Sunday, 21 June 2015

London, Gray's Elegy, Ron Taylor, his parents... and his son.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
         The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
         And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

In March 1979, as my father lay in his death bed at Royal Brisbane Hospital, he would often recite poems and verse he had learnt as a young man. In particular he loved "Elegy written in a country church yard" by Thomas Gray. More commonly known as Gray's Elegy it was composed by Gray as he sat in the church yard of St Giles in the village of Stokes Poge. In fact my father went to that same churchyard as a young man to think about just what had inspired Gray to write that piece.

So that was 1979 and now 2015 finds me here in London.. catching up with cousin Mark and also chasing family ghosts. Despite many trips to London this past 32 years, I had never seen the old Taylor home in Sydenham. The home where my father lived with his 9 siblings and from where he set out to join the British Army in 1914 to serve in the Great War. Cousin Mark knew the house and so we visited there...  I had no idea what I would find. And I had no idea of the emotions it would awaken in me. The home still stands despite the Blitz destroying homes just near by in 1940. It is now divided into flats. One upstairs and one downstairs. How did I know this? Well I didn't  until I knocked on the door.

The Ghosts of Taylors past!

 A man who was keen to hear of my quest to lay some ghosts to rest, answered the door. I suppose he was in his late forties and greying slightly. We went to the back yard with the well that my late father spoke of. (Now covered by a wood shed) He then left me to wander around and went back to his day... telling me that this was the most rewarding knock on the door he had ever had! So as I took the pictures and thought about my father and his journey from a boy to a man in the heat of battle, and then becoming my father some 39 years later.. the tears welled up in my eyes. And fell. Amazing how a house in the suburbs of London can have such an emotional impact on one's life. I only wish I had of had wisdom in my youth to come and see this while he was still alive... so many questions that now will never be answered...

From the back garden.

The woodshed on the RHS that covers the well.

This is it!

The shrubbery covers the front of the semi-detached home.

But back to Gray's Elegy....

My father's parents both died when he was living in Australia. (Christina in 1940 and George in 1947) Once he emigrated to the antipodes in 1925 he never saw them again. He returned to England for the first time in December 1968 and visited their graves in Kent. And despite my many trips to the UK.. I had never even thought about seeking out those two grave sites.

So off to St Mary's on our pilgramedge  to find the graves of my forebears. 

As we drove to Kent to St Mary's to search for my Grandparents' graves, cousin Mark told me of how he had last visited here when he was 16.. some 30 plus years ago. St Marys has a policy of letting the graveyard grow out of control to allow God's own creatures to have a place of refuge. 

But sometimes.. these things are not to be....

We searched but alas could not find the head stones that would perhaps give me more pieces to the story of my life as squirrels ran up trees much to Debra's delight. 

Despite our best efforts....

I stood in the back of the graveyard and took the following picture.. and I thought of that first verse of Gray's Elegy. It is worth repeating...

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,        
 The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
         And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

"Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade, 
         Where heaves the turf in many a mould'ring heap, 
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid, 
         The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep."

Just exactly where in that grave yard lie Christina Regina and George Baldwin Taylor I do not know. But having been there on that cold afternoon was a very emotional experience. I actually tried to recite to myself the first verse of the Elegy.. but again the tears welled up in my eyes.

A very overgrown yet very beautiful scene.. and as the night began to fall, the English rain came down and hid my tears.

Time to leave.

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