Monday, 6 August 2007


There's something about graveyards that's always fascinated me. The older the grave or the more tragic the death it represents the more I am drawn in. We visited Heptonstall church to see both the ruins of the 13th Century church ( ) and to see Sylvia Plath's grave.

Both new and old church can't fail to impress given the setting and views. My eyes, though, were drawn downward to the many headstones that now form a significant part of the ground. This one is one of dozens of 'Greenwoods' that populate the church . It's fascinating to see Greenwoods buried there who died in the 21st Century and others all the way back to the earliest one I spotted which was mid 17th. Burials spanning 5 centuries for what is likely to be the same family of Greenwoods says a lot about Heptonstall and rural life as well as shining something of a contrasting light in the way most of us live now.

Sylvia Plath's grave was surprisingly unkempt and forlorn. The name Plath Hughes remains though I understand that the Hughes part was repeatedly obliterated in the sixties by Plath fans (that seems too trite a word but anyway...) especially after Hughes second wife killed herself too. It at least prompted me to read some of her poems. I think the only intelligent thing I can say is that I'd need to re read them with a clear head to understand the way they are woven and to get to grips with more than a mere essence of meaning.

Just up the road though significantly harder to reach is the equally impressive Stoodley Pike which is a mid 19th century memorial to end of the Crimean war. It replaced a previous monument built to celebrate Napoleon's defeat in 1814. The original collapsed after it was struck by lightning which must have been a heck of a sight. (More info ) It's 100 foot high and from the ledge that you get to after feeling your way up unlit (and genuinely pitch dark) stairs just about affords a view of the Heptonstall church tower. In itself a memorial, the thing that I liked most was the carved graffiti. If the dates had been 1998 or 2005 then I'm sure visitors would gasp and tut tut about 'the youth of today' and how things were different in the past. Many of the carvings though are well over 50 years old. Some are ornately done and impressive in terms of the effort put in. This one inscribed as war broke out led me to wonder about the fate of the 'vandal'. In a similar vein, the thing that I recall most about Strasbourg Cathedral is the graffiti- some of that on the roof dates to the 18th century. In East London you can still see one or two 'G Davis is innocent' graffiti on rail bridges and the like. I'd argue these, like the inscriptions in Strasbourg and on Stoodley Pike, are already an important alternative window into the minds and society of our (sometimes still living) predecessors. I wonder whether any of the tags we see all over the place now will been seen in the same light by people in 50 years or so while they simultaneously berate the youth of 2057 for the disgusting and antisocial holographic graffiti found on the bonnets of most hover cars.

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