‘The Levelled Churchyard’
“O passenger, pray list and catch
Our sighs and piteous groans,
Half stifled in this jumbled patch
Of wrenched memorial stones!
“We late-lamented, resting here,
Are mixed to human jam,
And each to each exclaims in fear,
‘I know not which I am!’
‘The Levelled Churchyard’ (1880), an early poem by Thomas Hardy, was inspired by his experiences whilst working as an apprentice architect in the King’s Cross area of London in the 1860s.
It was a time of great railway expansion, and the lines were being built to serve the new Midland company stations at King’s Cross and St Pancras.
But there was one problem: the route crossed the old St Pancras Churchyard. Rather than go around the old church grounds, it was decided instead to exhume the human remains – and it fell to Hardy to arrange and organise the gravestones beneath a nearby ash tree.
The Hardy Tree is still there to this day, with the gravestones tightly clustered around the base. As the tree has grown over the years, so parts of the headstones nearest the tree have been subsumed into its widening girth.
Charles Dickens mentions the churchyard too in his 1859 novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, making it the location of body-snatching to provide corpses for dissection at medical schools, a common practice at the time.
How do I get there?
St Pancras Gardens, Pancras Rd, London, NW1 1UL. A few minutes walk north from King’s Cross station or cross the Regent’s Canal at the new Somers Town Bridge.
- Visit: The memorial of Mary Wollstonecraft, where her daughter Mary regularly met with the poet Percy Shelley to plan their elopement in 1814
- Read: The Hardy Tree (2011) by Iphgenia Baal
- Visit: the British Library, only five minutes to the south
- Visit: Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station, where Harry Potter sets off to school on the Hogwarts Express (there are often queues)