Esoteric London

No. 401: Pancras Road, NW1

Posted in Churches, Literary London by esotericlondon on September 12, 2011

St. Pancras Old Church Churchyard, Pancras Road, London, NW1. Photo © Roger Dean 2011

From the plaque at the foot of The Hardy Tree:

The novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) is best known for his novels set in rural ‘Wessex’, however before turning to writing full time he 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 onto his protégé Thomas Hardy in c.1865.

Hardy would have spent many hours in Old St. Pancras Churchyard during the construction of the railway, 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 around this time. Note how the tree has since 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 Jerry Cruncher was known to ‘fish’ (a 19th Century term for tomb robbery and body snatching).

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