The Hardy Tree - a grave first work by the Victorian novelist


The Hardy Tree - a grave first work by the Victorian novelist

Inside the churchyard of St. Pancras Old Church in London - considered to be one of England's oldest sites for Christian worship and burial - lies an ash tree. It is a unique specimen, encircled with hundreds of overlapping gravestones placed there in concentric circles by Victorian novelist Thomas Hardy.

In the mid-1860s, Britain’s new rail system was experiencing immense growth, and London was demanding additional lines. In order to accommodate them, and a growing volume of commuters, an expansion was planned — directly affecting the graveyard at St. Pancras.

In order to make way for the new Midland Grand Railway line, a firm was contracted to perform the delicate task of exhuming bodily remains and reburying them at another site. Organising the task was assigned to the young Thomas Hardy, then assistant to architect Arthur Blomfield. Hardy would later go on to write classic novels like Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd.

Once the essential exhumation task had been completed, there remained the question of what to do with the hundreds of headstones. Hardy’s solution was to place them in a circular pattern around an ash tree in the churchyard in a spot that would not be disturbed by the coming of the railway. Over the years the tree roots have embraced many of the headstones - and some are even now embedded into its trunk.

The tree and its unusual surround provide a distinctive memorial to the creativity of the young architect who would move on to become one of England's most respected poets and novelists.

Further reading

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