Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Hardy Tree, Old St Pancras Churchyard

Before he became a novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy was an architect. As a young man he studied under Arthur Blomfield, an architect based in Covent Garden.

At this time the Midland Railway was building its independent line from Bedford to London, with a new terminus at St Pancras. The line entered this new terminus across part of St Pancras Churchyard and, says The Victorian Web:

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 in. c.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 ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) would have been placed here about that time. Note how the tree has since grown in amongst the stones.

I took my own photograph of the tree and stones last Saturday.

This episode inspired Hardy's 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!'"

It's a grimly comic poem, but no wonder he was a melancholy man after this experience.


Backwatersman said...

I quite often seem to catch sighs and hideous groans, half stifled when I arrive at St. Pancras in the morning - but that's mainly the passengers, realising that we've got another day's work ahead of us.

More seriously, I do often think of Hardy when I see that churchyard.

Bob's Head Revisited said...

I work really close to that and have done for over a year and didn't even know it was there.

I'll have a look at lunchtime tomorrow.


katybird said...

Came across the Hardy tree a few months ago, out exploring of a lunchtime - what a beautiful, if slightly macabre, thing!

Here's my pic: http://www.flickr.com/photos/katy_bird/3921860491/in/photostream/

Unknown said...

This is a wonderful thing , I just saw it on igoogle .


some of you might like this: story of how the tree came to be. sort of.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing 'The Levelled Churchyard' - I wrote a post about the Hardy Tree on <a href="http://thestreettree.com/2011/12/01/old-st-pancras-hardy-tree/>The Street Tree</a> last week and may have to retrospectively include the poem!