From his garden to his grave

IT IS PLEASANT to stroll beside the Thames along Chiswick Mall. Occasionally, we take a look at the graveyard of Chiswick’s St Nicholas Church. On a recent visit to this place, we walked deeper into it than usual and spotted a grave marked by a remarkable sculpture.

The idyllic, romantic, leafy churchyard by the river is chock full of graves. Several of them caught my attention. One is that for the artist William Hogarth, who lived close-by. His monument is protected by a cast-iron fence. An urn on a plinth decorated with an artist’s palette and brushes. It was erected after the death of his sister in 1781 (who is also commemorated on this monument) and was restored by a William Hogarth of Aberdeen in 1856. Another painter, Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740-1812), who was born in Strasbourg, is buried with his wife Lucy de Loutherborg (née Paget). Like Hogarth’s, their decaying monument on the north side of the cemetery is surrounded by cast iron railings. In 1789, Philippe gave up painting temporarily to develop his interest in alchemy and the supernatural. Later, he and his wife took up faith-healing. The remains of yet another painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), lie in the cemetery.

Private Frederick Hitch (1856-1913) is less famous than these artists. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his brave actions during the Battle of Rorke’s Drift (January 1879) in the Anglo-Zulu War fought in South Africa. He is also buried in this large cemetery.

Amongst the more recent graves is the one with the unusual sculpture. It is that of Baronet Percy Harris (1876-1952), who was a Liberal politician. Son of a Polish immigrant, he was born in Kensington, and died there after a long career in parliamentary politics. According to a website listing British Jews in WW1, Percy was Jewish, yet his grave is distinctly Christian in sentiment. Aesthetically, his grave is the most remarkable one in the cemetery next to St Nicholas. It includes a semi-abstract, vorticist carving of The Resurrection of the Dead, created by the sculptor Edward Bainbridge Copnall (1903-1973) in the 1920s. Harris had acquired it for display in his garden long before it was moved to adorn his grave.

Although Percy Harris was born Jewish, he is buried in the graveyard of a Church of England parish church. Despite searching the Internet, including reading his extensive entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, I cannot determine whether or not he converted to Christianity sometime during his life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s