Hows that for a cheery topic? It’s the 200th anniversary next week of the death of a dog. Admittedly not just any old dog but one called Boatswain, a much-loved Newfoundland dog that belonged to Lord Byron. So besotted was the poet that he commissioned a large monument in the hound’s memory for the gardens of Newstead Abbey. This act obviously struck a chord in the British psyche because the reason I know about the anniversary is an article about the Northern Newfoundland Club holding a celebration at Newstead Abbey laying a posy of flowers as “a fitting tribute to one of the most famous Newfies in our history.”
I suppose I’m not surprised. Already this year I’ve mentioned the tomb of Mrs Soane’s dog Fanny, in the courtyard of the Soane Museum, and more recently the dog’s cemetery at Wrest Park, but I’ve been amazed how many other monuments and tombstones for dogs exist in our historic parks and gardens. We’ve certainly come a long way from the days when dead dogs were thrown out with the rubbish onto the wasteland outside the town’s walls – the Houndsditch. Some might think we’ve come too far in our animal commemoration of course, but as Lucinda Lambton has shown with her wonderful books on animal-related architecture, remembering and honouring our pets is part of a great British tradition and it’s still alive and well although its heyday seems to have been in the late 18th c and into the 19th.
“Boatswain is dead!” wrote Byron to a friend on 18th November 2014, ” he expired in a state of madness …after suffering much, yet retaining all the gentleness of his nature to the last, never attempting to do the least injury to anyone near him.” Although mired in debt Byron commissioned an expensive marble monument for his dog, which was the only building work he initiated at Newstead , and he placed it in the centre of the Abbey ruins near to where the site of the altar. Having sold Newstead in 1817 before leaving for Greece his own request to be buried there alongside the dog was later refused by the new owners.
I doubt that General Cottrell-Dormer asked to be buried with his dog, Ringwood. Yet had he done so he would have had a magnificent view from his tomb in the park at Rousham, one of the most iconic of all English gardens. Its Kentian glades, long woodland walks and vistas have been little altered since Alexander Pope described them as ‘the prettiest place for waterfalls, jets, ponds, inclosed with beautiful scenes of green and hanging wood, that I ever saw’. I wonder what Pope thought of the fact that the Vale of Venus is actually dedicated to a dog as well as the goddess? Venus may stand coyly on top of a rustic stone arch looking down the valley towards the river, but immediately underneath is a plaque, not in her honour as might be expected, but in memory of Ringwood: an otter hound of extraordinary sagacity.”
A later grand monument to a single dog, this time to a Pekinese who belonged to the 11th Duchess of Bedford, can be found in the grounds at Woburn. Built in 1916 it has a stepped circular base, and six ornately carved Corninthian columns linked with stone benches and topped with a wrought iron dome. Grade 2 listed it stands in the middle of the estate’s dog’s cemetery. The Duchess saw her little Che Foo or Wuzzy through rose tinted specs according to her son the 12th Duke whom instead described the animal as ” the most crotchety aggressive little brute”, to whom all visitors were “anathema…and attacked with fury.”
A dog cemetery [or sometimes a more all-encompassing pet cemetery] is, of course the more usual kind of arrangement for the interment of household critters. They exist the length and breadth of the country.
At Brahan Castle near Dingwall, Lord Seaforth who died in 1923, and his wife who died in 1933 are buried in the same space as 21 of their dogs – inside an ancient earthwork that has been converted into a kirkyard, although now overgrown with rhododendrons. One has the inscription “Cruiser, for 15 years faithful friend and companion of Col Stewart Mackenzie of Seaforth. He accompanied the 9th Lancers throughout the Afghan Campaign, 1878 – 79 – 80 including the march from Kabul to Kandahar.b 1878 d. 1895“.
A less well-travelled, and definitely less fortunate hound is commemorated at Stoneleigh Abbey. In the small wooded pet cemetery is a monument that is surely the product of a guilty conscience. The inscription reads: “Monarch. A favourite setter. Who was shot by accident September XXV. Anno Domini MDCCCXXXIX .”
At sternly Italianate Brodsworth Hall, the roll call of dogs names goes from Victorian era Coup, Dash, Snap and Nell, through Tatters, Cuddie, Butty, Charley and Pippey, to Max and Wanda and Bobby. All lie near Polly Parrot, and the last dog to be buried there, Binkoe who belonged to the last owner before English Heritage took over and restored the house and gardens in the 1990s.
A more recent cemetery was established at Portmeirion by one of the more eccentric tenants, Mrs Adelaide Haig, who lived in the mansion from 1870 until her death in 1917. She preferred the company of dogs to human beings and kept her mongrel pack in the elegant Mirror Room where she would read sermons to them from behind a screen. The whole place became a wilderness, as she would not allow the destruction of any growing thing. When she died the hearse that came for her could not reach the house until woodsmen had hacked a way along the jungle-choked drive. This cemetery is still in use.
At Dunham Massey the dead dogs are not hidden away in the woods but lie under stone slabs in the middle of one of the main lawns near the house. There too, Jan Wyck was diverted from painting his views of the house and estate to painting the Earl of Warrington’s Dutch mastiff, named Old Virtue.
Unfortunately many dog cemeteries are not well recorded. For example I’ve failed to find images of several that are mentioned on our database or elsewhere, even at quite significant estates such Linton Park, Ragley Hall, Woodlands Vale at Ryde, Plas Newton near Chester, and Wynards Park in County Durham. So, as always, if you have photographs of any of these, or know of any other dog cemeteries, let me know and I’ll try and follow them up in another post.
But there are surprisingly quite a few with royal connections. Marlborough House gardens are home to the burial places of several of Queen Alexandra’s dogs, hidden away in the shrubbery in the bottom corner of the grounds.
Hyde Park boasts a secret cemetery too, tucked away behind one of the lodges on the Bayswater Road near Lancaster Gate.
It was started by the lodge keeper, a Mr Winbridge, in 1881 and continued in use, with over 300 burials, until 1903. One of the earliest interments was for “Poor Prince”, a Yorkshire terrier who belonged to the actress Louisa Fairbrother, wife of HRH Prince George, Duke of Cambridge who was Ranger of Hyde Park. It isn’t open but can be glimpsed through the railings if you know where to look! You can read more about it at: http://londoninsight.wordpress.com/2010/10/06/pet-cemetery-hyde-park/
or see it on Youtube at:
There is a fine 18thc memorial in the Somerset churchyard of St Mary Orchardleigh. The story behind it is retold by Lucinda Lambton in Palaces for Pigs (pp222-225), and it inspired Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem Fidele’s Grassy Tomb in 1887.
It is a monument for Azor, a German water pudelhund, given to Sir Thomas Champneys of Orchardleigh House. The dog is supposed to have saved his master from drowning and when he was dying Sir Thomas asked that the dog be buried with him. All was well until the Bishop of Bath and Wells heard about it, and furiously told the parson to get the animal moved out of consecrated ground. The dog was exhumed and reburied under the monumental urn in an adjacent field.
Newbolt heard the story and wrote the poem when he was courting Margaret Duckworth, the daughter of the then squire of Orchardleigh. When the estate was sold in the 1980s the memorial was restored in memory of the last squire.
And here is all its glory is Newbolt’s poem:
The Squire sat propped in a pillowed chair,
His eyes were alive and clear of care,
But well he knew that the hour was come
To bid good-bye to his ancient home.
He looked on garden, wood, and hill,
He looked on the lake, sunny and still:
The last of earth that his eyes could see
Was the island church of Orchardleigh.
The last that his heart could understand
Was the touch of the tongue that licked his hand:
‘Bury the dog at my feet,’ he said,
And his voice dropped, and the Squire was dead.
Now the dog was a hound of the Danish breed,
Staunch to love and strong at need:
He had dragged his master safe to shore
When the tide was ebbing at Elsinore.
From that day forth, as reason would,
He was named ‘Fidele,’ and made it good:
When the last of the mourners left the door
Fidele was dead on the chantry floor.
They buried him there at his master’s feet,
And all that heard of it deemed it meet:
The story went the round for years,
Till it came at last to the Bishop’s ears.
Bishop of Bath and Wells was he,
Lord of the lords of Orchardleigh;
And he wrote to the Parson the strongest screed
That Bishop may write or Parson read.
The sum of it was that a soulless hound
Was known to be buried in hallowed ground:
From scandal sore the Church to save
They must take the dog from his masters grave.
The heir was far in a foreign land,
The Parson was wax to my Lord’s command:
He sent for the Sexton and bade him make
A lonely grave by the shore of the lake.
The Sexton sat by the water’s brink
Where he used to sit when he used to think:
He reasoned slow, but he reasoned it out,
And his argument left him free from doubt.
‘A Bishop,’ he said, ‘is the top of his trade:
But there’s others can give him a start with the spade:
Yon dog, he carried the Squire ashore,
And a Christian couldn’t ha’ done no more.
The grave was dug; the mason came
And carved on stone Fidele’s name;
But the dog that the Sexton laid inside
Was a dog that never had lived or died.
So the Parson was praised,and the scandal stayed,
Till, a long time after, the church decayed,
And, laying the floor anew, they found
In the tomb of the Squire the bones of a hound.
As for the Bishop of Bath and Wells
No more of him the story tells;
Doubtless he lived as a Prelate and Prince,
And died and was buried a century since.
And whether his view was right or wrong
Has little to do with this my song;
Something we owe him, you must allow;
And perhaps he has changed his mind by now.
The Squire in the family chantry sleeps,
The marble still his memory keeps:
Remember, when the name you spell,
There rest Fidele’s bones as well.
For the Sexton’s grave you need not search,
‘Tis a nameless mound by the island church:
An ignorant fellow, of humble lot—
But. he knew one thing that a Bishop did not.
Well done if you have got this far!
And your reward is knowing that the assumption that the bishop’s instructions had been carried out by the sexton, and the dog reburied outside the graveyard, is wrong. When restoration work was taking place in the church in 1980s the dogs skeleton was found still at Champney’s feet. The bishop had been disobeyed. In a typically British way the parish was granted a faculty to leave him there and to move the monument back into the churchyard.
Have you noticed that I’ve got almost to the end of the post and I haven’t mentioned the most famous dog’s tomb of all? It will have to wait until another day because I’m going to finish with a modern memorial that I found in Lucinda Lambton’s Palaces for Pigs.
It’s in Latin and dedicated to “the fragrant memory of Old Smelly” who died in 1980 aged 16.”A Dog, although by its fierce blood easily smelly, Yet by its own smelliness was it smellier than its tribe. This monument, such as it is, James Neidpath, master and her great granddaughter Little Smelly and the sculptor Rory Young, here, therefore, in piety caused to be erected in the year of Dogkind’s salavation 1984.”
If you want to know more then Lucinda Lambton’s Palaces for Pigs (2011) and its predecessor, Beastly Buildings (1985)would be good places to start. Otherwise check out Jan Toms’ book Animal Graves and Memorials (Shire 2006) which has a gazeteer of other sites.