Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Implore Pace? Are a Poet's Bones At Rest?

The last sad rites to the illustrious dead were performed upon the remains of this great poet at four o'clock on Friday evening last, in the family vault of the church of Hucknall Torkard, in this county, close to the ancient demesne of the Byons, who held Newstead Abbey for centuries...

On July 16 and an incredible 23 years ago I celebrated the safe arrival of my youngest son Tom and in 1824 a further 194 years ago, the church of St Mary Magdalene in the town of Hucknall in Nottingham welcomed the safe arrival of the remains of the poet Lord Byron for burial after his death at the age of 36 on April 19 in the town of Missolonghi in Greece.


Ten o'clock being the time fixed for the procession to leave Nottingham, the great bell at St Mary's tolled at that hour.

A quarter before eleven o'clock, the hearse, adorned with the large sable plumes, drawn by six black horses, each bearing a plume of feathers on his head, was ordered to the front of the Blackmoor's Head Inn, for the purpose of receiving the body of his Lordship, which, on being brought out and placed therein, the first mourning coach and six came up, in which was put the urn, containing the heart, &c., covered with a black silk velvet pall ornamented with escutcheons of the Byron arms, on a white ground.


The utmost silence prevailed during this ceremony. The arrangements having been completed, at eleven o'clock the procession set out.

At half past eleven o'clock, a number of the undertaker's men arrived, and immediately began to clothe the pulpit and reading desk with black cloth. A large seat next to the pulpit, together with communion table and rails were also covered with black cloth.



An eschutcheon of the poet with the motto, 'Crede Byron' underneath, was hung in front of the pulpit below the cushion. All these preparations were finished by half past one, at which hour the minute bell began to toll.

The church and little village were crowded to excess at this hour, and all eyes were fixed on the road which the procession had to pass... Although the procession left Nottingham at 20 minutes past eleven and had only seven miles to traverse, it did not reach Hucknall church until half-past three o'clock.

The Rev. Chas Nixon, the vicar, who was in attendance all day, immediately repaired to the church yard where he received the body...


At a quarter before four o'clock the procession entered the church.

The body and urn being brought in, and placed on two trestles fixed in the aisle, the mourners passed to the seats prepared for them. The coronet and cushion were then placed upon the case of feathers.


The Rev. Chas Nixon, the vicar, clothed in his white surplice, then read a part of the beautiful service of the Church of England' and in a few minutes the undertaker and his attendants slowly removed the coronet supporting it on the cushion at the head of the tomb, whilst the clergyman read the remainder of the service.


The coffin was then gradually lowered, and placed on an old leaden coffin.... The original intention was that it should have been laid upon his mother's coffin, but the mutilated and decayed state of the latter rendered that impossible; it rests, however, exactly next to it, with the case containing the urn at the head.



Around the vault stood Col. Leigh, chief mourner (the present Lord Byron was said to be indisposed at Bath); next to him, Mr Hobhouse and Mr Hanson; then Lord Rancliffe and Colonel Wildman; the Household of the deceased in the rear.


The whole ceremony was finished at 20 minutes past four o'clock.

One wish of the late distinguished poet is gratified by his remains being deposited in his native land, and in the tomb of his ancestors, and in his own words, to mingle with 'The crush's relics of their vanished might.'


However, before I become too carried away with this wonderful evocative account of Byron's funeral and the moving processional scenes of the crowds of ordinary people who attended him to his grave; I am reminded of a letter written by Byron to his faithful publisher John Murray in the summer of 1819:
'I am sure my Bones would not rest in an English grave - or my Clay mix with the earth of that Country: - I believe the thought would drive me mad on my death-bed could I suppose that any of my friends would be base enough to convey my carcase back to your soil - I would not even feed your worms - if I could help it.'
In toto!


And on that note, I'm off to see if I can enjoy a large slice of birthday cake!


Sources used:
Byron's Letters and Journals Vol 6 1818-1819 Ed Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray 1976)
Then and Now What the Papers Said About the Death of Lord Byron (The Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene Hucknall)