Tag Archives: English cemeteries

Cemetery of the Week #114: Shakespeare’s Grave

Vintage postcard of the grave slabs set in the floor of the chancel with Shakespeare's memorial on the wall above them.

Vintage postcard of the grave slabs set in the floor of the chancel with Shakespeare’s memorial on the wall above them.

William Shakespeare’s grave
Holy Trinity Church, Old Town
Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6BG
Telephone: 01789 266316
Email: office@stratford-upon-avon.org
Burial: 1616
Number of Interments: 5
Open: Seven days a week, but access to Shakespeare’s grave will be limited during services. Check the church’s website for the schedule.
Admission: £2 (Concessions £1, Students 50p)

It’s claimed that Christians have been worshipping on the site of Holy Trinity Church, which stands on a rise above the Avon River, for over a thousand years. Records suggest that a Saxon monastery stood on the site, but nothing of it remains. The church building itself dates from 1210.

Frommer’s calls Holy Trinity one of the most beautiful parish churches in England. The church’s own website suggests it is “probably England’s most visited parish church.” It’s estimated that up to 200,000 people visit it each year.

Glove-maker John Shakespeare’s family lived in Stratford-upon-Avon in the 16th century. No birth records were kept in those days, but William Shakespeare was recorded as baptized in Holy Trinity Church on April 26, 1564. In July, the Plague struck and nearly 70% of the children born in that decade were buried in the churchyard. Shakespeare and his parents survived.

Shakespeare finished his schooling in 1580 and married Anne Hathaway two years later, through not at Holy Trinity. Six months after that, their daughter Susannah was baptized, followed by the twins Hamnet and Judith in 1585. Hamnet died at age 11 of unknown causes. Nothing survives as a record of his short life except the record of his burial on August 11, 1596.

Shakespeare’s plays began to be performed in 1587. He was 23. Many plays later, often as many as four or five a year, Shakespeare signed his Will in 1616 with a shaky hand. He was buried on the 25th of April. The cause of his death remains a mystery.

When Henry the VIII separated the churches of England from Rome, local parishioners became responsible for paying their priests and caring for their churches. In 1605, Shakespeare purchased a share in this church, vowing to tithe for the upkeep of the chancel, the part of a church near the altar, reserved for the clergy and choir. In effect, he was purchasing burial space. His donations to the church – and not his fame – gave him the right to burial in the chancel.

Shakespeare's epitaph

Shakespeare’s epitaph: “Curse be here that moves my bones.”

A charnel house for the storage of bones stood south of the chancel until the 1790s. Graves were generally purchased for a short period of time, before their contents were exhumed and stored in the charnel house. Shakespeare wanted to lie at rest and so dictated the curse on his grave slab. Such curses were common at the time.

Shakespeare’s family inherited the right of burial in the chancel. His wife Anne, daughter Suzanna, and sons-in-law Dr. John Hall and Thomas Nash (first husband of Shakespeare’s granddaughter Elizabeth) are buried alongside him in the chancel.

During Anne’s lifetime, a memorial to Shakespeare was erected and is, because of her approval, believed to be a good likeness. “The sun-tanned countenance is said to be quite genuine,” according to the church’s website.

By 1888, fairly significant restoration had been done in the church, at least according to a letter to the London Times. The doorway from the chancel to the charnel house had been blocked up, perhaps as early as 1801. It’s likely that the remaining bones were neither removed or reburied elsewhere, but were simply sealed up inside the charnel pit and left as they were.

Around the time that the charnel house was closed, the slab over Shakespeare’s grave was replaced by a more modern one that did not match Anne’s. The original stone had probably gotten worn, since for centuries people had walked over it to see the memorial sculpture. Now a railing prevents visitors from walking on Shakespeare’s grave.

Shakespeare’s church is visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The contributions that they leave help to maintain the building and pay for heat, lighting, and staffing the Church during the week.

Each year, on the Saturday closest to St. George’s Day (April 23: Shakespeare’s presumed birthday), Holy Trinity hosts a flower-laying ceremony. Thousands file through the church while the bells ring and the organ plays. A Shakespeare Service is held the following Sunday to remember Shakespeare and his contributions to the parish and England.

Useful links:

Holy Trinity Church’s website – check it for closing times:

Galley of photos of Holy Trinity

A fascinating timeline of the religious persecutions in England during Shakespeare’s life

A history of the Holy Trinity Church

A map of Stratford and the Shakespearean sites

A discussion of the closing of the charnel house and the validity of Shakespeare’s monument

Cemetery of the Week #112: Golders Green Crematorium

Exterior of the crematorium. Photo © Carole Tyrrell.

Exterior of the crematorium. Photo © Carole Tyrrell.

Golders Green Crematorium
aka Golders Green Memorial Gardens
Hoop Lane, off the Finchley Road
London, England NW11 7NL
Telephone: +44 20 8455 2374
Founded: 1902
Size: 12 acres
Number of cremations performed: 323,500+
Open: Winter hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Summer hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

One of the oldest crematories in England and the oldest in London, Golders Green may also be the best-known crematorium in the world. Over the years, many famous people have chosen to be cremated there. Some remain there in urns in the columbarium or beneath rosebushes in the garden.

Golders Green is the name of the once largely Jewish neighborhood. The Crematorium stands across from a Jewish cemetery, but accepts all denominations. An estimated 2000 people are cremated there each year.


Inside the cloisters. Photo © Carole Tyrrell.

Cremation was legalized in Britain in 1884. For the first 17 years, Londoners had to travel by rail to be cremated in Surrey. After Queen Victoria died in 1901, her surgeon Sir Henry Thompson – also president of the Cremation Society – opened Golders Green the following year.

The redbrick crematorium was built in an Italianate style with a large tower that hides its chimney. It was built in stages as money became available. The current crematorium was completed in 1939. Its three columbaria contain the ashes of thousands of Londoners.

The 12-acre garden contains several large tombs, two ponds with a bridge, and a large crocus lawn. Apparently, that’s quite spectacular in early springtime.

In addition to the columbaria, there are two cremation chapels and a chapel of remembrance. On almost every wall, says London Cemeteries, there are commemorative tablets. The earliest ones hang on the cloister walls.


My hero. Photo © Carole Tyrrell.

A different book called London’s Cemeteries says Golders Green is “the place to go for after-life star-spotting.” Among the people cremated here whose ashes were either scattered here or placed in the columbaria: Kingsley Amis, children’s author Enid Blyton, Marc Bolan, Sigmund Freud with his wife and daughter, Rocky Horror’s narrator Charles Gray, Who drummer Keith Moon, playwright Joe Orton (whose ashes were combined with those of his murderous lover Kenneth Halliwell), ballerina Anna Pavlova, actor Peter Sellers, Bram Stoker.


Sigmund Freud’s urn and pillar. Photo © Carole Tyrrell.

Many more have been cremated here, but their ashes were either scattered or enshrined elsewhere. Among these are England’s Prime minister Neville Chamberlain (Westminster Abbey), poets Rudyard Kipling (also Westminster) and TS Eliot (Church of St. Michael, Somerset), and the writers Henry James (Cambridge Cemetery) and HG Wells (scattered off the coast of Dorset).

Maps are available from the office and reports are that the staff is very helpful in finding a specific location. The columbaria are now locked, although they can still be visited with a guide. It seems there is also a tearoom, but I haven’t been able to turn up any information about its hours. There’s a photo of it on foursquare.


Anna Pavlova’s marble urn. Photo © Carole Tyrrell.

For Darren Beach, author of London’s Cemeteries, “the Golders Green Memorial Gardens are among the most spiritually satisfying places in London…It could be the tranquility inspired by the sheer geometry of the place – the chapels surrounded by arched brickwork form a kind of eerie coastline to the oceans of gardens beyond.”

Extra special thanks to Carole, for lending me her beautiful photographs!

Useful links:
London Cemeteries page on Golders Green

The English Heritage listing for Golders Green

European Union Crematoria page on Golders Green

A list of the people remembered there

Information on the War Memorial at Golders Green

Video of one of the Marc Bolan remembrances

Website of the nearby Jewish cemetery

More about cremation on Cemetery Travel:

Roman Cremation in Pompeii

A Brief History of Cremation in the US

A tour of a crematorium

Cemetery of the Week #96: St. Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul Anne cloud002

The statue of Queen Anne outside St. Paul’s

St. Paul’s Cathedral
London, EC4M 8AD United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 20 7236 8350
Founded: 604 AD
Number of memorials: More than 200
Open for sightseeing: Monday to Saturday 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Last tickets are sold at 4 p.m. On Sunday, the cathedral is only open for worship.
Admission: The price includes entry to the cathedral floor, crypt, and the three galleries in the dome. Admission also includes multimedia guides and guided tours for individuals and family visitors. Adults: £16.00 Students & Seniors: £14.00 Children 6-17: £7.00 Family ticket (2 adults + 2 children under 17): £39.00 Book your tickets online here.
Telephone: For questions about sightseeing at St Paul’s Cathedral, contact the Admissions Department at +44 020 7246 8357.

Inspired by the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, I’ve decided this week’s featured cemetery should be St. Paul’s Cathedral. (Thatcher will be privately cremated and buried by her family elsewhere, but her funeral was celebrated at St. Paul’s.)

Glorious St. Paul’s is the Cathedral of the Diocese of London, which consists of five areas: Willesden, Edmonton, Stepney, London, and Kensington. A cathedral is the seat of the bishop; in this case, the bishop of London. Westminster Abbey, on the other hand, is lead by a Dean.

The original church dedicated to St. Paul the Evangelist was founded on Ludgate Hill, the highest point in London, in 604. Several churches were built on the same site after catastrophic fires, to be replaced by the medieval cathedral that boasted the tallest spire in the world and some amazing stained glass. That building was under renovation in the 17th century when yet another fire destroyed it.

St Paul Anne sun001The current St. Paul’s was built by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Full of light and air and crowned with luminous gold mosaics of angels, St. Paul’s is magnificent in a way that most churches – even St. Peter’s in Rome – are not. It’s well worth a visit, even if you don’t go underground to visit the dead people.

The crypt beneath the sanctuary is the cathedral’s foremost burial place. At its heart stands Nelson’s Tomb. Admiral Horatio Nelson died in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar and was buried in St. Paul’s crypt after a state funeral. He was laid in a coffin made from the timber of a French ship called L’Orient, which he’d defeated in the Battle of the Nile. The black marble sarcophagus that adorns his tomb was originally made for Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor during the reign of Henry VIII in the early 16th century. Wolsey fell from favor after he couldn’t secure papal permission for Henry to marry Anne Boleyn, so his sarcophagus remained unused at Windsor until a suitable occupant could be found. Atop the monument sits Nelson’s viscount coronet.

Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. He rests in a casket made of Cornish granite. The banners around Wellington’s tomb were made for his funeral procession. There had been one for Prussia, but it was removed during World War I and never reinstated.

Vintage postcard of the crypt at St. Paul's, showing Wren's tomb on the left.

Vintage postcard of the crypt at St. Paul’s, showing Wren’s tomb on the left.

The architect of St Paul’s Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren, is buried at the east end of the crypt. His tomb is marked by a simple stone and is surrounded by memorials to his family, to Robert Hooke (Wren’s associate), and to the masons and other colleagues who worked on the building. The Latin epitaph above his tomb, written by his son says, “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.”

The crypt contains many other tombs and memorials for artists, scientists, and musicians. They include the Pre-Raphaelite painters William Holman Hunt and Sir John Everett Millais; scientist Sir Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin; composer Sir Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan); and the sculptor Henry Moore.

The royalty buried at St. Paul’s stretches back to the earliest days of Anglo-Saxon England. Sebbi, King of the East Saxons before he became a saint in the 7th century, was buried at Old Paul’s. His black stone sarcophagus was destroyed by the London Fire in 1666. Also buried at Old St. Paul’s was Ethelred the Unready, who died on April 23, 1016. During his reign, the Vikings attacked England repeatedly. Ethelred tried to buy safety by paying tribute. When the agreement was broken, he ordered the slaughter of all Danes in England. His tomb was also destroyed during the fire.

Like Westminster Abbey, the crypt of the cathedral contains cenotaphs to the memories of those buried elsewhere. Among them are author William Blake, who died in obscurity and was buried in Bunhill Fields Burying Ground, where his grave is now lost; Florence Nightingale, who chose to be buried with her parents in St. Margaret’s Churchyard at East Wellow in Hampshire; and T. E. Lawrence, better known to us as Lawrence of Arabia. He’s buried in the Anglo-Saxon church of St Martin, Wareham in Dorset.

Useful links:
St. Paul’s homepage

Lovely photos inside St. Paul’s

Architectural details at St. Paul’s

Virtual tours of St. Paul’s

National Geographic’s short video tour

CNN’s report on Thatcher’s funeral

Books I’ve reviewed that reference St. Paul’s Cathedral:

London Cemeteries

Who Lies Where: A Guide to Famous Graves

Not the guide to Britain, Ireland, and Scotland I was hoping for

Who Lies Where: A Guide To Famous GravesWho Lies Where: A Guide To Famous Graves by Michael Kerrigan

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

While the title doesn’t offer a clue, this is a book about the “famous” dead buried in the United Kingdom. The famous include Lord Tweedmore, Dame Clara Butt, Sir Anthony Eden, among many more, whose names were unfamiliar even after I read about them.

Even when the names are familiar, the book offers very little information about them. Roald Dahl is summed up as “the unrivaled master of the grotesque and ghoulish in children’s fiction,” without identifying him as the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It continues to confide that he’s buried in the churchyard of St. Peter and Paul in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, but without any description of the grave or where it lies or how it’s marked, I’m not sure what good the listing does you.

The book is organized into sections for England, London, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, then subdivided by county. The counties are broken into towns, then further minced into specific churches or graveyards. I might like this book more if I had more familiarity with the nooks and crannies of the United Kingdom. As it is, I don’t know my Avon from my Yorkshire West and there’s no map in these pages to help me. There’s an index of people mentioned in the book, but not of the cemeteries covered.

The descriptions are too brief. The book reports that, “In the choir (reviewer’s note: not quire, as Salisbury Cathedral calls it) lies Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke” who died in 1621. She was an author and translator, as the book notes, but more importantly, she was the first English woman recognized as a poet in her own right. Her name numbers among those floated to be the true author of Shakespeare’s plays. Who Lies Where quotes a biographer who claims she “was very salacious” and liked to watch her stallions mount her mares, then sport with the stallions herself. Talk about TMI.

The book ignores everyone else buried in the cathedral, including a crusader who was half-brother to Richard the Lionhearted and the man responsible for distributing copies of the Magna Carta around England. It condenses Highgate Cemetery in fewer than 4 pages. The listing for Kensal Green spans 4-1/2 pages and ends with the cremation of Freddie Mercury, whose ashes were scattered at Lake Geneva, although you wouldn’t know that from reading this book.

I was hoping to find a graveyard book that would guide me beyond London’s reasonably well-documented cemeteries. This one is no help at all.

You can see for yourself, if you must, but ordering a copy from Amazon: Who Lies Where: A Guide to Famous Graves.

Some of the cemeteries in the book that I’ve featured on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #2: Highgate Cemetery in London, England

Cemetery of the Week #63: Westminster Abbey, London, England

Cemetery of the Week #70: Kensal Green Cemetery, London, England

Cemetery of the Week #71: Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury, England

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Cemetery of the Week #71: Salisbury Cathedral

Exterior of Salisbury Cathedral and its very tall spire.

Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Salisbury, called Salisbury Cathedral
The Close, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP1 2EJ, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 01722 555120
Founded: 1220
Number of interments: at least 22 (57 on Findagrave)
Open: Monday through Saturday, the cathedral is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Sundays, it’s open from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., but visitor access is restricted during services. Opening hours can change over holidays and for special events. You can find up-to-date closure information here.
Requested voluntary donation: Adults £6.50, Seniors/Students £5.50, Children (5-17) £3. Family admission is £15.

Of all the medieval cathedrals built in England, Salisbury Cathedral is unique because it was completed in just 38 years (1220 – 1258) in a single architectural style: early English Gothic. Like a beacon to heaven, the tower and spire (Britain’s tallest) were added about 50 years later. The building itself stands as a testimony to the faith of its parishioners and builders.

Inside Salisbury Cathedral, the bishop’s throne with its tall canopy sits at the eastern end of the quire stalls. The Greek name for this seat was kathedra and its presence — not the size of the building — elevates a church to a cathedral.

Among the cathedral’s treasures is a scrap of fabric believed to be a remnant of the Virgin Mary’s cloak.  It also has the world’s oldest working clock, which dates to 1386.

Salisbury Cathedral also owns the best of the four existing copies of the Magna Carta. Elias of Dereham, who later supervised the building of the cathedral, was present at Runnymede in 1215 when King John was forced by his rebellious barons to sign a rudimentary bill of rights. Although king, John couldn’t read the Latin document, which guaranteed the right to a jury of peers, among other things. Elias of Dereham was charged with distributing copies of the “Great Charter.” Salisbury has had this one for almost 800 years. It’s on display in its Chapter House.

The oldest tomb in the cathedral belongs to Osmund, who had been bishop of the previous cathedral, which stood at Old Sarum. (Only its foundation survives.) In 1092, Osmund consecrated that building. He collected a library of scholarly works and recruited local boys to sing in the choir. When the “new” cathedral was completed in 1258, Osmund’s tomb was brought along. His effigy now stands in the nave (the central part) of Salisbury Cathedral. The Norman-era tomb shows a bearded man with eyes closed, his body wrapped in a stone cloak that doesn’t contour to his body.

Osmund was canonized as a saint in 1457. During the late Middle Ages, the cathedral’s Trinity Chapel was the site of a richly decorated shrine to him. Pilgrims came in “great numbers,” according to the cathedral’s tourist guidebook. The shrine was destroyed during the Reformation on the orders of Henry VIII.

Crusader Sir William II Longespée (from the French for long sword — he was tall) may have been among the first buried in the cathedral, although he may have been buried at Acre before coming home to England, if in fact he did come home at all. (Accounts vary and Longespée’s name is sometimes written as Longpre. He was an illegitimate son of King Henry II, which made him a half-brother to Richard the Lionheart and the King John who signed the Magna Carta.)

Be that as it may, Longespée died in 1250 at the Battle of Mansurah in Egypt while commanding the English forces and 280 Knights Templar against the Mameluks. The French king Louis IX, who wasn’t on the field when Longespée perished, headed the crusade. Longespée’s effigy in Salisbury Cathedral shows him with legs crossed at the knee, both hands on his sword, even though his head lies on a pillow. His shield rests against his left shoulder. His mailed feet press against the figure of a lion, which indicates he died in battle. Some photographs of the effigy are online here.

Set into the floor are two brass monuments that cover the graves of two of the cathedral’s bishops. Bishop Wyville (died 1375) had been challenged to a single combat by the Earl of Salisbury, an event recorded by his monument. (An image is available here.  Scroll down.) Bishop Gheast (died 1577) left a vast library to the cathedral.

Two enameled figures lie atop the graves of Sir Richard Mompesson and his wife Katherine. Both of them wear Jacobean ruffs around their necks and their eyes are painted open. She wears a dark dress decorated with herbal figures painted in gold. Lace cuffs emphasize the praying hands she holds above her waist. They’re hands with character, wrinkled and veined. Her husband wears painted wooden armor, also adorned with gold. His hands are less lined than his wife’s even though his hair had gone white. A photo of their whole tomb is here.

In the quire lies Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, who died in 1621. She was an author and translator, who saw her brother’s Arcadia published after his death in 1586. (He is also buried here.)  Mary Herbert is the first English woman recognized as a poet.  Her name is among those floated to be the true author of Shakespeare’s plays.

The cathedral’s cloister

Very lifelike is the marble effigy of John Wordsworth, who served as Salisbury Cathedral’s bishop between 1885 and 1911. He founded the school that continues to exist in the Cathedral Close. John’s statue seems to have been carved from life. You could definitely pick him out in a crowd. His wavy hair recedes from his forehead above a sharp, straight nose and a narrow chin. His fingers intertwine above the stole that wraps his neck to past his waist. Even his full sleeves are so realistic that one marvels that their folds and billows withstand gravity. Altogether, Salisbury holds the remains of 16 former bishops.

Most notable of recent burials is Sir Edward Heath, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1974 and as a Member of Parliament from 1950 to 2001. He lived in the Cathedral Close for the last twenty years of his life. After his death in 2005, he was cremated and his ashes interred in the floor of the cathedral, beneath a slab that remembers him as a “statesman, musician, and sailor.”

Photography was forbidden inside the cathedral when I visited many years ago, so please forgive the amount of linkage I’ve done tonight.  It really is a lovely place, full of history.  May the links inspire you to visit for yourself.

Useful links:
Salisbury Cathedral’s homepage

Information about more burials in the Cathedral

Some lovely photos of the cathedral

More photos of the cathedral’s riches

Tourist information about the Salisbury area

More information about Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke

The medieval plague pit across the green.

My review of Who Lies Where: A Guide to Famous Graves