Writing in her popular God's Acre: Or Historical Notices Relating to Churchyards (1858), Mrs Stone described angels as playing important roles in human life, and especially at the time of death, as heavenly messengers whispering "of faith, of hope, of comfort, in that Divine expiation made for all sin." [405]

"In modern days, also, has it not been at the shrine of death that the highest efforts of the Michael Angelos, the Canovas, the Thorwaldsens, and the Chantreys, have been elicited and exhibited? The tomb has, in fact, been the great chronicler of taste throughout the world." [John Claudius Loudon 13]

Left to right: (a) A yearning figure, surely representing the parents' grief, looks heavenward over the graves of Mary, William and Alice Agnes, children of William and Elizabeth Harrison. The dates of their deaths are given, respectively, as 1859 (at 14 months); 1863 (at 8 months), and 1880 (at the age of sixteen). (b) This poignant figure dates from 1861. An allegory of Religion, with one hand resting on the bible, it maintains the memory of Mrs Eliza Vaughan who died in 1858. It was the work of the Welsh sculptor Joseph Edwards (1814-1882). (c) A typical tableau of cross and wreath-bearing angel marks the grave of Fanny Lee Byce, who died in 1911. Byce, née Lee, whose key to Milton's "L'Allegro" and "Il Pensoroso" was published in 1903, saw herself as "a pure lover and follower of the truth-seeking Milton" (Preface xii). (d) Johannes Engel, aged 61, died in 1900, and lies buried beneath this pensive angel. [Click on these and the following images for larger pictures.]

Three views of the sleeping angel on the grave of Mary Nichols. The inscription reads: “In Ever Loving Memory of Mary, the darling wife of Arthur Nichols and fondly loved mother of their only son Harold who fell asleep 7th May 1909. Also of Dennis Arthur Charles son of Harold and Winifred who died 28th April 1916 aged 18 months.” Jeane Trend-Hill explains that Mary's husband was a bank manager, so he could afford this kind of splendid and unusual monument. In this case the implication seems to be that the deceased is herself a sleeping angel.

Left to right: (a) A child kneels on the monument identified as belonging to the Telfer family. It seems similar to one described in an early guide to the cemetery, of a child kneeling prayer over the grave of a five-year-old boy (see Justyne 46). The child's innocence and devoutness marks him out as already angelic, and guarantees his reception into heaven. (b) and (c) An angel on the grave of Amy Leger, who died in 1902. (d) An angel for the Swain family: John Swain died in 1898, at the age of 69.

All photographs by Robert Freidus, who also provided names and dates. Text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. Photographs reproduced here by kind permission of Highgate Cemetery.

Related Material


Byse, Fanny Lee. Milton on the Continent; a Key to L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, with several illustrations, a historical chart, and an original portrait of Galileo. London: Elliot Stock, 1903. Internet Archive. Web. 19 August 2013.

Justyne, William. A Guide to Highgate Cemetery. London: (printed by) J. Moore, c.1865. Hathi Trust. Web. 19 August 2013.

Loudon, John Claudius. On the Laying Out, Planting, and Managing of Cemeteries, and on the Improvement of Churchyards. London: Longmans, 1843. Internet Archive. Web. 19 August 2013.

Stone, Mrs. God's Acre: Or Historical Notices Relating to Churchyards. London: John W. Parker & Son, 1858. Internet Archive. Web. 19 August 2013.

Trend-Hilll, Jean. Post on the National Federation of Cemetery Friends website.

Last modified 19 August 2013