URQb08QcxF9IFel7RE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwihhOSVgN3YAhUHIsAKHc7JAEAQ6AEISjAH#v=onepage&q=sarah%20lloyd%20the%20great%20churchyard&f=false

The charges against Clarke were dropped which may have been because he hadn’t confessed to his part in the crime whereas Lloyd had.  Also it was only her word that placed him at the scene as there was no other evidence.

The Assizes judge, Judge Grose, made several remarks which condemned Sarah:

A servant robbing a mistress is a very heinous crime; but your crime is greatly heightened; your mistress placed implicit confidence in your; you slept near her, in the same room, and you ought to have protected her… and though this crime was bad, yet it was innocence, compared with what followed: you were not content with robbing her mistress, but you conspired to set her house on fire, thereby adding to your crime death and destruction not only to the unfortunate Lady, but to all those whose houses were near by.  I have to announce to you that your last hour is approaching; and for the great and aggravated offence that you have committed, the law dooms you to die.’

There was a further twist to the case in that Sarah told the Rev Hay Drummond, the local vicar, when he visited her, that Clarke had seduced her and regularly visited for sex. She’d regarded him as her husband and on the night of the crime she had revealed that she was pregnant and he’d promised to marry her.  Rev Drummond felt that she’d been used and immediately set about organising a petition together with Capel Lofft, a lawyer and magistrate. to try to obtain a Royal Pardon.    Lofft moved in influential circles but the Home Secretary, the Duke of Portland refused any clemency as he considered that Sarah should be made an example as her alleged final words on the epitaph state. Although I think it more likely that she might have said ‘How did Joseph Clarke get off with not guilty?’

The pregnancy wasn’t mentioned again and she was executed on 22 April 1800 after it had been delayed for 14 days by the attempts to obtain a Royal Pardon.  Sarah was buried in the abbey churchyard  that evening with a crowd of 1000 people in attendance.  Mrs Lloyd. Sarah’s mother, had tried to commit suicide when she had heard that the execution was to proceed.

Although Sarah’s age is started as 22 on the epitaph she was unaware of her true age and was illiterate.

The epitaph also seems to have commented on Sarah;s morality although her ‘abandoned seducer’ isn’t named.However, her case has been seen as being part of a slow movement of change with capital punishment.  The first decades of the 1800’s brought significant reductions in the numbers of crimes punishable by death with other less harsh methods of punishment.  Sarah Lloyd was one of 7 women hanged in 1800. There were 6 in England and I in Ireland.  Only 3 more were to hang for stealing in a dwelling house and it ceased to be a capital offence after August 1834.

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

Further reading and references:

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

https://historicjamestowne.org/history/captain-bartholomew-gosnold-gosnoll/

https://britishheritage.com/bartholomew-gosnold-the-man-who-was-responsible-for-englands-settling-the-new-world/

http://anthropology.si.edu/writteninbone/unusual_case.html

https://www.buryfreepress.co.uk/news/hidden-treasures-brought-into-view-1-399134

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Wb1jAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA7&lpg=PA7&dq=sarah+lloyd+the+great+churchyard&source=bl&ots=VStZFRhEFa&sig=ykdosMHb6URQb08QcxF9IFel7RE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwihhOSVgN3YAhUHIsAKHc7JAEAQ6AEISjAH#v=onepage&q=sarah%20lloyd%20the%20great%20churchyard&f=false

http://www.naomiclifford.com/sarah-lloyd/

http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/lloyd.html

http://www.eadt.co.uk/ea-life/bury-st-edmunds-and-sudbury-how-tragic-sarah-paid-a-terrible-price-for-seduction-1-3452212

 

Epitaph Exploring in East Anglia! The Great Churchyard in Bury St Edmunds

The Great Churchyard in Bury St Edmunds is big. Very big and forms a useful shortcut for the locals from an uninspiring car park (aren’t they all I hear you say) to Honey Hill. But the Great Churchyard is steeped in history and, according to a volunteer in nearby St Mary’s church, some of its pathways date back to Saxon times.  The church sits perched further up the hill and so looks  down and over the churchyard’s permanent residents.

St Mary’s and its elongated shape overlooking its part of the Great Churchyard.
©Carole Tyrrell

I came upon the Great Churchyard by chance on a day trip in 2006 while exploring the extensive Abbey ruins.  The Abbey’s ruins have eroded into strange shapes over the centuries and now look like lumpy fingers pointing accusingly at the sky.  But after Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey in 1539, much of its flint and mortar has been ‘recycled’  by the locals and can be seen in walls and nearby houses.   But it was the Churchyard’s memorable epitaphs that stayed  with me and so on a bright December day last year I returned.

There is a plethora of 18th century symbols on display: skull and crossbones, winged angels, open books and one memorial had its own duvet of moss on the coffin lid shaped top.

As I explored, I found this tombstone  and remembered that M R James had written  a book on the Abbey’s history. Ann Clarke is the name of the unfortunate character in his story ‘Martin’s Close. I did wonder if this was his inspiration……

An M R James connection? The Great Churchyard.
©Carole Tyrrell

But the real jewel of the Churchyard is undoubtedly the 13th century roofless Charnel House.  A rare survivor and its flint walls were lucky not to have suffered the same fate as the Abbey’s.  The Charnel House was where all the disinterred bones from the Churchyard were stored.  It’s empty now and is protected by iron railings.   The Charnel House  now acts as a roost for birds and also as a backdrop or gallery for the epitaphs that I remembered from 2006.

 

 

 

Amongst the collection are two 17th century tombstones placed on the walls. One is illegible although the symbols are still clear and the other is to a Sarah Worton, wife of Edward.  Under the epitaph is the verse:

Good people all as you

Pas by looked round

See how Corpes de lye

For as you are from time ware we

And as we were f(s)o must you be.

If you take a closer look you can see how the mason had to slightly squash the letters to get all the words in.

But there  are 4 significant epitaphs on the Charnel House walls and these are  dedicated to the good, the bad and the just plain unlucky.

Firstly, the unlucky……..

Henry Cockton (1807 – 1853)

Engraving of Henry Cockton from 1841 by James Warren Childe (1780 – 1862)
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

No. I’d never heard of him either until I started researching this post.  This is not a name widely known today although his first and most successful novel, ‘The Life and Adventures of Valentine Vox the Ventriloquist ‘ is still available from various online booksellers.  Note the symbol of a blank scroll of paper and  quill pen above the epitaph which is the sign of a writer.

According to Wikipedia. Cockton was born in Shoreditch but ended up working in Bury St Edmunds where he married a local girl whose family were involved in the local pub trade. They had two children, Eleanor and Edward.  As we shall see alliteration was a theme of Henry’s life.  Valentine Vox  was a largely comic novel about a man who teaches himslef ventriloquism  and the jolly japes that ensue from this. It also involved social issues as, at one point,  the hero is incarcerated  in a private lunatic asylum and in the book’s preface Cockton rails against these places. Valentine Vox was a huge success and sold over 400, 000 copies and was published, like Dickens, in serial form.  After this Cockton should have gone onto greater things but he was destined never to make any money from his writing. Editors cheated him, publishers went out of business and  he was imprisoned for debt after being declared bankrupt.  In 1843 he wrote ‘Sylvester Sound, the Sonanambulist’ which was about a sleepwalker who performed daring feats during his sleep but it didn’t enjoy the success of its predecessor – see what I mean about alliteration?

But he kept on writing until 1845 when he announced to his readers that The Love Match would be his final novel.  Unfortunately bad luck continued to dog him – he was like King Midas in reverse as the song goes –  everything he touched turned to mud. He stood surety for his brother who thanked him by fleeing to Australia and a speculative malting venture collapsed and ruined him.  He and his family moved into his mother-in-law’s house and he wrote a further 3 unsuccessful novels.  Sadly, aged 46, he died of consumption and 4 days later was buried in an unmarked grave in the town churchyard without any obituaries.  Its exact location is still unknown.  The plaque was put up by admirers and friends.

Henry’s widow petitioned the Royal Literary Fund for financial assistance and in 1856 a local paper printed another appeal for his family. But Valentine Vox, his most successful novel. has enjoyed a life beyond its creator. Jack Riley, a performer and writer on ventriloquism uses it as his stage name and Chris Jagger’s 1974 album also borrowed it.   So a tragedy all round?  It certainly was for Henry but not so much for his family…….

While researching online  I found a blog on which there was a lively dialogue between the blogger and respondents who claimed to be Henry’s descendants.  According to them, Henry’s widow remarried, Eleanor became a teacher and Edward eventually became Professor of Music at the Greenwich Royal Naval College.

And the the victim of a somewhat unkind Act of God……

Mary Haselton (1776-1785)

This fulsome eptaph is dedeicated to the unfortunate Mary Haselton who, in 1785, was struck by lightning while saying her prayers. There was virtually nothing about her online but I may contact the town’s Local Studies department. The epitaph reads:

Here lies interred the Body

MARY HASELTON

A Young Maiden of this Town

Born of Roman Catholic Parents

And Virtuously brought up

Who being in the Act of Prayer

Repeating her Vespers

Was instantaneously killed by a flash

Of lightning August the 16 1785

Aged 9 years

Not Silom’ (?) ruinous tower the Vicoms slew

Because above the many sinn’d  the few

Nor here the fated lightning wreak its rage

Its Vengeance sent for crimes manned by age

For while the Thunder’s awful voice was heard

The little supplicant with its hand upraised

Answered her God in prayers the Priest had taught

His mercy (?) and his protection sought

The last 4 lines are unreadable even on Zoom view.  But it’s an amazing piece of verse and the mason who carved it really earned his money if he was paid by the letter.

It’s interesting that Mary’s parents religion is so openly stated. There had been a relaxing of attitudes towards Catholics in the 18th century despite the 1780 anti-Catholic Gordon Riots.

However there’s no way of knowing Mary’s actual burial place within the Great Cemetery but her memorial is in safekeeping on the wall of the Charnel House.

 

Part 2: The good and the bad…a Founding Father and a notorious crime.

 ©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated. 

 Further reading and references.

 

 https://bradspurgeon.com/brads-rejected-writings/impeccable-intuition-robertson-davies-on-henry-cockton/

 

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

https://www.buryfreepress.co.uk/news/hidden-treasures-brought-into-view-1-399134

 

Symbol of the Month – The Chalice

Rev Murray’s chalice – note Communion wafer above it. St Nicholas churchyard, Chislehurst
©Carole Tyrrell

The first symbol of 2018 is the chalice.  It’s traditionally associated with the Church and the Communion and is often found on rectors and priests headstones for obvious reasons.   Almost like having the tools of their trade close at hand so to speak.

I found the fine example above in the churchyard of St Nicholas in Chislehurst.   Note the communion wafer on top of the well sculpted 3D sculpture of the goblet.   This headstone is dedicated to a former rector of the Church, Rev Francis Henry Murray and this little corner is almost an ecclesiastical enclave.  There are three other former Rectors buried here as well as a former Bishop of Singapore and an Archdeacon of Bromley. Rev Murray’s wife is buried alongside him under the grapevine and crown of thorns symbols and behind them is buried their son, Lieutenant  Herbert  Francis Murray  who was lost at sea on 7 September 1870 on the HMS Captain and his monument features a large anchor. There are two gleaming brass wall tablets inside the church dedicated to each of them respectively.

Chalices, goblets or cups – whatever you want to call them –  have been used in religious and other important ceremonies for thousands of years and are also associated with the Last Supper and the Holy Grail.  In Matthew 26:27:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you..”

During the Communion worshippers drink wine from the chalice as a representation of Christ’s blood and then eat the communion wafer

From Salinas, Spain
Shared from wikipedia. Creative Commons

after it has been dipped in the wine as an interpretation of his body.  Chalices are often made from gold or silver, hexagonal in shape and can be decorated with semi-precious stones as with this example from Spain.  It’s very ornate with the inscription ‘Sanguinis meus vere est petus’ . This translates to ;My blood is drink indeed’ from John 6:55.  This was made for the church of John the Baptist, Salinas Spain.

 

 

They can also be heavily decorated in other ways as with this one from 6th century Italy.

Etruscan chalice from Bucchero – 6th century BC.
Shared under Wikipedia Creative Commons

 

In the Sufi faith the chalice takes centre stage as it represents the sharing of blessings such as water and milk and this brings the desert nomad and steppe peoples together.  It also appears within Wicca and Paganism where it represents the Goddess as water is a feminine element.  In some Byzantine and Gothic imagery, the chalice can also be a protective symbol as, anyone holding a chalice is demonstrating that they are God’s servant and they have turned away from evil.

The Holy Grail is traditionally assumed to be the cup that Christ drank from during the Last Supper.  It remains unidentified although many chalices have been suspected as being the Grail.

The chalice can also appear with other symbols such as, for example, a white circle to represent the consecrated Eucharist. Also, a chalice with an X shaped cross on its front is an emblem of one of the disciples, Andrew, and a flaming chalice is the 

The flaming chalice – the symbol of the Unitarians.
Shared from Wikipedia Creative Commonsemblem of the Unitarian movement.

Chalices also feature heavily in heraldry and in some vanitas paintings.  These were still life paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries from Flanders and the Netherlands.  They invited the observer to ponder on the transcience and meaninglessness of earthly life and used symbols to indicate this. In Allegory of the Eucharist by the Flemish painter Alexander Coosemans (1627 – 1689) the chalice is the

Allegory of the Eucharist Aleaxander Coosemans
Shared under Wiki Creative Commons

centrepiece. But the items surrounding it have a deeper meaning.  The cornucopia is a symbol of creation and divine bounty, the wheat stalks and grapes are obviously representations of the Communion wine and bread and the pomegranate and quince are representations of plenty as well as fertility and immortality.

However, there is also a negative to the holiness of the chalice with the phrase ‘the poisoned chalice’.  This where a situation or item appears to be good on the surface and then turns out to be the opposite. Shakespeare refers to this in Macbeth Act 1 Scene VII as Macbeth contemplates the murder of King Duncan:

We still have judgment here, that we but teach

Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return

To plague th’ inventor: this even-handed justice

Commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice

Seek and ye shall find is an old adage and it can often be applied to looking for symbols in a churchyard or cemetery.  I think I’ve found just one example of one and then they’re everywhere.  And so it was with St Nicholas – I found 4 examples within the churchyard.

Side view of Rev Murray’s chalice, St Nicholas churchyard, Chislehurst
©Carole Tyrrell

This is dedicated to a former rector of the church, Rev Francis Henry Murray (1820-1902). He was an energetic Rector at St Nicholas for over 56 years and wasn’t afraid to push forward church alterations or change styles of worship despite opposition from Diocesan Bishops.  The parishioners were inspired by him to agitate for the establishment of St Katherine’s Rotherhithe.  Rev Charles Fuge Lowder, the first vicar of St Peter’s, London Docks and Rev Murray were great friends as they were both leading members of the Society of the Holy Cross.  This was formed in February 1855 by a group of 6 Anglo-Catholic clergy.  Rev Murray was also responsible for the first publication of the now classic Hymns Ancient and Modern.

 

Rev Charles Lowder also has a memorial in the churchyard with a chalice portrayed on its other side.  He was another energetic, pioneering priest who devoted 24 years of his life to working with the poor in one of the most deprived dockland areas of East London.  In 1856, aged 36, he founded the St George’s Mission.  This was in response to a request for assistance to the Society of the Holy Cross from the vicar of St George’s in the East.  The Society is still in existence worldwide with a membership of over 1000 priests.  Every year, on the date of his death in 1880 on the 9 September he is commemorated.

A more modest chalice is on the Greatheed monument which is dedicated to Ellen and Stephen Greatheed.  The latter is merely recorded on the epitaph as ‘Priest’ but he wasn’t mentioned on the list of St Nicholas’ rectors inside the church so perhaps he was based at another local church..

This is dedicated to Edward Herbert Fuller  Jenner and he is also recorded on his epitaph as ‘Priest’ but isn’t  listed on the list of previous rectors. Again note the communion wafer above the chalice.

Finally, as I explored St Nicholas’ interior I looked up at the 19th century stained glass windows and there at the bottom of one window were two angels holding a chalice between them. The Holy Grail perhaps?

Detail from Victorian stained glass window of possibly the Holy Grail/ St Nicholas church Chislehurst
©Carole Tyrrell

 

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.

References and further reading:

Some graves of interest within the churchyard – St Nicholas Church Chislehurst publication

https://www.ancient-symbols.com/symbols-directory/chalice.html

http://www.lsew.org.uk/funerary-symbolism/

https://symbolsproject.eu/explore/others/objects0/cup-/-chalice.aspx

https://www.reference.com/world-view/chalice-symbolize-f6e394fff39e62f0

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalice#Poisoned_chalice

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

http://www.symbols.com/symbol/flaming-chalice

http://www.catholic-saints.info/catholic-symbols/chalice-christian-symbol.htm

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+26-27&version=NIV

http://nfs.sparknotes.com/macbeth/page_40.html