The undiscovered country.....
I am in Hardwick Road Cemetery, King's Lynn. Literally, but not interminably...... And naturally enough, the environment lends itself to thoughts on mortality, and such.
Personally I have no bone to pick with graveyards, I take the air there willingly, perhaps more willingly than elsewhere, when take the air I must.... (Samuel Beckett, First Love). Christopher Ricks, The Prof, it was who first pointed out to me the clever use of the word must in this quotation... let alone the mischievous use of no bone to pick..... Or, let me think? Was it the other way up? Did I point it out to Christopher? We were in Cambridge, in the mid 1980s and I do vaguely remember our discussion.
And it would only have been a year or so adrift from then that I had lunch with Mr Beckett chez Chartier in Faubourg Montmartre. Godot, those were the days.... Happy Daze.
A Tulip Tree (liridendron tulipfera), a native of North America and China, which can grow to 50 metres and has pale green tulip-shaped flowers. This tree was supplied by the Wisbech nursery of Messrs Sharp in c 1855/6.
Anyway it was a faulty valve that brought me hither.... Not so much a mitral nor a tricuspid, you know, but the valve on my Skoda's off side rear tyre, which I had had repaired after a small screw had caused a minor puncture last week, only to find it flat the next day at home. Ho Hum, and back to the garage (who acknowledged fault in their valve core) to wander fitfully amongst the dead whilst said valve was bypassed and my treads could once more hold up against the wear and tear of revolution.....
Anyway, underneath the gloomy Wellingtonia, and not that far from the Tulip Tree, I read some of the stories of King's Lynn in days of yore.....
Such as that of Catherine Brown (1812 - 1863) first wife of King's Lynn sculptor and monumental mason William Brown of London Road. Catherine was one of seven people to be killed in the Hunstanton-King's Lynn Railway disaster on August 2nd, 1863. Her sandstone and encaustic tile monument was designed and made by her husband.
Apparently a bullock had gotten upon the line near Wootton, about two miles from Lynn, and it caused the excursion train, which had left Hunstanton for Wisbeach at about eight a.m. with some fifteen well-filled carriages, to leave the rails, causing disruption, injury and death in its wake.
Hard by this elegant tomb is the memorial to her husband, William, and his brother, Edward. This was sculpted by King's Lynn mason Edward (1834 - 1888). Of clunch stone, it is the largest monument in the Cemetery.
The cemetery is no longer active. Or rather, it is now passive, in that no longer may the living prepare themselves for the ground here. The chapels have long since been erased, and all that is left is the shifting silences of the air around the stones and through the leaves of grass.
The stories remain, however, like that of George Cozens (1801 - 1869), hotelier, proprietor of the Cozens Commercial Temperance Hotel in St John's Terrace. This was the last of Norfolk's temperance hotels, closing in 1969. Apparently it once boasted that its stables could accommodate 120 horses.
Perhaps..... But not for me.
It's not just that this cemetery was in the vanguard of 19th century burial reform (I just love that tone - Stonehenge was in the vanguard of monumental masonry......) But its establishment in 1849 marks it out as one of the first parochial cemeteries in Great Britain, anticipating the Burial (Beyond the Metropolis) act of 1854 by five years...... Its importance to King's Lynn as an early example of Victorian cemetery landscape is immense, and the variety of monuments it has to display is a bold reminder of the Victorian Way of Death.....
Ah yes. That phrase, devoutly to be wished.....
There's the rub.
[As I said to Samuel, not long before his death. Could you please pass the salt?
And he said,
It would have passed itself......]
Oh, and I did get my car back......