Plan to refurbish Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Highgate burial site as a centre for study and the community
- Credit: Archant
The Coleridge Trust, set up this year, has plans to refurbish the crypt and create a facility for scholars. Mark Collinson talks to the trust and looks at the Sage of Highgate’s connection with the village.
In 2018, during extensive renovation work, the final resting place of Samuel Taylor Coleridge was rediscovered beneath the dust and debris of a 17th century wine cellar underneath St Michael’s Church in Highgate.
Originally buried in the crypt beneath Highgate School after his death from heart failure on July 25, 1834, he was relocated to St Michael’s in 1961 because of rebuilding and the failing integrity of the school’s crypt.
The Coleridge Trust has been set up to raise money and awareness, and to restore the crypt at St Michael’s to a place befitting one of the giants of English literature.
Drew Clode, the trust’s secretary, said: “As an educational facility the refurbished burial area will primarily be a resource for those who wish to pay their respects to the poet and to study aspects of his life - particularly those years spent in the village.”
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He said the trust will be able to proceed with work as lockdown eases. A website is in development and the British Library, a major holder of Coleridge archive material, has pledged to help the project.
Drew said: “Our fundamental aim is a refurbishment of the wine cellar in which the remains lie, and more ambitiously to refurbish the whole crypt area as a centre for Coleridgean studies as well as a community facility for the use of Highgate residents, as well as those from surrounding London boroughs.”
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Born in 1772 Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a poet, philosopher, literary critic and, along with his good friend William Wordsworth, was both founder and leading light of the Romantic Movement. His work includes Biographia Literaria, Kluba Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
His biographer, Richard Holmes, described Coleridge as “a cuckoo moving from branch to branch”, but on moving to Highgate in 1823 he would find a home until his death, hoping to kick the laudanum (opium) habit that had followed him for much of his adult life.
In April of 1816 he moved in with Dr Gillman at Moreton House, 14 South Grove, and in 1823 moved, along with the Gillmans, to his final residence, 3 The Grove. His second-floor room at the back of the house offered views over both Hampstead Heath and Kenwood House, and can still been seen nestled behind the tree lined streets of The Grove, opposite St Michael’s Church in the centre of Highgate village. A bronze plaque placed by the then-St Pancreas Borough Council marks the site.
It’s easy to imagine Samuel Taylor Coleridge taking a brisk stroll through Highgate Village while composing verses or meeting with acquaintances and friends such as Wordsworth, Charles Lamb or Gabriel Rossetti. Indeed, it was on Milford Lane that he met with John Keats. Later remarking: “There is death in that handshake.”
We know that TH Dunn’s Pharmacy, formerly located on the corner of Highgate High Street and Townsend Yard, was a regular stop for Coleridge, and it was here that he stood to watch the funeral carriage of Lord Byron on route to his burial in Hucknall in 1824. It is almost inconceivable that he didn’t wonder into The Flask pub for a quick brandy or two, located just a stone’s throw away from his residence across Pond Square.
One thing we know became a constant in Coleridge’s turbulent life was St Michael’s Church where he worshiped for his final 18 months, from its consecration in 1832. A slab can be seen in the church’s centre isle, inscribed with words Coleridge wrote, already aware the end was near.
“Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God,
And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seemed he.
O, lift one thought in prayer for STC:
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!
Mercy for praise—to be forgiven for fame
He asked, and hoped, through Christ. Do thou the same!”
Donations/inquires for the Coleridge Trust can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org