‘O passenger, pray list and catch
Our sighs and piteous groans
Half stifled in this jumbled patch
of wretched memorial stones’
In an earlier post I mentioned that the inspiration for the 4th image in the ‘Guide to the Birds of the British Isles’ had been the Hardy Tree which is situated in the grounds of St Pancras Old Church in Somer Town London.
It is dedicated to the Roman martyr Saint Pancras, and is believed by many to be one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England its thought to have been founded around 314 AD and was largely rebuilt in the Victorian era.
The church is situated on Pancras Road in the London Borough of Camden.
On a recent walk from the British Library to Camden Lock market we took a pleasant diversion along the Regents canal to the church that we had first visited in 2013. While I was there I also wanted to take some better pictures of the Hardy Tree as previously they had been phone pictures.
The plaque accompanying the tree explains that “before turning to writing full time,” Thomas Hardy “studied architecture in London from 1862-67 under Mr. Arthur Blomfield, an architect based in Covent Garden. During the 1860s the Midland Railway line was being built over part of the original St. Pancras Churchyard.
Blomfield was commissioned by the Bishop of London to supervise the proper exhumation of human remains and dismantling of tombs. He passed this unenviable task to his protegé Thomas Hardy around l865. Hardy would have spent many hours in St. Pancras Churchyard overseeing the careful removal of bodies and tombs from the land on which the railway was being built.
The headstones around this ashtree (Fraxinus excelsior) would have been placed here about that time. From the pictures you can see how the tree has grown in amongst the stones. A few years before Hardy’s involvement here, Charles Dickens makes reference to Old St. Pancras Churchyard in his Tale of Two Cities (1859), as the churchyard in which Roger Cly was buried and where Gerry Cruncher was known to ‘fish’ (a 19th Century term for tomb robbery and body snatching).
Another reason to visit this area is the impressive Soane Mausoleum.
This Family mausoleum was designed by the architect Sir John Soane RA (1753-1837), and was erected in 1816 following the death of his wife Elizabeth in 1815. It contains his wife and one son as well as himself.
Sir John Soane built three London houses in leafy Lincolns Inn Fields and designed number 13 as his home and as a setting for his antiquities and works of art. After his wife’s death he lived there alone, constantly adding to and rearranging his collections.
He established the house as a museum by Act of Parliament (1833) requiring that his romantic and poetic interiors be kept as they were at the time of his death. Regarded as the finest house museum in the world its worth visiting if you find yourself in the area.
Surrounding the Church grounds is the St Pancras hospital which specialises in geriatric and psychiatric medicine. The hospital was formerly the St Pancras Workhouse.
The Workhouse dates back to before 1777 and the hospital is partly housed in the original buildings. From 1951 to 1998 some of its buildings (the former matrnity wards) were occupied by the London Hospital for Tropical Diseases.
The ‘Guide to the Birds of the British Isles’ is a collaborative project between Arcimboldi studios and several writers, artists and musicians. Its a series of images, short stories and music tracks based on the theme of birds and will be available as an iBook late in 2014.