Saturday, 22 November 2014

Grave Hunting in St-John-at-Hampstead and St Pancras Old Church

Although I don’t ever feel the need for an excuse to go grave hunting, I do like to enjoy the heightened spectrality  of Halloween by spending time in cemeteries and churchyards. This year’s adventures were delightfully literary, with adventures taking me to St Pancras Old Church, and my favourite of favourites: St-John-at-Hampstead.
St Pancras Old Church is situated ten minutes by foot from King’s Cross, so it made an incredibly convenient first-stop on a recent trip to Hampstead. Unfortunately I did not have enough time to go inside the church itself, but the breath-taking beauty of the churchyard somewhat made up for this.
I did, of course, visit with intentions. The particular attraction for me was the memorial tomb of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. Wollstonecraft and her writing alike are undeniably fascinating, and visiting the tomb as but a small token of my respect. This was also the location of the secret meetings between Wollstonecraft’s daughter Mary and Percy Shelley before their elopement; so, in a way, if it wasn’t for St Pancras Old Church, there may not have been an elopement, or any time spent at Villa Diodati and the subsequent birth of Frankenstein.


Additionally, the Hardy Tree is a rather spectacular sight. It’s eerie in some aspects, and beautiful in others. I’d seen it in photographs before I visited, but it’s definitely a lot more magnificent in real life. I’m afraid the photo here won’t do it justice, but hopefully it’s enough to whet your appetite to visit!

My favourite churchyard of them all is St-John-at-Hampstead. Not only is it in my favourite place in the world (*cough* Hampstead), it also has a wonderful layout decorated beautifully by nature with trees, plants, and the occasional squirrel. I’d visited several times before, primarily to see Eva Gore-Booth, but something new was on the agenda this time: the Du Mauriers and theLlewellyn Davies family.
Arthur and Sylvia Llewellyn Davies are buried there, as well as some of their sons. Perhaps most notably – and certainly the reason why I sought them out – is the inscription for Peter Llewellyn Davies at the foot of his parents’ grave. Peter was the inspiration for J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, so to think of this as the resting place for the ashes of Peter Pan is, I’m sure you’ll agree, quite exciting.


George Du Maurier’s name sits prominently on this next grave, with many other inscriptions for Du Maurier family members around about. Daphne Du Maurier – my main interest in the family – was actually cremated, with her ashes scattered in Kilmarth, so there’s no trace of her here.

However, there’s plenty of the Du Mauriers, including Daphne, in other locations nearby. Cannon Hall was once home to Gerald Du Maurier, and Well Road hosts a plaque for the house in which Daphne lived for several years.


In all, this was a very successful history-hunting Halloween in Hampstead (please, do excuse the quadruple alliteration; sometimes I just can’t help myself). Until next year…

Amy x

2 comments:

  1. What a lovely ramble. Have you ever done rubbings of the stones to decorate your walls? Wouldn't that be grand?

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  2. Great pictures! I love walking through churchyards, the architecture of the headstones is lovely, and are so interesting too! - Tasha xxx

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