In Search Of Gravestones Old And Curious
W.T. (William Thomas) Vincent
Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Julie Barkley, Sandra Brown and the Online Distributed
OLD AND CURIOUS.
With One Hundred and Two Illustrations
W. T. VINCENT,
PRESIDENT OF THE WOOLWICH DISTRICT ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY; AUTHOR OF "THE
RECORDS OF THE WOOLWICH DISTRICT," ETC., ETC.
MITCHELL & HUGHES, 140, WARDOUR STREET.
IN SEARCH OF
OLD AND CURIOUS.
[Illustration: AN EARLY SAMPLE AT HIGHAM.] (Page 11.)
I. OLD GRAVESTONES 1
II. THE EVOLUTION OF GRAVESTONES 9
III. ARTISTIC GRAVESTONES 20
IV. PROFESSIONAL GRAVESTONES 31
V. A TYPICAL TRAMP IN KENT 35
VI. MORE TYPICAL TRAMPS 43
VII. EARLIER GRAVESTONES 49
VIII. REFORM AMONG THE GRAVESTONES 57
IX. PRESERVING THE GRAVESTONES 62
X. OLD GRAVESTONES IN IRELAND 78
XI. OLD GRAVESTONES IN SCOTLAND 84
XII. OLD GRAVESTONES ABROAD 91
XIII. VERY OLD GRAVESTONES 97
XIV. THE REGULATION OF GRAVESTONES 105
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
EARL STANHOPE, F.S.A.,
LORD LIEUTENANT OF KENT,
PRESIDENT OF THE KENT ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY,
THIS COLLECTION OF
OLD AND CURIOUS GRAVESTONES
IS BY SPECIAL PERMISSION
ILLUSTRATIONS OF GRAVESTONES.
AN EARLY EXAMPLE AT HIGHAM
1 AND 2, NEWHAVEN
3, WIDCOMBE; 4, NEWHAVEN; 5, LEWES
6, PLUMSTEAD; 7 AND 8, DARTFORD
9, FRANKFORT; 10, EAST WICKHAM
11, RIDLEY; 12, HOO
13, ERITH; 14, HIGH HALSTOW
15, FRINDSBURY; 16, HIGHAM
17, SHORNE AND CHALK
18, MEOPHAM; 19, STANSTEAD; 20, OLD ROMNEY
21, CRAYFORD; 22, SHOREHAM
23, LEWISHAM; 24, HORNSEY
25, TEDDINGTON; 26, FINCHLEY; 27, FARNBOROUGH
28, CHISELHURST; 29, HARTLEY
30, WEST WICKHAM; 31, HORNSEY
32, HORTON KIRBY; 33, CLIFFE
34, DARENTH; 35, KINGSDOWN
36, FAWKHAM; 37, SWANSCOMBE
38, ASHFORD; 39, COOLING
40, HENDON; 41, EAST WICKHAM
42, SNARGATE; 43, EAST HAM
44, WILMINGTON; 45, WANSTEAD; 46, SOUTHFLEET; 47, WILMINGTON
48, LEWISHAM; 49, BUNHILL FIELDS
50, WOOLWICH; 51, LONGFIELD
52, LYDD; 53, BERMONDSEY
54, RICHMOND; 55, RIPLEY
56, COBHAM; 57, BARNES
58, FRINDSBURY; 59, SUTTON AT HONE
60, BROMLEY; 61, BECKENHAM
62, GREEENFORD; 63, WEST HAM
64, LEE; 65, ORPINGTON
66, ST. MARY CRAY; 67, ST. PAUL'S CRAY
68, FOOT'S CRAY; 69, BEXLEY
70, BARKING; 71, WOOLWICH
72, DEPTFORD; 73, WEST HAM
74, AND 75, WANSTEAD
76, WALTHAMSTOW; 77, BROXBOURNE
78, STAPLEFORD TAWNEY; 79, SHORNE
80, BETHNAL GREEN; 81, PLUMSTEAD
82, CHESHUNT; 83, HATFIELD
84, NORTHOLT; 85, TWICKENHAM
86, HIGH BARNET; 87, KINGSTON-ON-THAMES
90, BANGOR; 91, MUCKROSS AND QUEENSTOWN
92, INVERNESS; 93, BRAEMAR
98, HEIDELBERG; 99, LUCERNE
100, THE BRESSAY STONE; 101, LUNNASTING AND KILBAR STONES
I am a Gravestone Rambler, and I beg you to bear me company.
This Book is not a Sermon. It is a lure to decoy other Ramblers, and
the bait is something to ramble for. It also provides a fresh object
Old-lore is an evergreen tree with many branches. This is a young
shoot. It is part of an old theme, but is itself new.
Books about Tombs there are many, and volumes of Epitaphs by the
hundred. But of the Common Gravestones--the quaint and curious, often
grotesque, headstones of the churchyard--there is no record.
These gravestones belong to the past, and are hastening to decay. In
one or two centuries none will survive unless they be in Museums.
To preserve the counterfeit presentment of some which remain seems a
Many may share the quest, but no one has yet come out to start. Let
your servant shew the way.
I begin my book as I began my Rambles, and pursue as I have pursued.
WILLIAM THOMAS VINCENT.
[Illustration: FIG. 1. NEWHAVEN.]
[Illustration: FIG. 2. NEWHAVEN.]
IN SEARCH OF
OLD AND CURIOUS.
I was sauntering about the churchyard at Newhaven in Sussex, reading
the inscriptions on the tombs, when my eyes fell upon a headstone
somewhat elaborately carved. Although aged, it was in good
preservation, and without much trouble I succeeded in deciphering
all the details and sketching the subject in my note-book. It is
represented in Fig. 1.
FIG. 1--AT NEWHAVEN, SUSSEX.
The inscription below the design reads as follows:
"Here lyeth the remains of Andrew Brown,
who departed this life the 14th day of
January 1768, aged 66 years. Also of
Mary his wife, who departed this life the
3d day of July 1802, aged 88 years."
This was the first time I had been struck by an allegorical gravestone
of a pronounced character.
The subject scarcely needs to be interpreted, being obviously intended
to illustrate the well-known passage in the Burial Service: "For the
trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised ... then shall be
brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in
Victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
The reference in another ritual to the Lord of Life trampling the King
of Terrors beneath his feet seems also to be indicated, and it will
be noticed that the artist has employed a rather emphatic smile to
It was but natural to suppose that this work was the production of
some local genius of the period, and I searched for other evidences
of his skill. Not far away I found the next design, very nearly of the
FIG. 2.--AT NEWHAVEN, SUSSEX.
The words below were:
"To the memory of Thomas, the son of
Thomas and Ann Alderton, who departed
this life the 10th day of April 1767, in the
13th year of his age."
The same artist almost of a certainty produced both of these
figurative tombstones. The handicraft is similar, the idea in each is
equally daring and grotesque, and the phraseology of the inscriptions
is nearly identical. I thought both conceptions original and native
to the place, but I do not think so now. In point of taste, the first,
which is really second in order of date, is perhaps less questionable
than the other. The hope of a joyful resurrection, however rudely
displayed, may bring comfort to wounded hearts; but it is difficult
to conceive the feelings of bereaved parents who could sanction the
representation of a beloved boy, cut off in the brightest hour of
life, coffined and skeletoned in the grave!
[Illustration: FIG. 3. WIDCOMBE.]
[Illustration: FIG. 4. NEWHAVEN.]
[Illustration: FIG. 5. LEWES.]
Above the coffin on Alderton's headstone is an ornament, apparently
palms. It is not unusual to find such meaningless, or apparently
meaningless, designs employed to fill in otherwise blank spaces,
though symbols of death, eternity, and the future state are in
plentiful command for such purposes. Something like this same ornament
may be found on a very old flat stone in the churchyard of Widcombe,
near Bath. It stretches the full width of the stone, and is in high
relief, which has preserved it long after the accompanying inscription
has vanished. The probable date may be about 1650.
FIG. 3.--AT WIDCOMBE, NEAR BATH.
In Newhaven Churchyard, though there are but these two striking
examples of the allegorical gravestone, there is one other singular
exemplification of the graver's skill and ingenuity, but it is nearly
a score of years later in date than the others, and probably by
another mason. It represents the old and extinct bridge over the
Sussex Avon at Newhaven, and it honours a certain brewer of the town,
whose brewery is still carried on there and is famous for its "Tipper"
ale. Allowing that it was carved by a different workman, it is only
fair to suppose that it may have been suggested by its predecessors.
Its originality is beyond all question, which can very rarely be
said of an old gravestone, and, as a churchyard record of a local
institution, I have never seen it equalled or approached.
FIG. 4.--AT NEWHAVEN, SUSSEX.
Under the design is the following inscription:
"To the Memory of Thomas Tipper, who
departed this life May y'e 14th, 1785, Aged
"READER, with kind regard this GRAVE survey
Nor heedless pass where TIPPER'S ashes lay.
Honest he was, ingenuous, blunt, and kind;
And dared do, what few dare do, speak his mind.
PHILOSOPHY and History well he knew,
Was versed in PHYSICK and in Surgery too.
The best old STINGO he both brewed and sold,
Nor did one knavish act to get his Gold.
He played through Life a varied comic part,
And knew immortal HUDIBRAS by heart.
READER, in real truth, such was the Man,
Be better, wiser, laugh more if you can."
That these were all the especial eccentricities of this burial-place
disappointed me, but, with my after-knowledge, may say that three such
choice specimens from one enclosure is a very liberal allowance.
Suspecting that sculptors of the quality necessary for such
high-class work would be unlikely to dwell in a small and unimportant
fisher-village such as Newhaven was in the middle of the eighteenth
century, I went over to Lewes, the county town being only seven miles
by railway. But I found nothing to shew that Lewes was the seat of so
much skill, and I have since failed to discover the source in Brighton
or any other adjacent town. Indeed, it may be said at once that large
towns are the most unlikely of all places in which to find peculiar
gravestones. At Lewes, however, I lighted on one novelty somewhat to
my purpose, and, although a comparatively simple illustration, it
is not without its merits, and I was glad to add it to my small
collection. The mattock and spade are realistic of the grave; the open
book proclaims the promise of the heaven beyond.
[Illustration: FIG. 6. PLUMSTEAD.]
[Illustration: FIG. 7. DARTFORD.]
[Illustration: FIG. 8. DARTFORD.]
FIG. 5.--AT LEWES.
"To Samuel Earnes, died May 6th, 1757, aged
The coincidence of date would almost warrant a belief that this piece
of imagery may have emanated from the same brain and been executed by
the same hands as are accountable for the two which we have seen seven
miles away, but the workmanship is really not in the least alike, and
I have learnt almost to discard in this connection the theory of local
idiosyncrasies. Even when we find, as we do find, similar, and
almost identical, designs in neighbouring churchyards, or in the
same churchyard, it is safer to conjecture that a meaner sculptor has
copied the earlier work than that the first designer would weaken his
inventive character by a replication. The following, which cannot
be described as less than a distortion of a worthier model, is to be
found in many places, and in such abundance as to suggest a wholesale
FIG. 6.--AT PLUMSTEAD, KENT.
"To Elizabeth Bennett, died 1781, aged
It is obvious that the idea intended to be represented is figurative
of death in infancy or childhood, and illustrates the well-known words
of the Saviour, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid
them not: for of such is the kingdom of God," quoted on the stone
itself. In this and many similar cases in which the design and text
are used for old or elderly people, they have been certainly strained
from their true significance. The figure of a little child is,
however, employed occasionally to represent the soul, and may also be
taken to indicate the "new birth."
There is an almost exact reproduction of the foregoing example in
the same churchyard, even more remarkably at variance with Scriptural
It is dedicated
"To John Clark, died 1793, aged 62 years;
and Rebecca his wife, died 1794, aged 61
The inscription adds:
"What manner of persons these were the last
day will discover."
Gravestone plagiarism of this sort is very common, and there is to be
found at West Ham, Essex, the same symbolical flight of the angel and
child repeated as many as five times.
The pilfering is not so weak and lamentable when the copyist
appropriates merely the idea and works it out in a new fashion. The
term new can hardly be attributed to the notion of a plucked flower
as a type of death, but it occurs in so many varieties as almost to
redeem its conventionality.
The sculptor of a stone which is in Dartford burial-ground probably
had the suggestion from a predecessor.
FIG. 7.--AT DARTFORD.
"To James Terry, died 1755, aged 31 years."
But not far from it in the same burial-ground, which is really a
cemetery separated from the parish church, and one of the oldest
cemeteries in England, is another imitation quite differently brought
out, but in principle essentially the same.
FIG. 8.--AT DARTFORD.
At the churchyard of Stone (or Greenhithe), two or three miles
from Dartford, both these floral emblems are reproduced with strict
This first chapter and the sketches which illustrate it will serve to
introduce and explain my work and its scope.
In pursuing my investigations it was soon evident that the period of
the allegorical gravestone was confined sharply and almost exclusively
to the eighteenth century. I have seldom met one earlier than 1700,
and those subsequent to 1800 are very rare. Of gravestones generally
it may almost be said that specimens of seventeenth-century date
are exceedingly few. There are reasons for this, as will afterwards
appear. But the endurance even of the longest-lived of all the old
memorials cannot be very much longer extended, and this may be my
excuse for preserving and perpetuating the features of some of them as
a not uninteresting phase of the vanishing past. I do not claim for
my subject any great importance, but present it as one of the small
contributions which make up history. One other plea I may urge in my
defence. This is a branch of study which, so far as I can ascertain,
has been quite neglected. There are books by the score dealing with
the marble, alabaster, and other tombs within the churches, there
are books of epitaphs and elegies by the hundred, and there are
meditations among the graves sufficient to satisfy the most devout and
exacting of readers, but the simple gravestone of the churchyard as an
object of sculptured interest has I believe found hitherto no student
and is still looking for its historian.
THE EVOLUTION OF GRAVESTONES.
Although there may be no expectation of discovering the germ of
the pictorial or allegorical gravestone, a section of the samples
collected for this essay may be displayed to shew the earlier forms
in which the ruder class of masons prepared their sculptured monuments
for the churchyard. There is little doubt that the practice originated
in an endeavour to imitate on the common gravestone the nobler
memorials of the churches and cathedrals, the effort being more or
less successful in proportion to the individual skill of the artist.
The influence of locality, however, must always be a factor in this
consideration; for, as a rule, it will be found that the poorest
examples come from essentially secluded places, while localities of
earlier enlightenment furnish really admirable work of much prior
date. Take, for instance, that most frequent emblem, the skull. I have
not sought for the model by which the village sculptor worked, but
I have in my note-book this sketch of a skull, copied from a
sixteenth-century tomb at Frankfort on the Maine, and there are
doubtless a vast number equal to it in English cathedrals and churches
of the same period.
FIG. 9.--AT FRANKFORT, GERMANY.
Regarding this as our ideal, the primitive work which we find in rural
localities must be pronounced degenerated art. Generally speaking we
may assume that the carver of the stately tomb within the church had
no hand in the execution of the outer gravestone; but that quite early
there were able masons employed upon the decoration of the churchyard
headstone is shewn in many instances, of which the one presented in
Fig. 10 may serve as a very early specimen.
FIG. 10.--AT EAST WICKHAM.
"To Eliza and Lydia, the two wives of Anthony
Neighbours, died 18th Nov. 1675 and 11th
The dates are remarkable in connection with such an elaborate work.
East Wickham is little more than a village even now, and this carving
is very creditable in comparison with other attempts of the same
early period; but the high road from London to Dover runs through the
parish, and may have carried early cultivation into the district. All
the rougher illustrations which I have found have been in remote and
isolated spots, or spots that were remote and isolated when the stones
were set up. The first of these which I discovered was in the little
churchyard of Ridley in Kent, "far from the haunts of men."
FIG. 11.--AT RIDLEY.
"To the three sons of Will. Deane, died 1704,
1707, and 1709, aged 2 weeks, 2 years,
and 5 years."
It is difficult to believe that the face here delineated was meant
to represent a skull, and yet, judging by the many equally and more
absurd figures which I have since met with, there is little doubt that
a skull was intended by the engraver, for this and all others of the
class are incised, simply scratched or cut into the stone; nothing so
poor in drawing have I ever found which has risen to the eminence of
relief. It may, of course, be also surmised that the face here cut
into the stone is meant for a portrait or to represent an angelic
being. The radial lines may have been intended for a halo of glory or
a frilled cap, but, as will be seen by comparison, the whole thing is
easily to be classed with the skull series.
[Illustration: FIG. 9. FRANKFORT.]
[Illustration: FIG. 10. EAST WICKHAM.]
It will be noticed that we have in this instance a form of headstone
differing materially from those of later times, and wherever we find
the rude _incised_ figure we nearly always have the stone of this
shape. Such homely memorials are distinguished in nearly every
instance by dwarfishness and clumsiness. They are seldom more than
2 feet in height, and are often found to measure from 5 inches to 7
inches in thickness. A prolific field for them is the great marshland
forming the Hundred of Hoo, below Gravesend, the scene of many
incidents in the tale by Charles Dickens of "Great Expectations." It
is called by the natives "the Dickens country," for the great author
dwelt on the hilly verge of it and knew it well. The Frontispiece
shews the general view of one of these old stones at Higham, in the
"To Philip Hawes, died June 24, 1733, aged
In this case the top space is occupied, not by a head or skull, but by
two hearts meeting at their points--a not unusual illustration.
At Hoo is one of the coarsest exemplifications of masonic incompetency
I have ever encountered.
FIG. 12.--AT HOO, NEAR ROCHESTER
"To Robert Scott, Yeoman, died 24 Dec. 1677,
aged 70 years."
The nimbus or nightcap again appears as in the Ridley specimen, but,
whatever it be, the teeth are undoubtedly the teeth of the skeleton
This stone has another claim to our notice beyond the inartistic
design. It marks one of the very rare efforts in this direction of the
The prevalent shape of these old memorials and their almost
contemporary dates seem to indicate a fashion of the period, but they
are met with in other places of various conformations. There is one
at Erith almost square-headed, only 2 feet high, 1 foot 6 inches wide,
and 7 inches thick.
FIG. 13.--AT ERITH.
It may be noted that this also is of the seventeenth century, and the
mode of describing John Green's age is, I think, unique.
High Halstow is a neighbour of Hoo, and has only of late been
penetrated by the railway to Port Victoria.
From High Halstow we have another curious and almost heathenish
specimen, in which we see the crossbones as an addition to the
"skull," if "skull" it can be considered, with its eyes, eyebrows, and
[Illustration: FIG. 11. RIDLEY.]
[Illustration: FIG. 12. HOO.]
[Illustration: FIG. 13. ERITH.]
[Illustration: FIG. 14. HIGH HALSTOW.]
[Illustration: FIG. 15. FRINDSBURY.]
[Illustration: FIG. 16. HIGHAM.]
FIG. 14.--AT HIGH HALSTOW.
"To Susan Barber." The date is buried, but
there is a similar stone close by dated
Nearer Rochester, at Frindsbury, there is the next illustration, still
like a mask rather than a death's head, but making its purpose clear
by the two bones, such as are nearly always employed in more recent
FIG. 15.--AT FRINDSBURY.
"To William David Jones, died 1721."
There is, however, another at Higham of about the same date, in which,
supposing a skull to be intended, the inspiration of the bones appears
not to have caught the artist. The portrait theory may possibly better
fit this case.
FIG. 16.--AT HIGHAM.
"To Mr Wm Boghurst, died 5th of April 1720,
That some of the carvings were meant for portraits cannot be denied,
and, in order to shew them with unimpeachable accuracy, I have taken
rubbings off a few and present an untouched photograph of them just as
I rubbed them off the stones (Fig. 17). The whole of the originals are
to be found in the neighbouring churchyards of Shorne and Chalk,
two rural parishes on the Rochester Road, and exhibit with all the
fidelity possible the craftsmanship of the village sculptors. They
will doubtless also excite some speculation as to their meaning.
My belief, as already expressed, is that the uppermost four are the
embodiment of the rustic yearning for the ideal; in other words,
attempts to represent the emblem of death--the skull. Nos. 1 and 2 are
from Shorne; Nos. 3, 4, and 5 from the churchyard at Chalk.
In No. 1 we have, perhaps, the crudest conception extant of the
skeleton head. The lower bars are probably meant for teeth; what the
radial lines on the crown are supposed to be is again conjecture.
Perhaps a nimbus, perhaps hair or a cap, or merely an ornamental
finish. The inscription states that the stone was erected to the
memory of "Thomas Vdall," who died in 1704, aged 63 years.
No. 2 has the inscription buried, but it is of about the same date,
judging by its general appearance. The strange feature in this case
is the zig-zag "toothing" which is employed to represent the jaws.
Doubtless the artist thought that anything he might have lost in
accuracy he regained in the picturesque.
No. 3, in which part of the inscription "Here lyeth" intrudes into the
arch belonging by right to the illustration, is equally primitive and
artless. The eyebrows, cheeks--in fact all the features--are evidently
unassisted studies from the living, not the dead, frontispiece of
humanity; but what are the serifs, or projections, on either side?
Wondrous as it is, there can be only one answer. They must be meant
for _ears_! This curious effigy commemorates Mary, wife of William
Greenhill, who died in 1717, aged 47 years.
No. 4 is one of the rude efforts to imitate the skull and crossbones
of which we find many examples. It is dedicated to one Grinhill
(probably a kinsman of the Greenhills aforesaid), who died in 1720,
aged 56 years.
Most strange of all is No. 5, in which the mason leaps to the real
from the emblematic, and gives us something which is evidently meant
for a portrait of the departed. The stone records that Mary, wife of
Thomas Jackson, died in 1730, aged 43 years. It is one of the double
tombstones frequently met with in Kent and some other counties.
The second half, which is headed by a picture of two united hearts,
records that the widower Thomas Jackson followed his spouse in 1748,
aged 55 years.
Upon a stone adjacent, to Mary London, who died in 1731, there has
been another portrait of a lady with braided hair, but time has almost
obliterated it. I mention the circumstance to shew that this
special department of obituary masonry, as all others, was prone
to imitations. I may also remark that intelligent inhabitants and
constant frequenters of these two churchyards have informed me that in
all the hundreds of times of passing these stones they never observed
any of their peculiarities. It ought, however, to be said that these
primitive carvings or scratchings are not often conspicuous, and
generally require some seeking. They are always on a small scale of
drawing, in nearly every instance within the diminished curve of
the most antiquated form of headstone (such as is shewn in the
Frontispiece), and as a rule they are overgrown with lichen, which
has to be rubbed off before the lines are visible. It may safely be
averred, on the other hand, that the majority of the old stones
when found of this shape contain or have contained these remarkable
figures, and in some places, particularly in Kent, they literally
swarm. There is a numerous assortment of them at Meopham, a once
remote hamlet, now a station on the London, Chatham, and Dover
Railway. I have copied only one--an early attempt apparently to
produce a cherub resting with outstretched wings upon a cloud, but
there are a good many of the same order to keep it in countenance.
FIG. 18.--AT MEOPHAM.
"To Sarah Edmeades, died 1728, aged 35 years."
In the churchyards of Hawkhurst, Benenden, Bodiam, Cranbrook,
Goudhurst, and all through the Great Weald these incised stones are
to be discovered by hundreds, very much of one type perhaps, but
displaying nevertheless some extraordinary variations. I know of no
district so fruitful of these examples as the Weald of Kent.
Even when the rude system of cutting into the stone ceased to be
practised and relief carving became general, grossness of idea seems
to have survived in many rural parishes. One specimen is to be seen
in the churchyard of Stanstead in Kent, and is, for relief work,
FIG. 19.--AT STANSTEAD.
"To William Lock, died 1751, aged 16 years."
However, the vast number of gravestones carved in relief are, on the
whole, creditable, especially if we consider the difficulty which met
the workmen in having to avoid giving to their crossbones and other
ornaments the appearance of horns growing out of their skulls.
[Illustration: FIG. 18. MEOPHAM.]
[Illustration: FIG. 19. STANSTEAD.]
[Illustration: FIG. 20. OLD ROMNEY.]
[Illustration: FIG. 21. CRAYFORD.]
[Illustration: FIG. 22. SHOREHAM.]
[Illustration: FIG. 23. LEWISHAM.]
[Illustration: FIG. 24. HOBNSEY.]
FIG. 20.--AT OLD ROMNEY.
"To William Dowll, died 1710, aged 40 years."
The winged skull probably typifies flight above.
FIG. 21.--AT CRAYFORD.
"To John Farrington, died Dec. 8, 1717, aged
above fourty years."
In the appropriate design from Shoreham the same idea is better
conveyed both by the winged head and by the torch, which when elevated
signifies the rising sun, and when depressed the setting sun. The
trumpet in this case would seem to mean the summons. The two little
coffins are eloquent without words.
FIG. 22.--AT SHOREHAM.
"The children of Thomas and Jane Stringer,
died Sept'r 1754, aged 10 and 7 years."
In Lewisham Churchyard is one of the death's head series almost _sui
FIG. 23.--AT LEWISHAM.
"To Richard Evens, died May 18, 1707, aged
The chaplet of bay-leaves or laurel doubtless indicates "Victory."
Not only is this an early and well-accomplished effort, but it is
remarkable for the presence of a lower jaw, which is seldom seen on a
gravestone. The skull turned up by the sexton is usually the typical
object, and to that we may presume the nether jaw is not often
attached. It is found, however, on a headstone of a somewhat weak
design in Old Hornsey Churchyard.
FIG. 24.--AT HORNSEY.
"To Mr John Gibson, whipmaker, died Oct.
30, 1766, aged 44 years."
The hand seems to be pointing to the record of a well-spent life which
has won the crown of glory.
There is another of the lower jaw series at Teddington, which is also,
in all probability, the only instance of a man's nightcap figuring in
such gruesome circumstances.
FIG. 25.--AT TEDDINGTON.
"To Sarah Lewis, died June 11, 1766, aged
The emblem of Death was quite early crowned with laurel to signify
glory, and associated with foliage and flowers in token of the
Resurrection. One at Finchley is, for its years, well preserved.
FIG. 26.--AT FINCHLEY.
"To Richard Scarlett, died July 23, 1725."
Another at Farnborough is, considering the date, of exceptional merit.
FIG. 27.--AT FARNBOROUGH.
"To Elizabeth Stow, died 1744, aged 75 years."
[Illustration: FIG. 25. TEDDINGTON.]
[Illustration: FIG. 26. FINCHLEY.]
[Illustration: FIG. 27. FARNBOROUGH.]
[Illustration: FIG. 28. CHISELHURST.]
[Illustration: FIG. 29. HARTLEY.]
[Illustration: FIG. 30. WEST WICKHAM.]
[Illustration: FIG. 31. HORNSEY.]
A few others of the skull pattern with various additaments may
conclude this chapter. The cup in the Chiselhurst case is somewhat
FIG. 28.--AT CHISELHURST.
Name obliterated; date Nov. 1786.
The conventional symbols in the next example are clearly to be read.
FIG. 29.--AT HARTLEY.
"To Eliza Andersen, died 1771, aged 70 years."
The West Wickham specimen has its prototype in the old churchyard at
Hackney, and in other places.
FIG. 30.--AT WEST WICKHAM.
"To Richard Whiffen, died 1732, aged
In Fig. 31, from Hornsey, the two skulls present the appearance of
having been pitched up from the grave.
FIG. 31.--AT HORNSEY.
"To William Fleetwood, died Jan. 30, 1750,
aged 15 months."
In the later half of the eighteenth century greater pains and finer
workmanship appear to have been bestowed upon the symbolic figurement
of the gravestone, and the more elaborate allegorical representations
of which a few sketches have been given came into vogue and grew in
popular favour until the century's end. Nor did the opening of a new
century altogether abolish the fashion; perhaps it can hardly be
said to have been abolished even now at the century's close, but the
evidences extant combine to shew that the flourishing period of the
pictorial headstone lay well within the twenty-five years preceding
Anno Domini 1800. For the sake of comparison one with another, I have
taken, in addition to the sketch at page 1 (Fig. 1), three examples of
the device which seems most frequently to typify the resurrection
of the dead. In two of these the illustration is accompanied by a
quotation explanatory of its subject, but the words are not the same
in both cases. The stone at Horton Kirby, near Dartford, depicted in
Fig. 32, shews the inscription clearly.
FIG. 32.--AT HORTON KIRBY.
"To John Davidge. died April 22, 1775, aged
[Illustration: FIG. 32. HORTON KIRBY.]
[Illustration: FIG. 33. CLIFFE.]
In the second instance, at Cliffe, the inscription has been in great
part obliterated by time, but the words written were evidently those
of the chapter from Corinthians which is part of the Burial Service:
"O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
They are, however, almost illegible, and I have made no attempt to
reproduce them in the picture.
FIG. 33.--AT CLIFFE.
"To Mary Jackson, died March 26, 1768."
There is a second stone of similar pattern in Cliffe Churchyard, dated
1790. It differs from the foregoing only in having the spear broken.
The sculptor of another specimen at Darenth, near Dartford, thought
the subject worthy of broader treatment, and transferred it to a stone
about double the ordinary width, but did not vary the idea to any
great extent. Indeed, Horton Kirby and Darenth, being next-door
neighbours, have most features in common; the falling tower, which
symbolizes the Day of Judgment, appearing in both, while it is
absent from the more distant examples at Cliffe and Newhaven. The
introduction of the omniscient eye in the Cliffe case is, however,
a stroke of genius compared with the conventional palm branches at
Horton Kirby, or the flight through mid-air of the tower-tops both at
Horton Kirby and at Darenth.
FIG. 34.--AT DARENTH.
"To John Millen, died June 11th, 1786, aged
Outside the county of Kent I have met with nothing of this pattern,
and pictorial art on a similar scale is seldom seen on the gravestones
anywhere. Specimens from Lee, Cheshunt, Stapleford Tawney, and
elsewhere, will, however, be seen in subsequent pages.
The day of joyful resurrection is prefigured possibly in more
acceptable shape in the next instance, no imitation of which I have
seen in any of my rambles.
FIG. 35.--AT KINGSDOWN.
"To Ann Charman, died 1793, aged 54 years."
No one to whom I have shewn this sketch has given a satisfactory
interpretation of it, but it will be allowed that the design is as
graceful as it is uncommon. That it also in all likelihood refers to
the Day of Judgment may perhaps be regarded as a natural supposition.
Even the open or half-open coffin, shewing the skeleton within, may
possibly have some reference to the rising at the Last Day. We have
this figure employed in a comparatively recent case at Fawkham in
Kent, being one example of nineteenth-century sculpture.
FIG. 36.--AT FAWKHAM.
"Thomas Killick, died 1809, aged 1 month
A crown is usually the emblem of Victory, but held in the hand, as in
this instance, it indicates, I am told, an innocent life.
Other coffins displaying wholly or partly the corpse or skeleton
within are perhaps not intended to convey any such pious or
poetic thought as do the two foregoing, but simply to pourtray the
ghastliness of death, a kind of imagery much fancied by the old
[Illustration: FIG. 34. DARENTH.]
[Illustration: FIG. 35. KINGSDOWN.]
[Illustration: FIG. 36. FAWKHAM.]
[Illustration: FIG. 37. SWANSCOMBE.]
[Illustration: FIG. 38. ASHFORD.]
[Illustration: FIG. 39. COOLING.]
[Illustration: FIG. 40. HENDON.]
[Illustration: FIG. 41. EAST WICKHAM.]
[Illustration: FIG. 42. SNARGATE.]
[Illustration: FIG. 43. EAST HAM.]
FIG. 37.--AT SWANSCOMBE.
"To Elizabeth Hall, died 1779, aged 76 years."
FIG. 38.--AT ASHFORD.
"To Stephen Kennedy, died Sept. 1791, aged
In the latter illustration there are three stars to which I can give
no signification. The snake-ring is, of course, eternity, and the
book, as before surmised, may stand for the record of a good life.
More ingenious, more didactic, and altogether more meritorious than
these is another series of designs belonging to the same period of
time. They are not only as a rule conceived in better taste, but are,
almost consequently, better in their execution. The following example
from Cooling, a small village in the Medway Marshes, is an excellent
specimen of its class, and a very exceptional "find" for a spot so
FIG. 39.--AT COOLING.
"To M'r Richard Prebble of Cliffe, died April
One of later date at Hendon, Middlesex, is also to be commended. The
lyre, cornet, and tambourine speak of music, and the figures of Fame
and Hope are hardly to be misunderstood, but the large box in the
background is not quite certain of correct interpretation.
FIG. 40.--AT HENDON.
"To Ludwig August Leakfield, Esq., died
Nov. 22, 1810, aged 48 years."
The following is rougher in form, but seems to have suffered from the
weather. It needs no explanation.
FIG. 41.--AT EAST WICKHAM.
"To Thomas Vere of Woolwich, shipwright,
died 10th August, 1789."
The two next subjects are to be found in many variations. The angel
with the cross in each case may represent salvation proclaimed.
FIG. 42.--AT SNARGATE.
"To Edward Wood, died Sept. 1779, aged
FIG. 43.--AT EAST HAM.
"To Mr Richard Wright, died July 28, 1781,
aged 39 years."
The winged scroll in Fig. 44 is unfolded to display, we may suppose, a
register of good and holy deeds done in an extended life. The scythes
and the reversed torches may be taken at their usual significance,
which is death. This is copied from a stone in the churchyard of
Wilmington by Dartford Heath.
[Illustration: FIG. 44. WILMINGTON.]
[Illustration: FIG. 45. WANSTEAD.]
[Illustration: FIG. 46. SOUTHFLEET.]
[Illustration: FIG. 47. WILMINGTON.]
[Illustration: FIG. 48. LEWISHAM.]
[Illustration: FIG. 49. BUNHILL FIELDS.]
FIG. 44.--AT WILMINGTON.
"To Richard Barman, died 1793, aged 71 years."
More elegant testimony is paid by the figure of a winged urn in
Wanstead Old Churchyard, the flame which burns above indicating,
it would seem, that though the body be reduced to ashes, the soul
FIG. 45.--AT WANSTEAD.
"To William Cleverly, died 1780, aged
Eternity is usually, as we have seen, represented by an endless
ring--often as a serpent. It is so in the Southfleet sketch, in which
appear the two horns of the archangels, and the living torch, with
some other objects which are not quite clearly defined.
FIG. 46.--AT SOUTHFLEET.
"To John Palmer, died 1781, aged 61 years."
In another selection from Wilmington the winged hour-glass may be read
as the flight of time, the cloud is probably the future life, and the
bones below convey their customary moral.
FIG. 47.--AT WILMINGTON.
"To Ann Parsons, died Nov. 3, 1777, aged
Sometimes, but not often, will be found engraved on a stone the
suggestive fancy of an axe laid at the foot of a tree, or some
metaphorical figure to the same intent. An instance occurs at
Lewisham in which the idea is conveyed by the pick and shovel under a
FIG. 48.--AT LEWISHAM.
"To Thomas Lambert, died Nov. 25, 1781,
aged 59 years."
A symbol so simple and yet so significant as this is scarcely to be
surpassed. One almost in the same category is the following, a small
anaglyph in Bunhill Fields Burial-ground, London.
FIG. 49.--AT BUNHILL FIELDS, LONDON.
"To Elizabeth Sharp, who died Oct. 20, 1752,
aged 31 years."
It is easy to read in this illustration the parable of death
destroying a fruitful vine, and as a picture it is not inelegant. It
is more remarkable as being, so far as I can find, the one solitary
instance of an allegorical gravestone among the thousands of
gravestones in the vast and carefully guarded burial-place in the City
Road. Strictly speaking, death's heads and crossbones are allegorical,
but these must be excepted for their very abundance and their lack of
novelty. Possibly, also, the lichen, damp, and London climate, which
have obliterated many of the inscriptions in this old cemetery, may
have been fatal to the low relief which is requisite for figure work
of the kind under consideration. But Bunhill Fields and similar places
in and near London and other great towns have taught me the law to
which I have already referred--the law that the picture-tombstone was
country bred, and could never have endured under the modern conditions
of life in or near the centres of civilization.
There are exceptions, perhaps many, to this ruling, as there are
exceptions to every other. For instance, a stone at the grave of a
Royal Artillery Officer in Woolwich Churchyard combines the emblems
of his earthly calling with those of his celestial aspirations in
a medley arrangement not unusual in rural scenes, but hardly to be
reconciled with the education and refinement of a large garrison and
school of military science which Woolwich was in 1760. This must be
set down as one of the exceptions which prove the rule.
FIG. 50.--AT WOOLWICH.
"To Lieut. Thomas Sanders, late of the Royal
Regiment of Artillery, who died March
1760, aged 60 (?) years."
There is a more recent case in which the same idea is pourtrayed in
somewhat different fashion on a headstone in the obsolete graveyard of
St. Oswald, near the Barracks at York. It is dedicated to John Kay,
a private in the Royal Scots Greys, who died July 9, 1833, aged 34
But, on the whole, it may be accepted as an axiom that originality has
shunned the town churchyards, and the absence of curious varieties
of the gravestone among the well-sown acres of Bunhill Fields and
such-like places of the period at which they were by comparison so
abundant in less considered localities admits of a simple explanation.
In the eighteenth century town and country were much more divided than
they are now. London and the rural districts were not on their present
level. Taste in art and in the ordinary affairs of life was being
cultivated in town; it was not even encouraged in the country.
Education and refinement were not thought to be desirable
accomplishments in a rustic population, but dwellers in cities had
been for generations improving their manners, and thus it was that no
such provincial vulgarity as a decorated tombstone could be tolerated
in the choice metropolis.
The clergy were always the masters in such matters, and their
influence is seen in many places, even in the villages, in keeping
the churchyard free from ridicule; but, broadly speaking, there is
no doubt that the rectors and vicars in London and other large cities
began quite a hundred years earlier than those of the villages that
control and supervision over the carving and inscriptions on
the tombstone which is now the almost universal rule. It was
unquestionably the adoption of this practice by the country parson,
late in the eighteenth century or early in the nineteenth century,
that put an end in rural places to the "period" of illustrated
epitaphs which had long gone out of fashion, or, more likely, had
never come into being, among the busier hives of humanity.
A rare variety of the cloud-and-angel series, which are so frequent,
is seen in Longfield Churchyard on the Maidstone Road. Trumpets of
the speaking or musical order are frequently introduced to typify the
summons to resurrection, but here we have the listener pourtrayed by
the introduction of an ear-trumpet.
[Illustration: FIG. 50. WOOLWICH.]
[Illustration: FIG. 51. LONGFIELD.]
FIG. 51.--AT LONGFIELD.
"To Mary Davidge, died 1772, aged 69 years."
Allegorical gravestones of recent date, that is of the time which we
call the present day, are very seldom seen, and such as there are do
not come within the scope of this work. There is one in West
Wickham Churchyard devoted to a chorister, and sculptured with a
representation of the church organ-pipes. Memorials to deceased
Freemasons are perhaps the most frequent of late carvings, as in the
sketch from Lydd in the Romney Marsh district.
FIG. 52.--AT LYDD.
"To John Finn, died June 9th, 1813, aged 30 years."
Occasionally, too, some plain device appears on even a modern
headstone, such as the following, which is one of the few I have from
the London area. The graves of the same half-century may be searched
without finding many carvings more ambitious than this.
FIG. 53.--AT ST. JAMES'S, BERMONDSEY.
"To Charles Thomas Henry Evans, died 1849."
Churchyards beside the Upper Thames are nearly all prolific in old
gravestones, the riparian settlements having been well populated
during the favourable period. This is especially the case at Richmond
and Twickenham, but of the great number of eighteenth-century stones
in both churchyards there are few very remarkable. Richmond has a rare
specimen of the _full-relief_ skull. The death's head has on either
side of it the head of an angel in half-relief. The stone is a double
one, and I have never met its fellow.
FIG. 54.--AT RICHMOND.
"To Annie Smedley (?), died 1711, aged
As companions to this I present a pair of dwarf stones with
full-relief heads of seraphs and cherubs--an agreeable change--from
the same county.
FIG. 55.--AT RIPLEY.
"To Sarah wife of Henry Bower, died 1741.
To Henry Bower, died March 23rd, 1758."
The Rector of the parish passed as I was sketching these interesting
objects, and was surprised to find that he had anything so unusual in
[Illustration: FIG. 52. LYDD.]
[Illustration: FIG. 53. BERMONDSEY.]
[Illustration: FIG. 54. RICHMOND.]
[Illustration: FIG. 55. RIPLEY.]
[Illustration: FIG. 56. COBHAM.]
[Illustration: FIG. 57. BARNES.]
It is more than likely that somewhere will be found a pictorial
accompaniment to the verse which has been often used as an epitaph
for a village blacksmith. I have met with the lines in two or
three versions, of which the following, copied in the churchyard at
Aberystwith, appears to be the most complete:
"My sledge and hammer lie reclined;
My bellows too have lost their wind;
My fire extinct, my forge decay'd,
And in the dust my vice is laid.
My coal is spent, my iron's gone;
My nails are drove, my worck is done."
There are many instances in which the implements of his craft are
depicted upon an artizan's tomb; these also for the most part being
of the eighteenth century. In the churchyard at Cobham, a village made
famous by the Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, is a gravestone
recording the death of a carpenter, having at the head a shield
bearing three compasses to serve as his crest, and under it the usual
tools of his trade--square, mallet, compasses, wedge, saw, chisel,
hammer, gimlet, plane, and two-foot rule.
FIG. 56.--AT COBHAM, KENT.
"To Richard Gransden, carpenter, died 13th
This one may serve as a fair sample of all the trade memorials to
which carpenters have been, before all classes of mechanics, the most
prone. The carvings bear the same strong resemblance to each other
that we find in other series of gravestones, but have occasional
variations, as in the following specimen, which mixes up somewhat
grotesquely the emblems of death and eternity with the mundane
instruments of skill and labour, including therein a coffin lid
to shew maybe that the man, besides being a carpenter, was also an
FIG. 57.--AT BARNES.
"To Henry Mitchell, died 1724, aged 72 years."
It was only to be expected that the prominent agriculturists of rural
districts would be figuratively represented on their gravestones,
and this will be found to be the case in a number of instances. The
following illustration is from the churchyard of Frindsbury, a short
distance out of Rochester and on the edge of the Medway meadows.
FIG. 58.--AT FRINDSBURY.
The inscription is effaced, but the date appears
to be 1751.
The overturned sheaf presumably refers metaphorically to the fate of
the farmer whom the stone was set up to commemorate. The old-fashioned
plough is cut only in single profile, but is not an ineffective
emblem. I imagine that the ribbon above the plough bore at one time
some inscribed words which time has obliterated.
[Illustration: FIG. 58. FRINDSBURY.]
[Illustration: FIG. 59. SUTTON AT HONE.]
[Illustration: FIG. 60. BROMLEY.]
[Illustration: FIG. 61. BECKENHAM.]
The design invented by the sculptor at Sutton at Hone, near Dartford,
is less original and also less striking.
FIG. 59.--AT SUTTON AT HONE.
"To Richard Northfield, died Oct. 19, 1767,
aged 71 years."
In the case of John Bone, bricklayer, of Bromley, Kent, it would
probably be wrong to associate with his calling the tools engraved on
his headstone. They were probably meant with the rest of the picture
to represent the emblems of mortality.
FIG. 60.--AT BROMLEY.
"To John Bone, Bricklayer, died Dec. 14,
1794, aged 48 years."
There is, however, one stone which may be included in the category of
trade memorials, though its subject was not a mechanic. Mr. John Cade
was a schoolmaster at Beckenham, and appears to have been well liked
by his pupils, who, when he prematurely died, placed a complimentary
epitaph over his grave. The means by which he had imparted knowledge
are displayed upon the stone, and below are the lines hereinafter set
FIG. 61.--AT BECKENHAM.
"To the memory of John Cade, of this parish,
schoolmaster. One skilled in his profession
and of extensive ingenuity. As
he lived universally beloved, so he died
as much lamented, August 28th, 1750, aged
35 years. Several of his scholars, moved
by affection and gratitude, at their own
expense erected this in remembrance of
his worth and merit.
"Virtue, good nature, learning, all combined
To render him belov'd of human kind."
Greenford, near Harrow-on-the-Hill, had quite recently a worthy
inhabitant who was a gardener and presumably a beekeeper also.
Accordingly a beehive appropriately decorates his gravestone.
FIG. 62.--AT GREENFORD.
"To William King, upwards of 60 years
gardener of this parish, died Dec. 16th,
1863, aged 84 years."
The next problem is rather more doubtful, and in considering the
possibility of the memorial indicated being "professional," we must
remember that the parish of West Ham, now a populous place, was quite
out of town and almost undiscovered until a comparatively recent time.
Its eighteenth-century gravestones are consequently for the most part
rustic and primitive. The skull and other bones here depicted, decked
with wheat-ears and other vegetation, probably have some literal
reference to the agricultural pursuits of the deceased, although of
course they may be only poetical allusions to the life to come.
FIG. 63.--AT WEST HAM.
"To Andrew James, died 1754, aged 68 years."
A TYPICAL TRAMP IN KENT.
This unpretentious work makes no claim to deal with the whole subject
which it has presumed to open. Its aim is rather to promote in others
the desire which actuates the author to follow up and develop the new
field of antiquarian research which it has attempted to introduce.
As old Weever says, in his quaint style:--"I have gained as much as
I have looke for if I shall draw others into this argument whose
inquisitive diligence and learning may finde out more and amende
This book, then, is not a treatise, but simply a first collection of
churchyard curiosities, the greater number of which have been gathered
within a comparatively small radius. It is only the hoard of one
collector and the contents of one sketch-book, all gleaned in about
a hundred parishes. Many collectors may multiply by thousands these
results, bring out fresh features, and possibly points of high
Two chief purposes therefore animate my desire to publish this work.
One is to supply such little information as I have gleaned on a
subject which has by some singular chance escaped especial recognition
from all the multitude of authors, antiquarians, and literary men.
I have searched the Museum libraries, and consulted book-collectors,
well-read archaeologists, and others likely to know if there is any
work descriptive of old gravestones in existence, and nothing with
the remotest relation thereto can I discover. There are, of course,
hundreds of books of epitaphs, more or less apocryphal, but not
one book, apocryphal or otherwise, regarding the allegories of the
churchyard. Can it be that the subject is bereft of interest? If so, I
have made my venture in vain. But I trust that it is not so.
[Footnote 1: The Rev. Charles Boutell published, in 1849, parts 1 and
2 of a periodical work entitled "Christian Monuments in England and
Wales," proposing to complete the same in five sections; the fifth to
treat of headstones and other churchyard memorials, with some general
observations on modern monuments. The two parts brought the
subject down to the fifteenth century, and were so ably written and
beautifully illustrated as to intensify our regret at the incompletion
of the task.]
The second object is to recommend to others a new and delightful
hobby, and possibly bring to bear upon my theme an accumulation of
knowledge and combination of light. Gravestone hunting implies long
walks in rural scenes, with all the expectations, none of the risks,
and few of the disappointments of other pursuits. From ten to fifteen
miles may be mapped out for a fair day's trudge, and will probably
embrace from three to six parish churchyards, allowing time to inspect
the church as well as its surroundings. Saturdays are best for these
excursions, for then the pew-openers are dusting out the church, and
the sexton is usually about, sweeping the paths or cutting the grass.
The church door will in most cases be open, and you can get the
guidance you want from the best possible sources. A chat with the
village sexton is seldom uninviting, and he can generally point out
everything worth your observation. But the faculty of finding that of
which you are in search will soon come to you. In the first place, the
new portion of a churchyard--there is nearly always a new portion--may
be left on one side. You will certainly find no ancient memorials
there. In the next place, you may by a little observation pick out the
eighteenth-century stones by their shape, which is as a rule much more
ornamented and curvilinear than those of later date. They may also
be detected very often by the roughness of their backs as well as by
their weather-beaten complexions, and with a little experience and
practice the student may guess correctly within a few years the age of
any particular one seen even in the distance.
[Illustration: FIG. 62. GEEENFORD.]
[Illustration: FIG. 63. WEST HAM.]
To tempt the reader therefore to take up the study which I have found
so pleasant, so healthful, and so interesting, I now propose to
place in order the proceeds of a few of my rambles, and shew how much
success the reader may also expect in similar expeditions. His or her
stock-in-trade should consist of a good-sized note-book or sketch-book
of paper not too rough for fine lines, a B B pencil of reliable
quality, and a small piece of sandstone or brick to be used in rubbing
off the dirt and moss which sometimes obscure inscriptions. No kind
of scraper should ever be employed, lest the crumbling memorial be
damaged; but a bit of brick or soft stone will do no harm, and will
often bring to view letters and figures which have apparently quite
disappeared. If a camera be taken, a carpenter's pencil may be of
service in strengthening half-vanished lines, and a folded foot-rule
should always be in the pocket. A mariner's compass is sometimes
useful in strange places, but the eastward position of a church will
always give the bearings, and a native is usually to be found to point
the way. A road map of the county which you are about to explore, or,
if in the vicinity of London, one of those admirable and well-known
handbooks of the field paths, is useful, and the journey should be
carefully plotted out before the start. A friend and companion
of congenial tastes adds, I need not say, to the enjoyment of the
excursion. My constant associate has happily a craze for epitaphs, but
does not fancy sketching even in the rough style which answers well
enough for my work, and I have had therefore no competitor. Together
we have scoured all the northern part of Kent and visited every
Kentish church within twenty miles of London. The railway also will
occasionally land us near some old church which we may like to visit,
and it was while waiting half an hour for a train at Blackheath
station that I picked up the accompanying choice specimen in the
ancient burial-ground of Lee.
FIG. 64.--AT LEE.
"To Eliza Drayton, died 11th May, 1770."
In this allegory Time appears to be commanding Death to extinguish the
lamp of Life. The sun may mean the brighter life beyond. The building
to the right is an enigma.
Often the first six or seven miles have to be encountered before we
reach unexplored ground. The Cray Valley, for instance, may be cited
for one day's experience. First a walk of seven miles to Orpington,
one of the five sister churches of the Crays--all said to be
Anglo-Saxon and of about one date. I must not digress to speak of
churches, but it is only reasonable to suppose that the student who is
capable of taking up as a pastime the investigation of churchyards has
previously acquired something more or less of archaeological taste,
and will not fail to notice the churches. We reach the churchyard
of Orpington, visit the church, and then my companion and I separate
for our respective duties. I am not fortunate in securing any special
prize, but it is well to select some object if only as a souvenir of
the visit, and I jot down the following, which may be classed among
the commonest order of all figurative headstones, but is nevertheless
noticeable as a variant.
[Footnote 2: There are several handbooks of church architecture, and the
rudiments of the various orders and dates are easily acquired.]
[Illustration: FIG. 64. LEE.]
[Illustration: FIG. 65. ORPINGTON.]
FIG. 65.--AT ORPINGTON, KENT.
"To Hosa Mansfield, daughter of John and
Martha Mansfield, died 24th May 1710,
aged 26 years. Also James Mansfield,
son of John and Martha Mansfield, died
30th Dec'r 1746, aged 48 years."
The work in this instance is crude, and apparently done by an inexpert
craftsman. The stone is, however, decayed, and it is possible that
it is the draughtsman who has blundered. The two skulls, being of
different sizes, suggest the male and female occupants of the grave,
and would therefore assign the production to the later rather than
the earlier date. The two bones are not often found in so lateral
a position, and the vampire wings are clumsy in the extreme. I have
collected varieties of the skull and crossbone character in many
places, and seen the eccentricities of many masons in the way of
wings, but have met with very few so far astray as these. While I am
engaged in transferring the specimen to my book, our epitaph hunter
has been round and discovered a treasure. I shall not trouble the
reader with him henceforth, but I may note just this one of his
successes as a sample of the rewards which attend his part in the
pilgrimage. He has found a stone thus inscribed:
"Here lyeth the body of Mary, the wife of
John Smith: she died March 17th, 1755,
aged 58 years.
"Here lyeth Mary, never was contrary
To me nor her neighbours around her;
Like Turtle and Dove we lived in love,
And I left her where I may find her.
"Also John Smith, husband of the above."
(Date sunk underground.)
A short walk through the village and by the Cray River brings us to
the church of St. Mary Cray, where I secure a new species, in which
Death is doubly symbolized by the not infrequent scythe and possibly
also by the pierced heart. The latter might refer to the bereaved
survivor, but, being a-flame, seems to lend itself more feasibly to
the idea of the immortal soul. The trumpet and the opening coffin
indicate peradventure the resurrection.
FIG. 66.--AT ST. MARY CRAY.
"To Thomas Abbott, died May 21, 1773, aged
[Illustration: FIG. 66. ST. MARY CRAY.]
[Illustration: FIG. 67. ST. PAUL'S CRAY.]
Only a short distance farther, for the churches are small, we reach
St. Paul's Cray, the burial-ground of which shews that the foregoing
allegory was immediately duplicated, apparently by another hand, with
just a little variation to redeem the piracy. The coffin is quite
opened and empty, instead of being slightly open and tenanted, which
is almost the only difference between the May and the September work.
FIG. 67.--AT ST. PAUL'S CRAY.
"To John Busbey, died 1st Sept'r 1773, aged
Foot's Cray is a good long step beyond and does not yield much profit,
but I select the most novel specimen, which is a combination
of ordinary emblems, with little attempt at symmetry, or even
arrangement, other than the awkward juxtaposition of the cherubins'
FIG. 68.--AT FOOT'S CRAY.
"To Elizabeth Wood, died February 8, 1735-6,
aged 58 years."
The churchyard at North Cray added nothing at all to my collection.
This was the only blank drawn that day, but a beautifully kept ground
surrounding a delightful church well repaid the visit. A call at Old
Bexley Church completed the day's work, and gave me one of the few
sketches belonging to the nineteenth century which I have made.
FIG. 69.--AT OLD BEXLEY.
"To Susannah, wife of Henry Humphrey,
died 26th December 1805, aged 57 years."
The anchor stands for Hope, the draped urn signifies mourning for the
dead, and the figure reading the Holy Book suggests consolation. From
Bexley Church to the railway station was but a brief space. The day's
tramp was ended.
[Illustration: FIG. 68. FOOT'S CRAY.]
[Illustration: FIG. 69. BEXLEY.]
MORE TYPICAL TRAMPS.
How far county divisions might affect the early fashions in
gravestones was one of my first questions, and, having seen much of
Kent, time was soon found for a scamper through the country bordering
Epping Forest and along the backbone of Essex.
At Barking, just within the old Abbey gate, I came upon an enigmatical
FIG. 70.--AT BARKING.
Inscription illegible. Date appears to be 1759.
The signification of the four balls I am unable to suggest, unless
they be connected in some way with the planetary system and point
man's insignificance. They appear to emanate from a cloud resting upon
the hour-glass, and may help the other emblems in symbolizing time and
eternity. The nickering candle is also of doubtful interpretation. It
may mean the brevity of life; it can hardly be needed, in the presence
of the skull, to indicate death. The candle is sometimes employed
alone, occasionally extinguished. At Woolwich there is an instance in
which the candle is in the act of being put out.
FIG. 71.--AT WOOLWICH.
"To Siston Champion, died 27th Feb. 1749-50
(a few days after the birth of her child),
aged 28 years."
The candle is indeed commonly used as a simile of life's uncertainty
in all countries, and it may be that where it is represented in a
state of burning it may be meant as a lesson on the number of our
days. It is seen with the skulls in the churchyard of St. Nicholas,
Deptford, and other places.
FIG. 72.--AT DEPTFORD.
"To William Firth, died 1724, aged 21 years."
In West Ham Churchyard may be seen the figure of the kissing cherubs
rather prettily rendered, but to be found in various forms in many
places, and always expressive of affection.
FIG. 73.--AT WEST HAM.
"To Sarah Moore, died 1749."
Wanstead Churchyard is remarkable for the abundance and originality
of its old gravestones. Here is one (Fig. 74) which carries more
distinctly the fanciful idea suggested at West Ham (page 34, Fig. 63);
flowers and foliage, and even fruit, combining with the lowered torch
and summoning trumpet to tell of life beyond the grave.
FIG. 74.--AT WANSTEAD.
"To William Bosely, died 1712, aged 79."
[Illustration: FIG. 70. BARKING.]
[Illustration: FIG. 71. WOOLWICH.]
[Illustration: FIG. 72. DEPTFORD.]
[Illustration: FIG. 73. WEST HAM.]
[Illustration: FIG. 74. WANSTEAD.]
[Illustration: FIG. 75. WANSTEAD.]
There are several other variations of the same symbol in the elegant
enclosure at Wanstead Church; but the most remarkable of the old
stones is one which has at the top corners two projecting skulls, the
one facing nearly to the front and the other in profile, both standing
out in full relief, carefully and accurately sculptured, but too
ghastly to be beautiful. This one, the Richmond example, and the two
at Ripley constitute my entire experience of full relief work on a
FIG. 75.--AT WANSTEAD.
"To William Swan, died 1715, aged 16 years."
Other churchyards in the locality we found less fruitful, and taking
rail to Buckhurst Hill, we struck across Epping Forest to Chingford,
also without profit, and walked on to Walthamstow, where another of
the enfoliated death's-head pictures was found; the novelty being two
skulls with ivy sprays, symbolical of evergreen recollections.
FIG. 76.--AT WALTHAMSTOW.
"To Jane Redfern, died 1734, aged 52 years,"
In the Broxbourne example on the same Plate (Fig. 77) branches of oak,
bearing leaves and acorns, are used with good decorative effect on
either side of a porch in which is seated a mourning figure, but I
cannot undertake to explain the symbolical significance of the oak in
FIG. 77.--AT BROXBOURNE.
"To Mrs Rowe, widow, died 6 May 1798."
My excursions into Essex have been too limited in scope to trace or
test peculiarities in that county, but I have found by observation in
a number of counties that, although there are occasional evidences
of local invention, or at least of local modification, in certain
districts, the same set of types which prevails in one county serves
pretty well for all the rest.
It is well therefore to guard against disappointment. Pilgrimages
like ours, having for their real purpose healthy exercise and physical
enjoyment, are not to be counted failures when their ostensible errand
seems to have borne no result. It is necessary for the pilgrim to
be armed with some such reflection as this against the shafts of
discomfiture. There have been occasions when, at the close of the
day, conscious as I might be of the pleasant hours past, the freshened
brain and the body reinvigorated, I have yet covetously mourned the
scanty and valueless additions to my note-book. Other pilgrims may
therefore take warning, be prepared for blank days in barren coverts,
and sully not their satisfaction with regrets. But it will be a blank
day indeed which does not carry its pleasures with it and store the
mind with happy recollections. One walk on a winter's day over the
hills from High Barnet to Edgware I reckoned sadly unproductive of the
special novelties I sought, but it afforded me the contemplation of
some landscapes which I can never forget, and it printed on my brain a
little _papier-mache_-like church at Totteridge which was worth going
miles to see. Better fortune next time should be the beacon of the
gentle tramp. The long jaunt I had from Chigwell Lane Station through
the pretty but unpopulous country west of Theydon Bois, uneventful as
it was, made an ineffaceable mark on my memory. I picture now the long
and solitary walk across fields and woodlands, with never a soul to
tell the way for miles and miles, crossing and recrossing the winding
Roden, startling the partridges from the turnips, and surprising, at
some sudden bend in the footpath, the rabbits at their play. It is
not without excitement to steer one's course over unknown and forsaken
ground by chart and compass. These needful guides then prove their
value, and in a hilly country an altitude-barometer is a friend not
to be despised. It is not without some pride in one's self-reliance
to find one's self five miles from a railway station, as I did at
Stapleford Abbotts; and, though my special quest was all in vain
at several halting-places that day, I met with a Norman doorway at
Lambourn Church which archaeologists would call a dream, the axe-work
of the old masons as clean cut and as perfect as though it had been
done last week; and in taking a near cut at a guess across country for
Stapleford Tawney I mind me that I lost my way, or thought I had, but
the mariner's needle was true, and emerging in a green avenue I saw
before me a finger-post marked "To Tawney Church." I took off my
hat and respectfully saluted that finger-post, and was soon in
the churchyard, where I haply lighted upon one of the gems of my
collection, the headstone sculpture of "The Good Samaritan."
[Illustration: FIG. 76. WALTHAMSTOW.]
[Illustration: FIG. 77. BROXBOURNE.]
FIG. 78.--AT STAPLEFORD TAWNEY.
"To Richard Wright, died 3d March 1781,
aged 76 years."
I have, however, an earlier study of the same subject from the
churchyard at Shorne Village, near Gravesend, which, is here given
for comparison, and I have seen two others at Cranbrook. They all have
some features alike, but there are differences in the treatment of
details in each case.
FIG. 79.--AT SHORNE.
"To Mary Layton, died Jan. 12, 1760; Joseph
Layton, died May 21, 1757; and Will.
Holmes, died Aug. 26, 1752."
The stone at Shorne being close to the church door is well known to
the villagers, by whom it is regarded as a curiosity. The schoolmaster
was good enough to give me a photograph from which my sketch is
made. But such rarities are seldom esteemed by, or even known to, the
inhabitants of a place, and are passed by without heed by the constant
congregation of the church. At Stapleford Tawney, just named, a
native, the first I had seen for a mile or two, stopped at the
unwonted sight of a stranger sketching in the churchyard, and I
consulted him as to application of the parable of the Good Samaritan
in the case under notice. His reply was that, though he had lived
there "man and boy for fifty year," he had "never see'd the
thing afore." He condescended, however, to take an interest in my
explanations, and seemed to realize that it was worth while to seek
for objects of interest even in a churchyard. This was decidedly
better than the behaviour on another occasion of two rustics at
Southfleet. They had passed my friend jotting down an epitaph, and the
turn of a corner revealed me sketching a tombstone, when one to the
other exclaimed, "Land sikes, Bill, if 'ere ain't another on em!"
[Illustration: FIG. 78. STAPLEFORD TAWNEY.]
[Illustration: FIG. 79. SHORNE.]
Although memorials of the dead in one shape or another have apparently
existed in all eras of ethnological history, it would seem that the
upright gravestone of our burial-grounds has had a comparatively brief
existence of but a few hundred years. This, however, is merely an
inference based on present evidences, and it may be erroneous. But
they cannot have existed in the precincts of the early Christian
churches of this country, because the churches had no churchyards for
several centuries. The Romans introduced into Britain their Law of the
Ten Tables, by which it was ordained that "all burnings or burials"
should be "beyond the city," and the system continued to prevail
long after the Roman evacuation. It was not until A.D. 742 that
Cuthbert, eleventh Archbishop of Canterbury, brought from Rome the
newer custom of burying around the churches, and was granted a Papal
dispensation for the practice. The churchyards even then were not
enclosed, but it was usual to mark their sacred character by
erecting stone crosses, many of which, or their remains, are still in
existence. Yet it was a long time before churchyard interments became
general, the inhabitants clinging to the Pagan habit of indiscriminate
burial in their accustomed places. We hear nothing of headstones in
the early days of Christianity, but there are occasionally found in
certain localities inscribed stones which bear the appearance of rude
memorials, and these have been regarded as relics of our National
Church in its primitive state. It is also suggested that these stones
may be of Druidical origin, but there is nothing to support the
theory. Among the aboriginal Britons the custom of simple inhumation
was probably prevalent, but there are not wanting evidences in
support of the belief that cremation also was sometimes practised in
prehistoric times. An instance of early interment was discovered in
a tumulus at Gusthorp, near Scarborough, in 1834. In a rude coffin
scooped out of the trunk of an oak-tree lay a human skeleton, which
had been wrapped or clothed in the skin of some wild animal, fastened
at the breast with a pin or skewer of wood. In the coffin were also a
bronze spearhead and several weapons of flint--facts which all go to
establish a remote date. The absence of pottery is also indicative of
a very early period. Regarding the skins, however, it may be remarked
that Caesar says of the Britons, when he invaded the island, that "the
greater part within the country go clad in skins."
[Footnote 3: The ancient Jewish burial-ground had to be no less than
2000 cubits (or about a mile) from the Levitical city.]
Christian burials, as we have seen, cannot be dated in England earlier
than the eighth century, and monuments at the grave may have possibly
originated about the same period, but there is nothing whatever to
sustain such a belief, and we cannot assign the earliest of existing
memorials to a time prior to the eleventh century. Indeed it is very
significant to find that the tombs within the churches are only a
trifle older than the gravestones outside, scarcely any of them being
antecedent to the sixteenth century. As burials inside churches were
not permitted until long after the churchyards were used for the
purpose, it is indeed possible that no memorials were placed in the
edifice until Tudor days; but this is scarcely feasible, and the more
probable explanation is that all the earlier ones have disappeared.
Those which can boast an antiquity greater than that of the common
gravestone are very few indeed. It might have been supposed that the
sculptured shrine under the roof of the sanctuary, reverently tended
and jealously watched, might have stood for a thousand years, while
the poor gravestone out in the churchyard, exposed to all weathers
and many kinds of danger, would waste away or meet with one of the
ordinary fates which attend ill-usage, indifference, or neglect. This
indeed has happened in a multitude of places. Who has not seen
in ancient churchyards the headstones leaning this way and that,
tottering to their fall? Are there not hundreds of proofs that the
unclaimed stones have been used, and still serve, for the floors of
the churches, and actually for the paving of the churchyard paths?
It was not thought strange, even within the memory of the present
generation, to advertise for owners of old graves, with an intimation
that on a certain date the stones would be removed; and vast numbers
of them were thus got rid of--broken up perhaps to mend the roads.
But still greater perils have been survived by the earlier of those
memorials which remain to us, both without and within the churches.
The dissolution of the Papal power in Great Britain was the cause of
one of these hazards; for, towards the latter end of Henry VIII.'s
reign, likewise during the reign of Edward VI., and again in the
beginning of Elizabeth's, commissioners in every county were vested
with authority to destroy "all graven images" and everything which
seemed to savour of "idolatry and superstition." Under colour of this
order, these persons, and those who sympathized in their work, gave
vent to their zeal in many excesses, battering down and breaking up
everything of an ornamental or sculptured character, including tombs
and even the stained windows. Moreover we are told by Weever that
the commission was made the excuse for digging up coffins in the hope
of finding treasure. Elizabeth soon perceived the evil that was being
done by the barbarous rage and greediness of her subjects, and
issued a proclamation under her own hand restraining all "ignorant,
malicious, and covetous persons" from breaking and defacing any
monument, tomb, or grave, under penalty of fine or imprisonment. This
checked, but did not wholly cure, the mischief; and, although in her
fourteenth year of sovereignty she issued another and sterner edict on
the subject, the havoc was perpetuated chiefly by a sect or party whom
Weever describes as "a contagious brood of scismaticks," whose object
was not only to rob the churches, but to level them with the ground,
as places polluted by all the abominations of Babylon. These
people were variously known as Brownists, Barrowists, Martinists,
Prophesyers, Solisidians, Famelists, Rigid Precisians, Disciplinarians,
and Judaical Thraskists. Some who overstepped the mark paid the penalty
with their lives. One man, named Hachet, not content with destroying
gravestones and statuary, thrust an iron weapon through a picture of
the Queen, and he was hanged and quartered. Another, John Penry, a
Welshman, was executed in 1593, and of him was written:
"The Welshman is hanged
Who at our kirke flanged
And at her state banged,
And brened are his buks.
And though he be hanged
Yet he is not wranged,
The de'ul has him fanged
In his kruked kluks."
[Footnote 4: The unhealthy practice of using churches for this purpose
was continued some way into the nineteenth century. The still more
objectionable plan of depositing coffins containing the dead in
vaults under churches still lingers on. In 1875 I attended the funeral
(so-called) of a public man, whose coffin was borne into the vaults of
a town church, and left there, with scores of others piled in heaps in
recesses which looked like wine-cellars. Not one of the many mourners
who shared in that experience failed to feel horrified at the thought
of such a fate. Some of the old coffins were tumbling to pieces, and
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