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The Hardy Tree St Pancras Church

Moving The Dead

A story similar to HS2 that took place in the 1800s reminds us of how the dead still remain important to the living. It also raises questions of ethics and how we treat corporeal remains.

St. Pancras Old Church, is thought  to be one of Englands’ oldest places of Christian worship. It s here in the graveyard that Thomas Hardy the classic novelist created a moving tribute to the bodies moved when a new railway line was constructed.

I cannot help but wonder how the people of the day felt about this new railway and how they felt about having their loved ones bodies dug up and moved. This story from the eighteen hundreds is perhaps an interesting pointer to how social mores have changed to those of our current modern society.

The Hardy Tree is an ash tree surrounded by hundreds of weathered gravestones. How did they come to be arranged in this way?

The Hardy Tree

A Growing Railway System

In the mid-1860s, Britain’s rail system was growing rapidly and London was outgrowing its existing lines. In order to accommodate the growing population of commuters, an expansion was planned and this directly affected the graveyard at St. Pancras.

In order to make way for the new train line the task was required of exhuming the remains and reburying them at another site. In this case this unpleasant yet sensitive job was assigned to a young employee, Thomas Hardy. The classic novelist, who in the following decades would publish many classic novels such as Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

After the essential duty was completed, there remained hundreds of headstones, along with the question of what to do with them. Hardy’s solution was to place them in a circular pattern around an ash tree in the churchyard in a spot that would not be disturbed by the railway.

Naturally I wonder what became of the bodies but at least the gravestones were kept and arranged as a beautiful tribute.

Does it matter if there is no body to go with a gravestone? How must it feel for those whose loved ones bodies have been removed in this way?

HS2 an Abomination Destroying Graveyards and Cemeteries

Now we have HS2 a scheme objected to by very many thousands upon thousands, that is not only destroying some of our last 2% remaining ancient woodlands, wild life, peoples homes and businesses but is also destroying churches, graveyards and cemeteries. All sacrificed for short term financial gain by a few, short term jobs with commuting now on the decline.

Is this technologically out of date and wildly over budget scheme going to honour the dead as beautifully as Thomas Hardy did? How will the bodies be removed? What will happen to the bodies? How do the loved ones left behind feel at seeing the final resting places of their loved ones desecrated by such a pointless scheme?

What Can We Learn From The Past For Today?

In these modern times when so little attention is paid to our eco system and to the voice of the people, perhaps there are lessons to be learned here from the past. Up until the last couple of hundred years the dead remained undisturbed for thousands of years. Yet now they are dug up for the needs of modern society. Should we view this as progress that we no longer pay due regard to the dead or is it time to revisit our priorities? What do you think?