Monument Ramblings

Well, my witchy themed, light-hearted novella Witches and Wishes has been submitted to Choc Lit and now it’s a case of waiting to see what the panel say. I wasn’t struggling, exactly, to come up with a new project afterwards, as I intended converting a short ghost story I wrote last year into a novel length piece. When I think about it, the new story will be just vaguely related to the old one, but I can already see it taking shape in my head. I don’t plan, so I’m not sure what will happen, but I know for sure it will have a marble tomb in it. An empty marble tomb.  And of course, some ghosts.

I’ve been doing some research into monuments as a little procrastination activity, but I was already aware of –and entranced by – two very inspirational monuments before I started this project. And although examples of these marble tombs are pretty much in every cathedral that I’ve ever visited, the two I’m about to describe are incredible.

The first one is Lady Mary Curzon’s monument at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire. Mary was Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India’s wife and died in 1906 aged 36. Kedleston is a beautiful place and is now in the care of the National Trust. To paraphrase the property’s guidebook:

‘Following Lady Curzon’s death, in 1906, Lord Curzon had a memorial chapel built in his late wife’s honour, attached to the parish church at Kedleston Hall. Lady Curzon is buried, with her husband, in the family vault beneath it. The design of the chapel, by G.F Bodley, is in the decorated Gothic style. It was completed in 1913.

In the chapel Curzon expressed his grief at his wife’s premature death by charging the sculptor, Sir Bertram Mackennal, to create a marble effigy for her tomb which: “expressed as might be possible in marble, the pathos of his wife’s premature death and to make the sculpture emblematic of the deepest emotion.” ‘

Kedleston also houses Mary’s famous ‘peacock’ dress which she wore at a ball in 1902 to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII. The gown is absolutely beautiful and there is also a portrait of her wearing it in the house. Sadly, Mary died before the painting could be completed, so her mother posed for the portrait, wearing the dress, and Mary’s face was artistically and Edwardian-ly ‘photo-shopped’ onto it. (And if you’ve read Some Veil Did Fall, there’s a little clue for you there as to where I got some inspiration for one particular scene in the book…) The pictures I have used in this blog are from the National Trust Images site – and it’s lovely to see the detail on the tomb here, as you can’t actually get close to it in the chapel. It’s all ‘fenced’ off; but it literally takes your breath away when you step into the place and see it in front of you.

The other monument that has haunted me for years is situated in Westminster Abbey, and commemorates Lady Elizabeth Nightingale. She was born in 1704 and died on 17 August 1731, after giving birth to a daughter, also Elizabeth. Young Elizabeth survived, married Wilmot Vaughan, 1st Earl of Lisburne and didn’t die until 1755. The Nightingale monument was erected in 1761 and is by the sculptor Louis Francois Roubiliac. This is what the good people at Westminster Abbey says about the monument:

‘It depicts a skeleton of Death emerging from his prison to aim his deadly dart at the dying figure of Elizabeth above. She is held up by her husband who, in horror, tries to ward off the stroke of death. The idea for this image may have come from a dream that Elizabeth’s brother in law (the Earl of Huntingdon) had experienced when a skeleton had appeared at the foot of his bed, which then crept up under the bedclothes between husband and wife. The figure of Death has lost its lower jaw and the spear is a later wooden replacement. John Wesley called the monument one of the finest in the Abbey, saying ‘the marble seems to speak’. The famous American writer, Washington Irving, declared it ‘among the most renowned achievements of modern art’. It is said that one night a robber broke into the Church but was so horrified at seeing the figure of Death in the moonlight that he dropped his crowbar and fled in terror. The crowbar was displayed for many years beside the monument but it no longer remains.’

I first saw a picture of that monument in a book about haunted and creepy places. The photographer had made the picture very grainy and atmospheric and it literally sent a shiver down my spine. Unfortunately, I can’t find the book or a copy of the picture, so the one I have used here is a not so creepy one from Tumblr. But I’m still fairly certain that I wouldn’t want to walk into Westminster Abbey and be confronted by that thing during the night!

Kedleston Chapel Lady Mary Curzon The Nightingale Monument

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