Many of London’s big Victorian Cemeteries have suffered over the years. Originally set up and run by private companies, many of these companies ran into financial difficulties after the Second World War, effectively abandoning cemeteries or selling them cheaply to local authorities. As a result, these cemeteries became overgrown and vandalised. Tower Hamlets, one of London’s “Magnificent Seven” Victorian cemeteries, was one of places that found itself derelict and unloved in the late 20th Century. Thankfully, today all of that has changed.
This beautiful carved headstone caught my eye from across the road when I was walking along Bow Road in east London. Bow Church – or to give it its proper name, St Mary and Holy Trinity, Stratford Bow – is today marooned on an island in the middle of a busy road and the churchyard is railed off. There are a number of old tomb stones in the churchyard, which has been a designated public garden since 1894. The church, founded as a chapel of ease in 1311, is the only surviving medieval building in Bow.
The headstone is quite worn and mossy so I was unable to read the inscription on it, but the carving depicts what appears to be an angel taking the hand of a dying person, who is being comforted by a woman. I’ve never seen an image like it on a gravestone before – it’s beautiful and poignant. The quality of the carving is very fine – the folds in the fabrics worn by the figures are realistic and a great deal of detail, such as the angel’s hand, still survives today. Whoever commissioned the headstone must have paid a lot of money for it.
Considering the damage inflicted on Bow Church during the Second World War, this lovely old headstone is a stunning survivor.