Outside London: Looking For Eric
We have a new Guest Blogger, and inductee into Cemetery Club! Patrick Gurden loves a good Cemetery as much as the rest of us, and one of his favourite things to do is find the graves of famous people that mean something to him. Today’s blog post is all about a road trip to meet his long-dead hero.
by Patrick Gurden
I think the appeal of visiting famous graves is that it is the closest that you can get to meeting your heroes, and in the last few years George Orwell has become a big hero of mine.
Unfortunately I live in North Hertfordshire and he is buried in All Saint’s Church in the small Oxfordshire Village of Sutton Courtney. Fortunately for me, my friend Mark agreed to take me there on a road trip to go and visit Orwell’s grave. My brother Tom and friend Alex tagged along for the ride.
All Saints Church, from the south
George Orwell died in London, and in accordance with the Anglican Rite, wished to buried in the closest churchyard to where he died. Unfortunately, the churchyards in London were full, that’s why he ended up in a sleepy Oxfordshire village churchyard.
It was quite a long drive down to Sutton Courtney but we left early in the morning and made good time, the guys were quite keen to go on and do something else afterwards. When we got out of the car I raced off into the churchyard ahead of the others to find Orwell’s grave – I was in such a hurry that I raced past the map at the entrance to the churchyard that had the location of his grave on it. Luckily, I found his grave in a couple of minutes – it’s a small churchyard.
I had seen a picture of his grave on the Internet, but was still surprised upon actually seeing it. He has a very modest headstone and the epitaph is simply ‘Here Lies Eric Arthur Blair’. He was buried under his real name as opposed to his pen name…this piece of knowledge may one day prove useful to you in a pub quiz. You would have no idea that you are looking at the resting place of one of the greatest minds the English speaking world has ever produced. There is even a rose bush growing through it now.
I felt that the great man should be buried somewhere of prominence with a large ornate tombstone, even if that was against his wishes. Surely there should be some reference to him being the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm at least, two books that will surely echo through the ages. As I think about this, I remember reading that Thomas Jefferson had what he considered to be his greatest achievements engraved on his tombstone… and being the American President is not one of them!
Aside from us, there were three older men in the churchyard who had also come to see Orwell’s grave. I was pleased to see other people had come to visit him. I found myself wondering how many people in the village actually knew that such an important figure was buried in their local church. I also wonder how many people come to visit Orwell’s grave, given its out-of-the-way location. You would have to be a big Orwell fan or real cemetery enthusiast to go there.
We stayed for a few minutes, long enough for me to get some photos and savour the moment. If I ever got round to drawing up my bucket list, I think visiting Orwell’s grave would be quite high up on it.
As we left to check out the church itself, we noticed a much grander grave that turned out to belong to the former Prime Minster Herbert Asquith. I had no idea he was buried there.
I wanted to check out the church to see if there was any mention of Orwell in there. On the wall there was a simple stone tablet stating that his mortal remains were near this spot. Again I was underwhelmed by this, surely the resting place of this literary giant deserves more recognition than this. But I guess it is more important that his books are still on the shelves in all good book shops and people continue to read them.
We went off to have something to eat and later ended up in Oxford. I uploaded the pictures of our trip to Sutton Courtney later that day and waited for the inevitable question…who’s Eric Arthur Blair?
Patrick and George
Patrick Gurden is a registered Mental Health Nurse. Like his Dad, he is a big Mark Knopfler fan and shares a passion for visiting cemeteries. They can never go anywhere on holiday without looking for the local dead celebrities.
All photographs Copyright Patrick Gurden 2015, except for photograph of Church and photograph of George Orwell wall plaque.