Sunday, 27 November 2016

Remembering the dead at St Brides, Fleet Street

Samuel Langby remembered in the church wall at St Bride's, Fleet Street. Perhaps the stone mason was pissed when he carved this; not only did he give Samuel an extra L in his first name, he also couldn't remember whether he 'decefed' in September or December.  

I don’t recall ever having seen this before – a grave inscription carved into the exterior wall of the church rather than on a headstone. There are just two at St Brides, one dated 1686, the other 1702, both inscribed shortly after Sir Christopher Wren’s church was completed in 1672. Perhaps the church authorities discouraged others from following the example set by the relatives of Samuell Langby after Nicholas Halgan buried his wife Margery here in 1702 and chose to remember his daughter Margaret, buried five years previously, as well as his spouse. Paying a mason to chisel a short inscription into the church wall would have been much cheaper than paying for a headstone and I’m sure the practice would have caught on if churches had allowed it.  Both inscriptions date from around the start of the graveyard memorial boom. Before the 17th century monuments and memorials for the dead were reserved only for the rich and powerful but in the late 1600’s marking burial place with something more durable than a simple wooden cross caught on amongst the middle classes. Carved and inscribed gravestones became a common sight in church yards for the first time. 

Margery and Margaret, the Halgan ladies immortalised. The capital M&B to the side of the inscription are probably graffiti.


St Brides, Fleet Street