Thursday, 9 April 2009


"So what are we doing today, Dad?" Lastborn child asks at breakfast.

"Well," I say, enthusiastically through a mouthful of porridge. "I thought we could go to Flaybrick Cemetery and have a good look around..."

I can tell by their faces that the children are not amused, nor surprised. They're used to it. Whilst writing an early draft of Mortlock a year or so ago, I came across a Victorian funeral carriage at Bamburgh castle and spent ages playing with the doors and coffin rollers. Research you see.

I love cemeteries for their history and the stories, that every headstone tells, each individual, some heart-breaking. Flaybrick was built during the 1860s when it became clear that burial sites within towns were inadequate, choked with bodies and liable to be a serious health threat to the living population. It is a gothic and atmospheric site, ruined and gradually being reclaimed by Nature:

One tomb caught my imagination, that of Isaac and Dorothea Roberts. Both Isaac and Dorothea were atronomers and I can't do their lives justice here. But it's story would make fascinating research and quite possibly a good book too. In 1888, Isaac photographed the andomeda galaxy M31, the first clear picture of an object outside our galaxy. Dorothea was awarded the Legione Du Honneur for her services to French astronomy.

The tomb is quirky and unusual. Lots of stars and nebula on it, not much mention of God. Dorothea fully intended to rest here too but died in SanFrancisco. I wonder what twist of their story took her there.

At the back is an inscription that struck such a chord with me that I thought I'd share it:

"Heaven is within us and we have the power to dwell in it all the days of our lives
Or we may decline and make ourselves miserable."

Well it made me think...maybe I should smile more often in photographs...


DOT said...

I too had to research a cemetery of a Gothic hue for my tome (or should that be my tomb? It sometimes feels like it).

I do agree; they are fascinating places.

Minx said...

I can go with that inscription. You can't worry about the next bit unless you have lived a bit of life in this one! Smile!

SueG said...

Well, but maybe you don't want to be seen hanging around cemeteries, smiling....:-)
Do love that quote, though.

Tam said...

What a great post (I write that a lot here). My favourite gravestone is in a tiny churchyard near Ulverston, Cumbria, and hints at a fascinating life for the body beneath. I must take a picture next time I'm there.
(Note to self: Remember to smile...)

DJ Kirkby said...

Great quote and good 'grumpy' author photo :) and like Sue G said smiling at a cemetary might not be very PC.

Mickmouse said...

I remember as a sixth form student, visiting Wordsworth's grave in Grasmere. Head stones are fascinating (although we scared ourselves silly by sneaking out of the youth hostel in the evening and going back in the dark!!!
I have a similar passion for castles (ruined or otherwise) which I am trying to infect my offspring with.
Of course my current favourite down our way is Tintagel!

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

You *should* smile more often in photographs. It's the only thing about old photos that I don't like... no one ever smiles.
Stoic. Impassive. No show of emotion, and aren't we all over-flowing with some kind of emotion?

I waved as I flew over, by the way, and saw a gentleman at Scone Palace that reminded me of you! Made me smile and send a happy thought your way.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Mike Wood said...

Isaac and Dorothea Roberts - you've got me intrigued. How many other stories are out there waiting to be unearthed?

It must be a week for graveyards. I spent Easter Monday hunting around the churchyard of St Mary's in Whitby. (The Dracula church) Most of the inscriptions were illegible though, erased by the salt-laden winds.