Old St Pancras Churchyard was once described as the “Dead Centre” of London, for it held the graves of many thousands of Londoners. It has the Sir John Soane mausoleum, the grave of Mary Wollstonecraft author of “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”, and a sundial memorial to Dame Burdett-Coutts a Victorian philanthropist. It also has an unique connection to English literature, in that Victorian novelist, Thomas Hardy, when working as an assistant to the architect of the Midland railway, that sliced through the churchyard, was given the task of moving the headstones of scores of graves. Purportedly he put them around a young ash tree that over time grew so large that its roots entwined and fixed the stones in an unusual listed memorial, to this day called “The Hardy Ash“.
We at the Museum of Walking, frequently devised walks that included the “The Hardy Ash”, and it was a featured tree in previous Urban Tree Festivals. We also held an anniversary walk led by Peter Coles, to which the Thomas Hardy Association read Hardy’s work. However, as you can see from the photograph above, “The Hardy Ash” is no more, struck down in a winter storm, its trunk now lying horizontal behind wire cages, but with its roots still gripping a headstone remnant.
We were delighted that one of the shortlisted poems in our Festival writing competition was a tribute to the “The Hardy Ash”: Fallen Comrade by Adam Elms, and we asked Adam to record a reading of the poem, that we have now geo-located at the site of the fallen tree. It is one of 12 shortlisted poems and stories in an audio anthology on the Echoes app, that we have created for the Urban Tree Festival, that can be listened to either remotely or in situ. Fortuitously, the London Wildlife Trust has offered their nearby Camley Street Natural Park and education centre for Urban Tree Festival events this Saturday 20 May. So why not make a day of it? Drop by Old St Pancras Churchyard (just few minutes walk form Kings Cross / St Pancras stations) and then continue on listening on a walk of poems and stories of trees to reach the natural park on Camley Street.
Meet Adam Elms and fellow shortlisters at the WRITE ABOUT TREES online showcase at 4.30pm on Sunday 21 May where they read their work – it is a free event (donations welcome) m/c’d by eco-poet Dave Borthwick. Buy CANOPY – Secrets of the Trees the illustrated chapbook and support future Urban Tree Festivals from the Festival shop