A Late February Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, at this time of the year the pace of change is almost too quick to keep up with. Every time I go to the cemetery it feels new-minted. This week, the blossom on what I think is a Japanese crab apple (though glad to be told otherwise) is just opening from tight, dark-pink buds.

And finally there is a flush of green on the swamp cypress, right at the very top where the twigs get the most sun.

There are blue tits everywhere, pecking over the twigs for hibernating insects

The snowdrops are going over…

….but the daffodils are coming out.

I love this path through the trees…

I hear a buzzard calling, but can’t spot it. All the other birds can though – the crows are up in arms in an instant.

I love the loop around Kew Road. These are among the least trodden roads, which is probably why I enjoy them so much. This grave is full of spring flowers – crocuses and miniature daffodils.

Last week’s early crocuses are still going strong, and are being visited by honeybees and bumblebees. I always thought that my back garden would be too shady for crocuses, but these don’t seem to mind the dappled light. Maybe Crocus tommasinianus would be just the thing after all.

The primroses are out as well.

And so are the first scillas. How intensely blue these flowers are! Almost as blue as gentians.

And finally, I have always been intrigued by this grave, largely because of the unusual name ‘Syssyllt’. The Honourable Syssyllt Avis Gurney was the daughter of Frederic George Morgan, 5th Baron Tredegar, which is an estate in Monmouthshire, Wales, dating to 1859. Syssyllt seems to have been a Welsh family name, and the lady herself was extremely well-travelled, and well-heeled – she lived on Charles Street, which is close to Berkeley Square in Mayfair, and I have passenger lists which show her arriving in Bristol from Bermuda in 1948 and travelling to Port Said in Egypt in 1930. In 1932 she left Rangoon in what was then Burma to travel back to the UK, but there was also a voyage to Colombo in Sri Lanka in the same year. Goodness, what was she up to? It’s very frustrating not to know more of the story. She seems to have spent some of her later years in Aberdeenshire, but was back in London when she died. Interestingly (to me anyway), Gurney was in correspondence with Compton Mackenzie who wrote ‘Whisky Galore’ for over twenty years. If you want to see the letter where he explains what his inspiration for the book came from you can see it here.

What I can’t find is anything about her career, or her life. Right Honourable usually refers to a Member of Parliament, but I can’t see anything about that aspect of her life. Her grave is in a lovely spot, and I always wonder about her whenever I pass by, as I do about so many of the graves that I pass. On a beautiful sunny day like today, it’s easier to feel not downcast but uplifted here, to think about all the lives that have come before, how rich and interesting they seem, and about how all of our stories will one day come to this, all sound and fury spent. We all contribute to the extraordinary richness of history, even if we don’t realise it.



4 thoughts on “A Late February Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

  1. Emily B

    I too was intrigued by the name on the grave. A little bit of searching revealed she was an ‘Hon.’ because she was the daughter of a baron, the 5th Baron Tredegar. But nothing much else could be found! Beautiful flowers, and apt to see the springing of new life amongst the dead.

  2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    Your flowers are really coming out. Only the hepatica and speedwell here, plus a couple of daisies! Though, as you say, things can change very quickly. Such a shame you couldn’t discover more about Syssylt, you’d think a name like that would be easy to find via Google. (Perhaps she was a spy!) 🤔


Leave a Reply