29 April 2010

Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, and Thomas Hardy at St Pancras Gardens: Literary London #2

St Pancras Gardens, London, is between Pancras Road and Camley Street, just a few hundred yards to the north-east of St Pancras International. It contains two features of relevance to literary London. A gravestone records that the two anarchist writers, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, are buried there. The west-facing side of the square stone is inscribed 'Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Author of A Vindicaton of the Rights of Woman [1792] Born 27th April. 1750 Died 10th September. 1797'. She died of septicemia soon after the birth of her daughter, the future Mary Shelley (1797-1851), who is most noted for her novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818).

The south-facing side remembers Godwin: 'William Godwin Author of Political Justice Born 30 March 1756 Died 7th April. 1836 Aged 80 years.' The interesting thing here is that, at the time of the inscription, Godwin seems to have been more noted for Political Justice, although today by far his most well known work is Caleb Williams (1794). On the east-facing side is an inscription to Mary Ann, Godwin's second wife.

Also in the gardens is the Hardy Tree. Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) studied architecture under Covent Garden architect Arthur Blomfield between 1862 and 1867, and the Midland Railway line was being built over part of the graveyard, involving exhuming remains and taking the headstones down.

This was Hardy's job, and the headstones surrounding the ash tree would have been placed there at the time. Perhaps understandably, Hardy was far from happy with this work.

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