Site Unseen: Telephone boxes, suicides and Thomas Hardy: A weekly look at London's hidden gems

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
In some parts of London the observer can feel all too clearly the phantoms of grief and sorrow pressing down insistently, determined that sadnesses past will linger on in times present.

Few places in the capital have such a pronounced air of melancholy as the superficially attractive gardens which enclose St Pancras Old Church. No matter how pleasant the weather, few people ever seem to linger here. Even the dogs out on a walkabout show little inclination to inspect the trees.

Which is perhaps not very surprising when one remembers that this was once London's premier suicide spot and those wishing to depart the world used to hang themselves from these very trees in great numbers.

Or if one recalls that the future Mary Shelley, who regularly canoodled here with poet P B Shelley, was later to publish a novel called Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus.

Today's gardens were once a massive churchyard until the railway line from nearby St Pancras station cut right through the middle in the 1860s. A young would-be architect, Thomas Hardy, was responsible for transferring the disturbed remains to a new resting place in Bournemouth. The mortuary and the old workhouse still stand nearby.

But it is not all doom and gloom in Old St Pancras Gardens. The most famous remaining occupant is the architect Sir John Soane, responsible not just for some fine London churches and the Dulwich Picture Gallery but also his own treasure trove of a house which can be - and should be - visited in Lincoln's Inn Fields.

Soane designed his own mausoleum, which has recently been sensitively restored at a cost of pounds 40,000, and it was here on his death in 1837 that he was placed alongside his wife Eliza.

But look carefully at the shape. What does it remind you of? Absolutely. One of the old red telephone boxes.

This is not in fact the coincidence it might seem. The man who did in fact design the much-loved kiosks, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (he of Battersea and Bankside Power Station fame), was an ardent fan of Soane. And so this was the shape he chose as a tribute to Soane's inspiration.

But the next time you use one of the old red boxes, please don't forget the suicides swinging mournfully from the trees in St Pancras.

Old St Pancras Gardens are just off the northern end of Pancras Road and contain St Pancras Old Church. You can't miss the Soane mausoleum which is of gleaming white stone.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments