Up on top of Lansdown, on the north side of Bath, sits a landmark well-known to anyone local to the area: Beckford’s Tower and Museum.
The tower was built in 1827 by William Beckford as a folly in which to keep his library and indulge in his passion for the arts. The tower was part of a large estate which stretched down to Lansdown Crescent; today, much of this land is covered by Kingswood School.
In 1848, four years after Beckford’s death, his daughter repurchased the tower, and the land directly next to it was donated to the local parish and consecrated. This ground is now Lansdown cemetery.
I grew up just down the road from Beckford’s Tower. So, when I was back down visiting family in January 2015, I went for a (re)visit.
The tower itself is closed between October and March, so it was only the cemetery that was open. But, to be honest, it’s enough of a visit in itself.
It was a beautiful, sunny, crisp and clear January afternoon, and as the cemetery looks across the Bath valley, I could see for miles. The low, bright light was casting long shadows, which created gorgeous textures from the gravestones and the overgrown grass and trees.
In keeping with the gilt-pillared, lavishly decorated tower, Beckford’s grave is similarly immodest. It sits on its own mound, separated from the rest of the graves by a moat-like ditch. The tomb itself is made of granite and the pillars and edging are wonderfully reminiscent of ancient Egyptian temple architecture.
There was one gravestone, however, which caught my eye more than any of the other elaborate, beautifully carved offerings. It’s a plain, undecorated cross which, at some point over the years, has fallen over. Its engraving simply says:
“Kate” at rest
This grave makes me feel a little sad. Whoever occupies this grave seems to be unknown. Who was “Kate”? Was that her real name? How old was she? Did she have family who cared for her? Somebody obviously cared enough to provide a burial and headstone, but who?
The grave is poignant and stands out in its simplicity amongst the grandiosity of its neighbours. Rest in peace, “Kate”.