Mrs Henry Wood's Grave, Highgate Cemetery, London

Monument of the popular novelist Mrs Henry (Ellen) Wood (1814-1887). The Times of 9 February 1889 reports that the monumental masons were Macdonald & Co. of Aberdeen; but the firm of A. MacDonald & Co. had a workshop in the Euston Road, so the work is likely to have been theirs, and done locally. Completed early in 1889, the monument is of red Aberdeen granite, and is located in the Western Cemetery of Highgate cemetery, Swain's Lane, London N6.

Wood had been ailing for some time. According to the Pall Mall Gazette, she had not been out of doors since the summer of 1885. She died of heart failure on 10 February 1887, aged 73, and was buried here on 16 February. The funeral was private, with no details given out, and only those closest to her in immediate attendance. These included her eldest son Henry, who returned from the south of France, where Wood had spent the happiest days of her marriage, to be present (see "The Late Mrs Henry Wood"). However, a funeral procession like hers could not pass unnoticed. One of the major newspapers gave the following account:

In the bright sunshine of yesterday forenoon, a procession which attracted general attention, and evoked much sympathy and manifestations of respect, passed by the northern boundary of Regent's Park, up the main road to Highgate Cemetery. The procession consisted of sixteen carriages, and its character was proclaimed” by that which came first. This was an open funeral car, drawn” by four black horses; and the polished oak coffin, with its massive brass mountings, was heaped up with fragrant wreaths of choice hot-house flowers, mostly snow-white, and set about with delicate ferns. These memorial offerings of sorrowing friends not only covered the coffin, but were piled up on either side to the lid, and hung upon the pinnacles of the hearse roof.” bystanders uncovered as this procession passed along, and the response to the oft-repeated questions whispered from house to pavement was always the same — "It is Mrs. Henry Wood, the novelist." "I never saw such a sight," said one working man to another, uncovering as the procession passed them.

Many people gathered at St Stephen's Church, Avenue Road, where the funeral service took place, and many waited at the cemetery, too, for the committal:

The vaulted grave had been newly formed out of the turfed space edging the outer circle of catacombs at the very highest point of the cemetery grounds, and at the foot, therefore, of Highgate Church. Into the tomb, within a few hours, had been lowered the coffin, exhumed from its original grave and enclosed in a new coffin of polished oak, of Mr. Henry Wood, husband of the lady who was now to be laid” by his side; and large floral wreaths had been placed upon this coffin before the arrival of its companion. A superb cross, composed entirely of Neapolitan violets and lilies of the valley. hid the plate upon Mrs. Henry Wood's coffin, and smaller wreaths obscured the text upon the brass scroll: "'I am the Resurrection and the Life' saith the Lord." The inscription upon the breastplate was simply the name, date of birth, 17th January 1814, and of death, l0th February 1887. The scores of floral wreaths sent by literary and other friends were arranged and left upon the heavy stone slab, which, at the conclusion of the service, and in the presence of the principal mourners, was rolled to its place, covering the vault. (qtd. in Wood 318-20)

The tomb-chest monument itself was not completed until about two years later. In keeping with the appurtenances of the funeral, it is particularly fine. According to Mrs Wood's son and biographer, it was copied from that of Scipio Africanus (Wood 320), and that is what the Times reported when it was completed. But the original is more correctly described as the sarcophagus of Scipio Africanus's ancestor, Cornelius Lucius Scipio Barbaratus, which is preserved in the Vatican Museums (see Griffith 71).

The choice of style might seem rather pretentious, but in fact this was fashionable at the time — the "Scipio" memorial was "the model for a great many nineteenth-century memorials in cemeteries on both sides of the Atlantic" (Curl 77). Supporting the latter point, illustrations in a book of memorial art published in America show similar tombs in several American graveyards, including Forest Home Cemetery, Milwaukee, and Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island. Indeed, says the American commentator, "It can safely be said that of all antique forms no other monument has been so frequently imitated. It is certainly one of the most dignified and beautiful of all the many forms used, requiring of the designer and sculptor a keen appreciation of what is graceful and in good taste, as well as in good proportion" (Griffith 72).

The inscription on the end of the monument is "Mrs Henry Wood. The Lord giveth wisdom." Besides Wood's dutiful son Charles, who had been helping her edit the Argosy for several years now, the couple left two other sons and a daughter, and one or more grandchildren (see Mitchell).

Related Material

Colour Photograph by Robert Freidus, appearing here by kind permission of Highgate Cemetery. Black and white scan and formatting by the author. [You may use the scan without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the Victorian Web and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite it in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.]


Curl, James Stevens. The Victorian Celebration of Death. Paperback ed. Stroud: Sutton, 2004. Print.

Griffith, A. H. "The Sarcophagus of Scipio." Memorial Art, Ancient and Modern. Arranged” by Harry Augustus Bliss. Buffalo, N.Y.: Bliss, 1912. 71-74. Internet Archive. Web. 19 November 2013.

"The Late Mrs Henry Wood — The funeral of." The Times. 17 February 1887: 10. Times Digital Archive. Web. 19 November 2013.

"The Late Mrs Henry Wood — Messrs." The Times. 9 February 1889: 11. Times Digital Archive. Web. 19 November 2013.

Mitchell, Sally. "Wood [née Price], Ellen [known as Mrs Henry Wood] (1814-1887)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed.

"Mrs Henry Wood." Pall Mall Gazette. 11 February 1887: 3. 19th Century British Newspapers. Web. 19 November 2013.

Wood, Charles W. Memorials of Mrs Henry Wood. London: Richard Bentley, 1894. Internet Archive. Web. 19 November 2013.

Last modified 19 November 2013