To get to St Pancras Old Church in our previous posts, you walk right past St Pancras Station. Now the terminus for the Eurostar trains, the station’s very modern interior is in sharp contrast to its flamboyant Victorian Gothic façade.
The front of the station was formerly the Grand Midland Hotel, designed by George Gilbert Scott. The former Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, is credited with saving this building from demolition in the 1960s. He was a great admirer of Victorian architecture and railway architecture in particular.
Re-opened in 2007, the new St Pancras Station has a statue of John Betjeman by British sculptor Martin Jennings.
Before Thomas Hardy became a full-time writer, he studied architecture in London, moving there from Dorchester in Dorset in 1862. While in London, he worked on a project to dismantle some of the graves in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church.
The tombs were being moved to make way for the new Midland Railway which had its London terminus at St Pancras station. Some of the tombstones were placed around an Ash tree in the centre of the graveyard and remain there to this day.
Charles Dickens knew the area around St Pancras Old Church well. In A Tale of Two Cities, Jerry Cruncher and his son, who in the day work as messengers for Tellson’s Bank, become grave robbers at night.
Under cover of darkness, they climb over the churchyard wall carrying a spade, and dig up a newly buried body to be sold for medical dissection.
Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, both of whom were writers and philosophers. Mary Shelley never knew her mother, who died a few days after her birth. Her mother was buried in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church, and in later life when she met Percy Shelley they used her mother’s tomb as a secret meeting place. The meetings were secret as Mary’s father disapproved of the relationship because Percy Shelley was already married.
When William Godwin died, he was buried with his wife, but later they were re-interred in a churchyard in Bournemouth next to their daughter, Mary Shelley.
Hidden behind St Pancras station, where tourists never go, is St Pancras Old Church. It’s like Halloween every day of the year in the grim graveyard of this old church where large trees cast a gloomy aspect over the moss-covered tombstones.
There has been a church on this site since at least the 6th century, but the current church building dates mostly from the mid-19th century.
Some famous people are buried here including Johann Christian Bach, who was the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. He was known as “the English Bach” and died in London in 1782.
Future blogs will look at some interesting literary connections to this graveyard.
The year after Keats’ death, Shelley died in a boating accident near Livorno, north of Rome. He was cremated on the beach there and his ashes were interred in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. He was just 29 years of age. Also buried nearby is Shelley’s son William, who died in Rome in 1819, aged three, from malaria or cholera or some similar infection.
The year before, William’s sister Clara had died while the Shelley family were living in Venice. Mary and Percy Shelley’s first child died in England. Only their fourth child, who was born in Florence in 1819 and named after his father, survived into adulthood.
After the death of her husband, Mary Shelley returned to England and continued to write, building on the success of her first novel, Frankenstein, which was published anonymously in 1818.
The Romantic poets Keats, Shelley and Byron, with their classical education and love of ruins and decay, were mesmerised by Italy, and especially by Rome. Shelley wrote Prometheus Unbound in the massive ruins of the Roman Baths of Caracalla.
In 1845, long after the death of both Keats and Shelley, Joseph Severn painted Shelley Composing Prometheus Unbound in the Baths of Caracalla.
You can still visit these sombre ruins today, though they have been tidied up a little since Shelley’s time. Now they are surrounded by trimmed lawns instead of overgrown weeds.
John Keats was buried in Rome’s Protestant Cemetery. His tombstone doesn’t mention him by name but says this is the grave of the “Young English Poet”. Buried next to him is the artist Joseph Severn, who looked after Keats during his final illness. Servern lived to be 85 years old, spending quite a bit of his life in Rome. The small tombstone in between the larger ones is for Severn’s son Arthur who died as an infant.
The Protestant Cemetery is next to the Pyramid of Caius Cestius which was built in 30 BC as a tomb and was later incorporated into the Aurelian Walls. The cemetery is open to visitors every day (closed Sunday afternoon) and can be reached by Metro line B to Pyramide station.
Rome’s Spanish Steps are always crowded with tourists, but few people notice the building right next to the steps which is the Keats-Shelley House. This small museum is full of all sorts of material relating to the English Romantic poets who came to Rome at the beginning of the 19th century.
The poet John Keats died in the house in 1821, aged just 25. He had come to Rome hoping the drier climate would relieve his tuberculosis, but unfortunately he didn’t recover. In the museum you can see the room where he spent his last hours, look out at the Spanish Steps as he would have done, admire the extensive library and collection of Keats memorabilia, and look at his rather gruesome life and death masks.
In the Villa Borghese gardens there is also a statue of Lord Byron who lived in Italy from 1816 to 1822. During that period, he spent some time in Rome in 1817, but also lived in Venice, Ravenna, Pisa and Genoa.
Byron attended the funeral of Percy Shelley in Rome in July 1822, and 12 months later sailed to Greece where he met his own death in April 1824.