The standard histories of Victorian death, burial and commemoration revolve around the emergence of garden cemeteries from the existing tradition of aristocratic mausolea in designed landscapes, and subsequently the rise of cremation, the commemoration of royalty and the urban middle and upper classes. James Curl’s The Victorian Celebration of Death sets a high standard in this regard.
However, while important in characterising the changing mourning and funerary cultures of the Victorian age, these new spaces and memorial forms repeatedly and somewhat unduly dominate historical narratives over the contemporaneous transformation of existing churchyards and graveyards in rural contexts. Equally under estimated are the memorials raised throughout the nineteenth-century in landscape and public locations away from cemeteries. The Victorian age saw the rise of the garden cemetery, but it also saw the rise of the cenotaph and the war memorial in town and country.
One relatively neglected dimension of Victorian necrogeography is the cenotaoph raised to memorialise the landed gentry by their tenants. I am unaware of any dedicated study of these more isolated funerary monuments raised in villages and hamlets to honour landlords. These monuments take typical forms of the Victorian age and readily identified in cemeteries, but they are distinct in being isolated. As such, they are immediate predecessors in form and location to the village war memorials of the First World War.
One such example is at Angle, Pembrokeshire, which at a superficial glance appeared to me to be an obelisk erected to commemorate the parish dead for the First World War memorial. Suspiciously old fashioned, I wondered then whether it was a memorial relating to the Boer War or another late Victorian conflict. I was wrong. So I explored more closely. In actual fact it is something else again. The inscription reads:
BY THE TENANTRY OF THE
ANGLE AND EASTINGTON
ESTATES, AS A LASTING
TRIBUTE OF RESPECT
FOR THEIR LATE SINCERELY
BELOVED, AND DEARLY
JOHN MIREHOUSE ESQR.
Therefore, rather than a war memorial which it both resembles but palpably pre-dates, this memorial commemorates the chief landowner in the parish. As recently discussed on this blog for Paxton’s Tower, patriotic memorials to Wellington and Nelson punctuated the early and mid-19th-century British landscape. Equally, there are a large number of relatively uninspiring, almost boring, and rather nauseatingly servile monuments like this one that naturally escape attention. Still, it is monuments like this that are a useful barometer for commemorative continuities and changes in rural Britain.