This ash tree is located in St. Pancras Old Church, located just a short walk away from St. Pancras railway station. And the railway is relevant here as in the 1860s a new line was needed which ploughed straight through the middle of the church’s graveyard. A decision was made to carefully move all of the bodies to another location, but that meant there were a big heap of gravestones that needed to be dealt with.
The task of dealing with this problem was given to Arthur Blomfield (1829-1899) who was a leading architect who designed and modernised countless churches and other buildings. Blomfield really didn’t want to deal with the moving of the bodies (which all ended up together in a large hole), or indeed the moving of the gravestones either, so he gave that little task to his assistant Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). Fortunately, Hardy is now better known for his literary achievements later on in his life rather than moving bodies and gravestones around.
Since Hardy’s time, the tree has become bigger and started to almost take on the gravestones as part of its own growth. The stones have been preserved, but they will likely never be moved from their location, which brings an interesting question about whether it was a useful preservation. It has though become a little bit of a tourist attraction and there’s now fencing around the area to stop people even getting up as close as the iron railings around the tree.
I think it’s quite majestic, putting aside the caveat that I like gravestones to be accessible and readable. I note that there are quite a number of tombs in the current graveyard and although I don’t know, I suspect that these were moved with rather more care than the individual gravestones were. Wealth can be a very useful thing, even in death.
This whole burial ground has had a slightly traumatic history as not only have many of the bodies been removed for the railway, many were also removed in the early nineteenth century by body-snatchers wanting to sell cadavers to medical schools.