Sunday, June 19, 2016

Radnor Street Cemetery, Essie Fox and all things Victorian

Yesterday Radnor Street Cemetery resembled something straight out of a Victorian novel. Gravestones crouched half hidden among the grasses as wild flowers sprung out of once lovingly tended plots where far flung families seldom visit. 

It was wild, beautiful and with an air of abandonment, and for a moment I was lost in the world of Essie Fox, writer of dark haunting Gothic stories. Her debut novel, The Somnambulist, takes it's title from a painting by Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir John Everett Millais and was chosen by Channel 4's TV Book Club as one of the best reads of 2012. Essie followed this with Elijah's Mermaid, a sinister tale that begins with the story of Pearl - a web-toed child who is found half drowned and floating in the Thames one night.  Her third novel, The Goddess and the Thief, is an exotic and sensual tale of theft, obsession and 'other worlds'  Visit The Virtual Victorian, and read about Essie's inspiration for her work, which is what I was doing before my cemetery visit.

Armed with my cemetery map and camera I made a visit yesterday to take some photographs for the GWR themed walks I am researching, but it proved impossible to find the last two graves on my list. I knew roughly where they were but I felt a bit like the non swimmer I am paddling out to sea. Dare I go a few more steps or should I turn back?

Radnor Street Cemetery is caught in the dilemma of conservation area versus cemetery and all the responsibilities that go with its historical worth. There are 33,000 burials in the cemetery, each one with a story that tells the history of Swindon. The cemetery only receives four comprehensive grass cuts a year due to this conservation status but the good news is that it is due one fairly soon and will be neat and tidy for our Swindon Heritage History Day on July 10.

Meanwhile, the churchyard at St Mary's, Lydiard Park is trim and easily navigable, so why not join me there this afternoon, June 19 from 2-4.30 for a guided walk. 

The Somnambulist by Sir John Everett Millais

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