Memorials and Literary Links

Click to a larger version of Oxford Martyrs’ Cross, Broad Street, Oxford: photo © Mick Sharp

Oxford Martyrs’ Cross, Broad Street, Oxford: photo © Mick Sharp

Henry VIII’s desperate attempts to produce a secure male heir, his legal and theological manoeuvrings through a succession of marriages and the resulting break with Rome, created an environment rich in opportunities for persecution and sacrifice. When the Catholic daughter of Henry and Catherine of Aragon became Queen Mary I (1553-8), on the death of her half-brother Edward VI (1547-53), it was time to settle old scores with England’s senior Protestant clerics and leaders of the Reformation. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had laid the foundations of the Church of England, sent Catholics to the stake and declared Mary a bastard. Imprisoned by Mary, Cranmer signed several life-saving recantations of his Protestant beliefs, but he was burnt alive in The Broad outside Balliol College on 21 March 1556. Retracting previous denials, Cranmer thrust his signing hand into the flames, declaring ‘This hand hath offended! Oh this unworthy hand.’ On the morning of 16 October the previous year, Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, and Hugh Latimer, the former Bishop of Worcester and chaplain to Anne Boleyn, had suffered a similar fate. As the flames went about their deadly business, Latimer encouraged his companion: ‘Be of good comfort Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England as I trust shall never be put out.’ As well as the cobblestone cross on the site, a Victorian memorial to the Oxford Martyrs stands opposite the Ashmolean Museum. Mary created nearly 300 martyrs, but failed to halt the English Reformation and the accession of her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth I.
Click to a larger version of Wigtown Churchyard Covenanters’ Graves, Dumfries & Galloway (Church of Scotland): photo © Jean Willi

Wigtown Churchyard Covenanters’ Graves, Dumfries & Galloway (Church of Scotland): photo © Jean Willi

Margaret Wilson, aged 18, Margaret McLauchlan, 63: staked to the foreshore and drowned by the rising sea. William Johnston, John Millroy, George Walker: hanged without sentence of law, 1685. The distinctive inscriptions, carved by Robert Paterson in the 1700s, commemorate five Covenanters martyred during the ‘Killing Times’. The Scottish Reformation promised a Protestant, Presbyterian Church run by elected elders (presbyters) and ministers, based on the apostolic model of the New Testament. Stuart kings of England and Scotland thought an Episcopalian Church, ruled by bishops under royal authority, a much better idea. At Greyfriars (Edinburgh) in 1638, a National Covenant against Charles I’s religious and civil policies was signed. Charles lost both of the Bishops Wars, and the Scottish Parliament signed a treaty with Oliver Cromwell in 1643. Pro-Stuart Highland and Irish armies fought against the Covenanters who sought deals with both Cromwell and Charles I. At the Restoration (1660), Charles II agreed to respect their wishes but he reneged, had bishops reinstated and Covenanting ministers replaced by ‘King’s Curates.’ Nonconformists were ‘fined, tortured, flogged, branded or executed’, many were imprisoned, sold as slaves to America or driven into exile. Clandestine services were held in the open air - 3,000 attended the conventicle at Skeoch Hill - while mercenary troops under such Scots leaders as ‘Bloody Claverse’ patrolled the moors. Daniel Defoe estimated that 18,000 were killed during the 25 years of terror ended by William of Orange and Mary Stuart’s ‘glorious revolution’ in 1689. The original for Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Old Mortality’, Paterson was a monumental sculptor who devoted much of his life to ensuring that the Covenanters had fitting memorials.
Click to a larger version of Bodelwyddan Churchyard, Denbighshire (Church in Wales): photo © Jean Williamson

Bodelwyddan Churchyard, Denbighshire (Church in Wales): photo © Jean Williamson

Military headstones, beside the magnificent Victorian church of St Margaret with its soaring limestone spire, date from World War One, but the Canadian soldiers buried here were not struck down in battle. They fell victims to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19 which raged through their military camp in the park of Kinmel Hall west of the church. One headstone, dated 20 October 1918, informs us that Edward Lewis 2140717, of the 1st Reserve BN. Canadian Infantry, served under the pseudonym of Private Brown. Expecting a ship to take them home to Canada, the soldiers were enraged to learn that their transport had been requisitioned to carry food and other supplies to Russia. In the ensuing riot of 4-5 March 1919, five of the Canadians were killed and later buried in the churchyard beside their flu-struck comrades. The persistent story of the men being executed for mutiny has been strongly rebutted by the Canadian Department of National Defence.
Click to a larger version of Mari Jones’ Cottage, Llanfihangel y Pennant, Gwynedd: photo © Mick Sharp

Mari Jones’ Cottage, Llanfihangel y Pennant, Gwynedd: photo © Mick Sharp

Llanfihangel y Pennant lies at the head of the Dysynni valley stretching from Tywyn on the coast, north-eastwards to the slopes of Cadair Idris. An ancient route, the Pony Path, winds up from the valley floor and heads north through the mountains. Within the ruins of Mari Jones’ home, Tyn y Ddol, stands a monument erected by the Sunday Schools of Merioneth. In 1800, aged 16, Mari walked over the mountains to Bala - a round trip of 50 miles (80km) - to buy a Welsh Bible from the Rev Thomas Charles, leader of the Welsh Methodists. At the time, most Methodist congregations ran Sunday schools for children and adults based on reading the Bible in conjunction with various manuals, dictionaries and annotations explaining it from a Methodist perspective. Mari’s strong desire to own a Bible led Charles to initiate the setting up of the British and Foreign Bible Society which printed 20,000 Welsh Bibles and went on to publish in nearly 300 languages. The first complete Welsh Bible, commissioned by Elizabeth I in 1563, was printed in 1588. The Bible Monument outside St Asaph Cathedral commemorates the work of Bishop William Morgan and his fellow translators on the Bible, Book of Common Prayer and other religious texts. Parts of the Bible had been available in English since at least the 1300s, but the first complete version was published in Antwerp, 1535, by Miles Coverdale using earlier work by William Tyndale. Another version was published by British exiles in Geneva, 1560. The magisterial and resonant Authorized King James Version, with new translations from the original Hebrew and Greek, was published in 1611.
Click to a larger version of Robert Burns Mausoleum, Dumfries (Church of Scotland): photo © Jean Williamson

Robert Burns Mausoleum, Dumfries (Church of Scotland): photo © Jean Williamson

Scotland’s national poet was restlessly mobile, leaving behind a trail of places associated with his intermingled life and verse. Even after his death in 1796 he was not able to settle: buried in St Michael’s churchyard, his remains were dug up in 1815 to be placed beneath a rotunda-style mausoleum described by Keats as ‘not very much to my taste.’ Burns was born in Alloway in 1759, in a reed-thatched, whitewashed cottage built by his father William. A similar cottage at Kirkoswald was home to cobbler John Davidson, a drinking pal of Burns immortalized as Souter Johnnie in the poem Tam O’Shanter. The poem features other friends and locations in Alloway and Ayr, including the Old Brig O’Doon and the inn where Tam got ‘fou for weeks thegither.’ Leglen Wood cairn, outside Ayr, is dedicated to Burns and William Wallace, the 13th-century patriot in whose memory Burns wrote ‘Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled’. During the 1780s Burns founded the Tarbolton Bachelors’ Club debating society, set up home with Jean Armour in a rented room in Mauchline, and socialized in the Whiteford Arms and Poussie Nansies Inn. With Jean, he took on the tenancy of 170 acres at Ellisland Farm beside the River Nith, but he did not thrive at farming and gave up in 1791 to concentrate on being an exciseman. Rabbie worked hard, wrote hard, drank hard, loved often, travelled much, worried a great deal and, by the age of 36, things were catching up with him. Sea bathing and other outdoor cures were recommended by his doctor. Mortally ill, he stayed for two weeks at Brow Well on the Solway coast, bathing and taking the iron-brew waters. He returned home to Dumfries where he died three days later of heart problems caused by rheumatic fever. Something of his presence may still be felt in such of his old ‘howffs’ (haunts) as the celebrated Globe Inn on High Street.
Click to a larger version of Dylan Thomas’ Writing Shed, Laugharne (Carmarthen District Council): photo © Jean Williamson

Dylan Thomas’ Writing Shed, Laugharne (Carmarthen District Council): photo © Jean Williamson

Swansea nurtured a wordsmith who brought Shakespearian cadences to modern English, and wove in the musicality, alliteration and internal rhymes of Welsh-language poetry. Through innovations of stanza, idiom and phrasing, combined with a talent for mimicry and comic realism, he produced a distinctive voice, his ‘colour of saying’ - much copied and parodied - which speaks movingly of the delight and horror of our lives. Dylan Marlais Thomas was born in 1914, he died at the age of 39 in St Vincent’s Hospital, New York City. Like Robert Burns, he lived fast and has a bohemian reputation, but his anarchy overlay a strong love of the traditional. Thomas and his wife, Caitlin Macnamara, lived in Laugharne for brief periods during 1938, ’39 and ’40. They returned in 1949 when their benefactor Margaret Taylor, arranged for them to live in the Georgian Boat House beside the Taf estuary’s ‘heron Priested shore’. Dylan’s writing shed on the cliff above was originally built as a garage in the 1920s. His daughter, Aeronwy, describes the daily routine in her book ‘My Father’s Places’. Mornings were taken up with the pub - often Brown’s Hotel - and lunch, after which Dylan was locked in the shed by Caitlin to work till 7pm. If he was writing, the sound of his words would ring out from the shed, if reading a forbidden detective novel, all would be silence. As well as poetry, Thomas wrote short stories and film scripts, went on four lecture tours to the States, made many radio features and devised the voice play ‘Under Milk Wood’ set in the town of Llareggub, which is much easier to say backwards.
Click to a larger version of Eleanor Cross, Geddington, Northamptonshire: photo © Mick Sharp

Eleanor Cross, Geddington, Northamptonshire: photo © Mick Sharp

King Edward I has a fearsome reputation - ‘Hammer of the Scots’, conqueror of the Welsh, scourge of his son’s boyfriends - but he loved Eleanor of Castile as life itself. Together, in 1278, they attended the translation of the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere to a black marble tomb before the high altar of the new abbey church at Glastonbury. His queen travelled with him to Gascony, the Holy Land and Wales, they held ‘Arthurian’ tournaments around the realm, and Edward had gardens made to please Eleanor at such temporary residences as Conwy Castle. Their love match grew from an arranged marriage which took place when Prince Edward was 15, Eleanor a girl of nine. She gave him 15 children, eight of whom were still alive when she died in November 1290 at Harby, Nottinghamshire. The grieving Edward had a memorial cross erected at each of the 12 places where Eleanor’s body had rested overnight on her final journey from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey. The cross at Geddington is graced by three statues of Eleanor along with the arms of England, Castile and Leon (Spain), and Ponthieu (France). Edward had another arranged marriage in 1299, this time to Margaret, sister of Philip IV of France. He died in 1307, aged 68, with his army on the marsh at Burgh by Sands waiting to cross the Solway for one more go at the Scots. There is a memorial to him at Burgh Marsh, and he and Eleanor, forever together, gaze down from the south wall of Lincoln Cathedral.
Click to a larger version of Haworth Churchyard and Parsonage, West Yorkshire (Church of England): photo © Mick Sharp

Haworth Churchyard and Parsonage, West Yorkshire (Church of England): photo © Mick Sharp

Published in 1846, ‘Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell’ was not a success. The three siblings did much better with their novels including ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, ‘Jane Eyre’, and ‘Wuthering Heights’, but died tragically young at the ages of 29, 39 and 30 respectively. They were, of course, Anne, Charlotte and Emily Jane Brontë, or Prunty as their father Patrick’s name had been when he began life in Ireland. This rather daunting Georgian edifice - bleak of aspect but filled with ‘snugness and comfort’ inside - is the Brontë Parsonage Museum run by the Brontë Society. In 1820, mother and father brought their young family of six to live here on the edge of the moor. When Maria Brontë died of cancer the following year, her unmarried sister, Elizabeth Branwell, moved up from Cornwall to keep house and help bring up the children who were also sent away to be educated. The elder two girls died at home, aged 11 and 10, thanks to the school’s harsh treatment. As their clergyman father was a published poet and writer, the parsonage became a hotbed of creativity for the three remaining sisters and their brother Branwell who was loquacious, charming and feckless. He took to art, alcohol, opium, and died of tuberculosis in 1848 at the age of 31. Charlotte lived the longest, spending some time in London where she met the novelist Mrs Gaskell who became her biographer. After two years of opposition from her father, who did not want her to marry his poor Irish curate, Charlotte was a happy bride to Arthur Nicholls, but quickly died in the early stages of pregnancy. Looked after by his son-in-law, Patrick Brontë stayed at the parsonage until 1861 when he died aged 84. Except for Anne buried at Scarborough, the Brontës are at rest in their vault in Haworth church while their legend lives on.
Click to a larger version of Pip’s Graves, Cooling Churchyard, Kent (Churches Conservation Trust): photo © Jean Williamson

Pip’s Graves, Cooling Churchyard, Kent (Churches Conservation Trust): photo © Jean Williamson

Philip Pirrip, the hero of Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’ (1860-1), grew up in the marsh country where the land met the river and the river met the sky, and the wind came from the sea. Brought up by his sister and her blacksmith husband, Pip learned, in the overgrown churchyard amidst flat wilderness, that his father had been called Philip Pirrip, his mother ‘Also Georgiana Wife of the Above’. Dead and buried too were his infant brothers. The five ‘little stone lozenges’ beside his parents’ grave made Pip think they must have been ‘born on their backs with their hands in their trousers-pockets’ and died without any chance to take them out. As a young boy, Dickens knew this area well for his father worked at Chatham on the River Medway. Towards the end of his life he was able to buy Gad’s Hill Place north-west of Rochester, a house he had admired as a child. Many local places and characters feature in his stories, including these 1770s’ graves outside St James’ church on the Hoo peninsula. They were the inspiration for Pip’s family graves and his meeting with the escaped convict Magwitch who turned the ‘young dog’ upside down, ate the bread from his pocket and threatened to feast on Pip’s ‘fat cheeks’. The trio of small body stones commemorates the Baker nurselings who died at one, three and five months old, those to the east mark the ten Comport infants, all taken under 17 months. Dickens began ‘Great Expectations’ in London, but wrote most of it in Kent, in the ground-floor study or ensconced in his Swiss chalet in the garden. He died at Gad’s Hill in June 1870, aged 58. One of the last things he wrote describes dawn on the city of Rochester, where the cold tombs are lightened and warmed by the morning sun ‘fluttering there like wings’.
Click to a larger version of Camusfeàrna Memorial, Sandaig, Highland: photo © Mick Sharp

Camusfeàrna Memorial, Sandaig, Highland: photo © Mick Sharp

A boulder dragged from the stream serves as headstone for the ashes of Gavin Maxwell (1914-69), who lived in a house on this spot, the setting for his book, ‘Ring of Bright Water’, published in 1960. Beside the curving burn - the ring of bright water - is a memorial to Edal, the second of his pet otters to share ‘the Bay of Alders’ with him. She died in the 1968 fire which destroyed the lighthouse-keeper’s cottage which had been Maxwell’s base camp for twenty years. Maxwell saw this remote bay as a symbol of freedom ‘from the prison of adult life’ and a world corrupted by humans but, unsettled, bipolar and homosexual, he brought his demons with him. There is no road to Camusfeàrna, an exchange of letters took a full week, Maxwell’s nearest neighbours were a mile and a half away, the house was completely empty of furniture and without services except for the waterfall and burn running clear close by. Arriving with the basics of bed-roll, candles, Primus stove, tinned food and Jonnie his black-and-white springer spaniel, Maxwell later scoured the beaches for washed up household items. After Jonnie had to be put down, Maxwell brought back an otter cub from the Tigris marshes in southern Iraq. Mijbil would roam but usually returned to sleep in Maxwell’s bed, until the day he was killed at Glenelg by a roadman with a pick-head. After much anguished searching, and the intervention of fate, Maxwell was able to bring Edal to Camusfeàrna to play in the burn and doze before the hearth. Maxwell was also kept company by a dazzling array of birds and animals including eagles and wildcats. In early May, migrating elvers from the seas off Bermuda would inch their way up his waterfall and, on one glorious occasion, herring fry were pursued into the shallows by mackerel being fed on by porpoise, who in their turn were herded by a bull killer whale.
Click to a larger version of Carreg, Bardsey Island, Gwynedd (Bardsey Island Trust): photo © Mick Sharp

Carreg, Bardsey Island, Gwynedd (Bardsey Island Trust): photo © Mick Sharp

North Walian artist, writer and poet Brenda Chamberlain went to live on Bardsey in the spring of 1947. Remaining there amongst the ‘fisher-farmers’ till 1961, she documented her island life in ‘Tide-Race’ published in 1962, dedicated to her neighbours on the island. For most of her stay, Chamberlain lived at what she calls Pen Craig, ‘a four-square granite house that no winds can shake’, using one of the four upper rooms as a studio, the landing walls as a ground. The front of the house faces east for breakfast sun and a view of Bardsey Mountain, the rear is blessed with supper-time red and gold over the Irish Sea and Wicklow Mountains. At night the house is under the passing scrutiny of the lighthouse beam. Drawn to isolation, Brenda and ‘Paul’ stepped into a small community with shifting cast of some three dozen souls, interdependent but unbalanced by personal problems and a deep feud. Shown kindness and generously taught practical skills, their various neighbours also served up a dish of intrigue, malice, jealousy, violence, family breakdown, certifiable madness and tragic death. On an island which could be cut off from the mainland for four to five weeks at a time by the ‘raving of wind and water’ - and Christmas celebrations postponed till January - neighbours had to be got on with, the rulings of Bardsey’s tin-crowned King observed. This hard, magical life fed Chamberlain’s creativity and her book is full of dreams, visions, portents - and always the sea. To hear on Bardsey the unearthly cries of shearwaters in the night, or the siren songs of the seals, is to catch a thrillingly melancholic echo of the time of Tide-Race.
Click to a larger version of St Enodoc Church, Rock, Cornwall (Church of England): photo © Jean Williamson

St Enodoc Church, Rock, Cornwall (Church of England): photo © Jean Williamson

Former Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman loved Cornwall and, as the titles ‘John Betjeman’s Guide to English Parish Churches’, ‘New Bats in Old Belfries’, and his verse autobiography ‘Summoned by Bells’ confirm, he also loved churches. With a preference for ‘winners’ rather than ones ‘too dim,’ and a desire to include those having something inside ‘aesthetically worth bicycling twelve miles against the wind to see’, his choices for the Guide were nicely judged. The 13th-century church here, with its bent spire and foundations partly hewn out of solid rock, may overlie the spring and cave hermitage of St Enodoc. Between the church and Daymer Bay the buried remains of a small village have been discovered, the houses overwhelmed by sand with some of the furniture still in place. A sand storm also covered the church, so that the only entrance was through the north transept roof. Clearing and major restorations took place 1863-4. There is an oval tablet inside the church to the memory of Betjeman’s father, his mother lies buried by the western boundary of the churchyard, and Betjeman himself has a beautifully carved slate headstone beside the lychgate. Sir John shares the churchyard with many ‘unknown sailors,’ who came to grief on the Doom Bar as their ships ran from Padstow Bay for the shelter of the Camel estuary. The walk to St Enodoc from Rock meanders through the dunes and golf course. Betjeman, who would have found good material amongst the modern trustafarian antics in Rock, describes the walk in his poem ‘Sunday Afternoon Service in St. Enodoc Church, Cornwall’ (‘Collected Poems’, John Murray, 1958), in which he says ‘And all things draw toward St. Enodoc........A mile of sunny, empty sand away,.......’

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