The graveyard where Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin were originally buried belonged to the St Pancras Old Church which is in Somers Town, where they used to live. (It’s called the Old church as it was replaced by a newer building in
There’s been a place of worship here since Roman times, with the first Christian church built on the site in the 4th Century AD. The church yard, was converted into public gardens, St Pancras Gardens, to make way for the rapidly expanding railway in 1877. The work was supervised by the author Thomas Hardy, then a young architect.
Entrance to the park is through these very grand gilded gates
The church is reputed to be the oldest church in Britain, but has been rebuilt and remodelled many times, most recently in the 19th century. So it shows features from several eras. The overall style is Romanesque, with rounded arches and a quite elaborate front entrance. I wasn’t so fond of the Victorian “Belgian style” tower, though which I thought jarred with the overall look of the building.
The interior is simple and clean without any nooks and crannies, but has various religious items decorating the walls.
The old churchyard is a pleasant park with a number of interesting monuments. My main objective was to visit the original resting place of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. Their original grave is marked by a simple rectangular headstone. It was here, that their daughter, Mary, used to secretly meet with the poet, Percy Shelley. At that time only her mother rested here as Godwin was alive and disapproved of the young couple’s relationship.
Other monuments include the tomb of the architect John Soane and his wife
The structure, which is now Grade I listed, provided the inspiration for the design of the iconic red telephone box by Giles Gilbert Scott.
This rather intriguing collection of headstones clustered around an ash tree. They were relocated here by the young Thomas Hardy when he was tasked with the exhumation of human remains and dismantling of tombs from that part of the cemetery over which the railway lines were to be constructed. An unpleasant task that is likely to have influenced his poem of 1882
The Levelled Churchyard
“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!”
Today the tree is known as the Hardy Tree.