Monday, May 16, 2011

Quiet spots in London . . . Dead quiet, some of them . . .

While you can sometimes find a quiet spot in a museum or art gallery, as I have, in the photo above, in London's fabulous and free National Portrait Gallery, Pater and I have found a few outdoor spots that are surprisingly and rejuvenatingly tranquil. During our 2009 London visit, I posted about discovering the amazingly peaceful Phoenix Garden, steps away from the bustle of Covent Garden shopping. This trip, we were a block or two from the thundering crowds of King's Cross and all the chaos of an international train station when Pater followed his curiosity up a few steps, along a path, and into this scene.
Honestly, it was as if he'd pulled a Harry Potter and dragged us through an unseen-to-Muggles portal into a parallel world.
It was readily apparent that the space was a former graveyard
but some fascinating details emerged  -- when the more extensive graveyard that previously occupied the space was appropriated  in the 1860s to make room for the Midland  Railway Line, Thomas Hardy (yes, that Thomas Hardy) was charged with supervising the exhumations required. This tree, which has grown into the encircling headstones, all originally removed from those displaced graves, is known as the Hardy tree.
To think that every one of those headstones was commissioned, carved, and carefully placed to ensure the enduring memory of someone beloved, now long gone . . .
such thinking is suited to the quiet green leafiness of this outdoor sanctuary
and sometimes, after such heavy thoughts (or perhaps heavy drinking) one needs a nap, and there is peace and quiet enough in this churchyard to find it . . . . far from the madding crowd, as Mr. H. might say. . .
St. Pancras church is only the most recent iteration of Christian worship that can be traced back to the 4th century, according to this very interesting Wikipedia article.

So history and architecture buffs will find interest here -- as, also, in this mausoleum designed by architect Sir John Soane for himself and his wife. Its shape inspired Sir Gilbert Scott's design for the famous red London phone booths.

We didn't discover until later how many famous folk were buried or commemorated here, but we did find the headstone of Mary Wollstonecraft (feminist writer of Vindication of the Rights of Women) and her husband William Godwin (sorry, but I love designating Godwin as Mary's husband -- he does have his own accomplisments), the stone at which their daughter, Mary, met with Percy Bysse Shelley to plot their elopement (Mary Shelley is perhaps best known as the writer of Frankenstein).

Am I overly disposed toward the morbid in finding graveyards places of astonishing beauty? The weathering of old stone, as a record of time passing, reassures rather than frightens me, somehow -- I find the peace of a grander perspective here that puts my daily anxieties in their place.
And besides the philosophizing and the temptations to pathos, there's often humour to be found. As, for example, in this stone, which proclaims the great thoughtfulness of a long-dead bountiful patron.

Apparently, the stone was "carefully preserved" by the Baroness Burdett Coutts in 1877. And yet. . . . the proclamation of the Baroness' "care" is placed on the protected side of the stone, while the side meant for preservation has been turned into the weather. With this result . ..

The poor Baroness -- for at least another hundred years, I suspect, words literally etched in stone will suggest that she should have taken more care and/or less credit. Whoops!

So humour, philosophy, and green tranquility. Less than five minutes' walk from one of London's busiest train stations. Worth a peek if you get to the city. Meanwhile, where are you finding a quiet spot these days? Or are you finding too much of it and craving its opposite? We're in the city right now (Vancouver, that is) and getting ready to head back to our own quiet place -- I'll talk to you soon from there.


  1. I am for the first time in 4 days lying on my own bed listening to bird song. Why? I have been stuck in hyronymous Bosch hell aka hospital. More details later as typing on this bloody lilliputian keyboard hurts my neck!

  2. How beautiful! I love graveyards - my father (a great history buff) used to take me through them wherever we went, so I find them enthralling and romantic rather than sad/creepy ... When I need tranquillity I go for a walk in the park next door; there are some amazingly deserted spots, despite us being almost in the middle of the city. BTW, Happy Birthday!! (It is already your birthday here, so I'm getting in early.)

  3. Thanks so much for this lovely post. I too love quiet places lik this one. And I feel similarly comforted about my on insignificance when gazing at millions of stars in the sky which does the same to reduce my petty worries. Thanks for the London tip for our next visit.

  4. Oh no, Alison, I hope you're on the mend. At least you managed to get ill on work time this 'round rather than ruining part of your vacation as with your earlier bout. I'm sending quick recovery thoughts and wishes your way.
    Tiffany: They really are enthralling, aren't they? All those mini narratives of headstones.
    You're so lucky to have a park right next door so that you can enjoy urban life but also get some respite when you need it.
    And thanks for the b.d. wishes -- we had a lovely time with "the kids" yesterday, and I suspect Paul's going to make sure I have a good day tomorrow as well.
    Jane: Yes, that's true, the night sky can evoke that same sense of awe and personal insignificance that is reassuring, somehow, rather than obliterating. . . and yes, when you're in London it's worth seeking this spot out.

  5. Best birthday wishes to you! Enjoy your special day.
    What a magical place you discovered in London.
    PS I did go to the MIRO exhibit and had the yummy
    olives....both were sensational.

  6. Thanks so much, Pavlova. It's a good day so far.
    Isn't this spot wonderful? Don't you almost wish you were back there now? What a funny pull our holiday places exert, long after we're back home. Glad you got to taste those olives! Wish we could find out how to get some -- I'd be willing to check luggage in order to bring those home.

  7. So I am back at work with a keyboard I can use, love my phone but like a lot of people struggle with the touch keyboard.
    Like you I am wholly reliant on blogger and take much of what it offers for granted. My pet hate is the lack of flexibility when loading images, I would love to move them around more, and I find the formats on offer fairly draconian, but like you the need to tap away more than makes up for it.
    I really enjoyed your post on what you bought on holiday; the weather has been until this week exceptional in every way and even I underestimated its warmth on holiday. Buying clothes out of the context of your base wardrobe must have been difficult but I liked what you bought especially the flowery dress which is a pricy brand even in the UK.
    I find I am way to large for any clothes in Parisian shops and as the exchange rate is so poor I would not really dare shop in Berlin although there were some brilliant clothes shops nearby and they do seem to understand my size better than the French.
    Will you be able to download the 'hipstomatic' app' or do you have different ones?


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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