19th Century · Pinner

A very strange grave in a suburban churchyard: Pinner’s ‘floating coffin’

One of the joys of graveyard exploration is the discovery of unusual graves and memorials – those with eccentric designs or strange stories attached to them.  The imposing monument we’re looking at today, which towers above its neighbours in a pretty churchyard in the suburb of Pinner, definitely ranks as one of the strangest in Greater London – both for its design, and for the stories told about it.

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19th Century · 20th Century · 21st Century · Cairo

Taking a walk through history at Cairo’s Museum of Egyptian Antiquities

Artefacts from Ancient Egypt are scattered in museums across the world, with many of them being excavated and removed from Egypt by European- and American-led expeditions during the 19th Century and finding their way into the hands of private collectors or foreign museums.  However, some of the best-known treasures of ancient Egypt – the contents of the tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamun, discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1922 – have remained in Cairo, leaving Egypt only very occasionally for wildly popular world tours. A new exhibition featuring artefacts from Tutankhamun’s tomb is due to open in London in November 2019, after a record-breaking run in Paris.  Dubbed a ‘farewell tour’, these artefacts will be moving to a new, permanent home at the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza when they return to Egypt. The museum that has housed Tutankhamun’s treasures since their discovery in 1922 is a Cairo landmark, a visit to which was described by a recent article as ‘like walking through history itself, even before taking into account that it also houses one of the world’s most significant collections of ancient artifacts.’ (source)

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18th Century · Edinburgh

Memento Mori: symbols of death in St Cuthbert’s Kirkyard, Edinburgh

If you follow a flight of steps down from Edinburgh’s busy Princes Street you’ll find a church, largely hidden by trees and surrounded by an extensive burial ground.  This is St Cuthbert’s Kirk, a site with a history going back many centuries.  The kirkyard at St Cuthbert’s is home to some exceptional examples of funerary architecture, imposing memorials and beautifully-carved headstones that give the visitor an insight both into the way Edinburgh’s residents of the past viewed and commemorated death, and the exceptional skill of the people who designed and crafted the memorials.

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1st-5th Centuries · 20th Century · 21st Century · City of London

Uncovering the story of Roman London’s mysterious Mithraeum

In November 2017 one of London’s most famous Roman sites reopened to the public after spending several years hidden away in storage.  The Mithraeum, a subterranean temple dedicated to the god Mithras, has had an eventful afterlife since its celebrated rediscovery in 1954.  Moved from its original site to make way for a new office development, it was reconstructed at a new location nearby before the great wheel of redevelopment turned again and offered the chance for the Mithraeum to be reinstated at its original location on the banks of the now-underground river Walbrook.  The Mithraeum offers modern Londoners a glimpse into one of the Roman period’s more unusual elements: the secretive cult of Mithras, and the work to restore its ruins to the banks of the Walbrook also gave archaeologists an incredible opportunity to discover more about Roman-era Londinium.

The new entrance to the Mithraeum at 12 Walbrook

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13th Century · 16th Century · 17th Century · 18th Century · Great Mitton

Knights, Jacobites and a rebellious duchess: the effigies of All Hallows, Great Mitton

At the heart of Lancashire’s Ribble Valley, standing close to the banks of the River Ribble and overlooking Pendle Hill, is the church of All Hallows, Great Mitton.  Within its walls is a remarkable collection of effigy graves, dating from the 16th to early 18th Centuries, all commemorating members of a local family whose fates were intertwined with some of the major political and religious upheavals of those centuries.  Their elaborate graves also reflect the changing fashions both in clothing and in funerary architecture from the Tudor period through to the Stuart and early Georgian periods.

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19th Century · 20th Century · West Norwood

West Norwood: the first Gothic Revival cemetery

West Norwood, which opened as the South Metropolitan Cemetery in 1837, is one of London’s most spectacular cemeteries, its grand tombs and monuments laid out along landscaped paths and mature trees.  Of the “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries that opened on London’s outskirts in the early Victorian period, West Norwood was arguably the most sought-after of them all as a burial place, with its beautiful location on a south London hillside.  The wealth of many of those interred there is reflected by the beautiful memorials raised in their memory.

Mausoleum of Alexander Berens, a wealthy linen draper and seller of luxury goods

We’ve already visited the Greek Orthodox enclave within West Norwood, but now it’s time to explore the rest of the cemetery and the plethora of historic and interesting graves that can be found there. Continue reading “West Norwood: the first Gothic Revival cemetery”

19th Century · Bamburgh · Farne Islands

Remembering Grace Darling: heroine and Victorian media sensation

Although the Northumberland village of Bamburgh is dominated by the fortress that has stood on its cliffs since the 7th Century, one figure who looms large in the area’s history is not a king or a warrior, but an ordinary woman whose act of bravery in 1838 made her internationally famous. Grace Horsley Darling’s role in the rescue of sailors from the wrecked vessel Forfarshire in September 1838 was widely covered by the media both in Britain and further afield, and led to an outpouring of donations, gifts and even offers of marriage. The veneration of Grace Darling was not unlike the cults that grew up around many medieval saints, with souvenirs featuring her likeness being sold, items belonging to her and her family put on display or up for sale, and songs and poems being written about Grace and her deeds.  Despite her untimely death from tuberculosis at the age of 26, Grace remained a well-known figure, celebrated for her bravery and her Christian values.  The fame of Grace Darling provides a fascinating insight into the way that the 19th Century media helped to create modern-day heroes, and how Grace’s character reflected the period’s idea of the virtuous woman.

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