Saturday, 23 September 2017



St. Boniface Parish Church, Bonchurch, Isle of Wight. Some of the land was given by Rev. James White and his wife Rosa; the rest was purchased from them for £600 which was generously donated by Captain (later Admiral) Charles Swinburne of East Dene. The architect was Benjamin Ferrey of London who followed the traditional Norman style (which can be seen at the Old Church of St. Boniface in Bonchurch dedicated in 1070 A.D.) The foundation stone was laid on 24th June 1847 by Rev. William Adams and the church was completed eighteen months later.
Lady Jane Swinburne was the daughter of earl Ashburnham and the Swinburne's had seven children the eldest being the poet Charles Algernon Swinburne.To the left of the pathway towards the church
entrance are the six graves of the Swinburne family in fine Sicilian marble. Along with the poet is his brother Edward and sisters Alice, Charlotte and Isobel. There are a total of eight members of the Swinburne family buried in the churchyard.
Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) poet and son of Admiral and Lady Jane Swinburne of East Dene. He was brought up as a child in Bonchurch by his parents who were high church before being sent to Eton (1849-53) and Balliol College, Oxford (1856-60).
At Eton Swinburne began to write poetry but it was at Oxford where Swinburne first began to make a name for himself as a poet. His poetry was deemed scandalous and decadent for its sexual
content and he is best known for his poetry collection  'Atalanta in Calydon' (1865) and 'Poems and Ballads' (1866)
At the age of twenty he became an atheist and his poetry shocked the Victorian literary society of his time. The poet drank heavily and in 1879 his health suffered and he was cared for by his friend Theodore Watts-Dunton (1832-1914) at his home in Putney, in effect, Watts-Dunton saved the poet's life! The youthful poet of scandalous and rebelliousness behaviour now became a dull figure of social respectability.
Swinburne spent little time in Bonchurch, having little in common with his father, although during several months in 1863 he was home at East Dene recovering from an illness following an
epileptic fit. He died on Saturday 10th April 1909 at the age of seventy-two at The Pines in Putney.
Swinburne was buried on Thursday 15th April 1909 amidst a flurry of controversy; the night before the funeral, Mr. Theodore Watts-Dunton, Swinburne's executor, sent a telegram to the Rev.
John Floyd Andrewes saying that the planned quiet burial service would not take place (Swinburne being an atheist). Instead the poet's friends would gather in silence and throw flowers into the open grave in honour of the poet. The Rev. Andrewes was not happy and reminded everyone about  the family's deep connection to the building of the church. He asked people to pray for the poet's surviving sister who was too ill to attend the service. He then began the funeral service and blessing. Mr. Watts-Dunton was unable to be present at the funeral due to having influenza but his wife did attend. In this  tranquil place such great poets as Thomas Hardy and John Betjeman have stood. Hardy wrote his poem 'A Singer Asleep' (1910) while sitting next to Swinburne's grave. Near to his grave is also the grave of Henry de Vere Stacpoole (1863-1951) the novelist who lived at Cliff Dene and who wrote 'The Blue Lagoon'. He is buried with his two wives who were sisters.
Having a deep love of poetry and fascination for death the old ghoul in me could not help but rest awhile upon the sacred stone of Swinburne's grave as I have done in the past with such great artists as Mary Shelley (1797-1851), W. M. Thackeray (1811-1863) and the poet Edmund Blunden (1896-1974), to name a few delightful tombs. It was here, that the fellow poet, the young Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) came to pay homage as she bent low over the grave and poured a jug of milk and placed a wreath of bay leaves upon the stone, and a honeycomb and a red rose!
The church was consecrated on 11th December 1849 by Bishop Sumner of Winchester. The Swinburne's were not present at the consecration as they had left early in December for Capheaton
the Swinburne family home near Newcastle.
East Dene, the family home of the Swinburne's
Opposite East Dene Charles Dickens lived at Winterbourne which he rented from his friend the Rev. James White from July to October 1849. It was here that he wrote six chapters of his 'David
The old church of St. Boniface in Bonchurch where Swinburne was
baptised when he was five years old.
Some of the beautiful old tombs at the old church
Inside there are the traces of ancient murals upon the walls
and the simple altar reflects the simple beauty
of this delightful stone church.
The entrance from the churchyard.
A last look
According to newspaper reports of the time, Swinburne's body left the Pines in Putney around 8.15 a.m. on Thursday 15th April 1909. The hearse travelled along Upper-Richmond Road, St John's Hill and Chelsea Bridge to Waterloo Station where it arrived about 8.40 a.m. The coffin was transferred to the 8.55 a.m. train to Portsmouth. At Portsmouth the coffin was transferred to the steamer which reached Ryde Pier about 1 p.m. The coffin was then transferred again to train and taken to Ventnor where it arrived approximately 2 p.m. it eventually arrived at the churchyard of St Boniface, Bonchurch an hour later.



 (Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1837-1909)


In this fair niche above the unslumbering sea,
That sentrys up and down all night, all day,
From cove to promontory, from ness to bay,
The Fates have fitly bidden that he should be Pillowed eternally.


- It was as though a garland of red roses
Had fallen about the hood of some smug nun
When irresponsibly dropped as from the sun,
In fulth of numbers freaked with musical closes,
Upon Victoria's formal middle time
His leaves of rhythm and rhyme.


O that far morning of a summer day
When, down a terraced street whose pavements lay
Glassing the sunshine into my bent eyes,
I walked and read with a quick glad surprise
New words, in classic guise, -


The passionate pages of his earlier years,
Fraught with hot sighs, sad laughters, kisses, tears;
Fresh-fluted notes, yet from a minstrel who
Blew them not naively, but as one who knew
Full well why thus he blew.


I still can hear the brabble and the roar
At those thy tunes, O still one, now passed through
That fitful fire of tongues then entered new!
Their power is spent like spindrift on this shore;
Thine swells yet more and more.


- His singing-mistress verily was no other
Than she the Lesbian, she the music-mother
Of all the tribe that feel in melodies;
Who leapt, love-anguished, from the Leucadian steep
Into the rambling world-encircling deep
Which hides her where none sees.


And one can hold in thought that nightly here
His phantom may draw down to the water's brim,
And hers come up to meet it, as a dim
Lone shine upon the heaving hydrosphere,
And mariners wonder as they traverse near,
Unknowing of her and him.


One dreams him sighing to her spectral form:
"O teacher, where lies hid thy burning line;
Where are those songs, O poetess divine
Whose very arts are love incarnadine?"
And her smile back: "Disciple true and warm,
Sufficient now are thine." . . .


So here, beneath the waking constellations,
Where the waves peal their everlasting strains,
And their dull subterrene reverberations
Shake him when storms make mountains of their plains -
Him once their peer in sad improvisations,
And deft as wind to cleave their frothy manes -
I leave him, while the daylight gleam declines
Upon the capes and chines.

(written by Thomas Hardy when he visited the church with his friend Florence Dugdale in March 1910)


An account of Swinburne’s funeral according to Helen Rossetti, daughter of the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882):

'suddenly became aware of a lugubrious chanting noise, and on looking around perceived that several carrion crows [her description of the funeral procession] had descended: a clergyman, in surplus get-up, was preceding the coffin chanting psalms or whatever they are. On reaching the grave, and the coffin being deposited, he [the rector of Bonchurch] made a little speech. He began by saying that he deeply regretted to announce that at a late hour yesterday he read a telegram from Swinburne’s executor saying that it was Swinburne’s wish not to have the burial service, that he however intended to show the utmost respect to the memory of the dead poet, who whatever his after opinions may have been, was nevertheless a baptised member of our Church [St. Boniface, where ACS had been baptized]. He went on talking, but I felt perfectly ill with disgust. Emery Walker, who was standing near me, murmured ‘scandalous.’ I answered, ‘It’s disgraceful. I can’t stand it.’ When I heard the wretch begin in his droning voice ‘Man that is born of woman’ I quietly retired from the scene and going right away from the vicinity of the grave plucked a branch of bay and some primroses and violets which were growing about wild. When I saw that the clergyman had finished I returned, and was one of the first to throw flowers into the open grave. Again to my horror[,] I saw the coffin was covered with a purple pall on which was designed a huge white cross, and I thought of … [Swinburne’s] verses: ‘Thou hast conquered, oh pale Galilean, and the world has grown grey from thy breath.’ [ ‘A C Swinburne: A Poet’s Life’. p. 286. Rikky Rooksby. 1997]



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