For my first post, I wanted to share something that encapsulates a lot of the things I love and aim to share in this space. Something related to books, travel, and the unexpected.
This is the Hardy Tree, found in St. Pancras Old Church
of London, UK. The base of this ash tree was embedded with gravestones in the mid-1860’s when the Midland Railway company expanded its rails through the churchyard, requiring the exhumation and relocation of the dead buried in its desired path. The young draftsman assigned to this task was none other than Thomas Hardy, author of classic Victorian novels Far From the Madding Crowd
(a personal favourite) and The Mayor of Casterbridge
. For reasons not fully understood, Hardy arranged the headstones tightly around the base of the tree. As years have gone by, they have been steadily sinking into the ash’s roots.
With the stones now resembling clustered bones or scales, the sight of the tree is as eerie as it is beautiful. This is contrasted with the relative calm of the grounds during daylight hours, but Hardy seemed conscious of the spectral disruption he was causing, as the opening stanzas of his poem “The Levelled Churchyard”(1882) suggest:
‘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!”
I first heard of the Hardy Tree this summer on Atlas Obscura, a site that shares strange and little-known locations around the world. I was immediately taken with the tree, and while I couldn’t immediately travel to see it myself, my sister was lucky enough to be in London. When she asked if there was anything she could bring back for me, I sent her on a mission to return the photos and short video you find here.
Here’s hoping an unusual tree in a still churchyard is an enticing start to this little spot of the internet.