Thomas ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ Gray’s Tercentenary

One of Buckinghamshire’s hidden gems has been brought to life by the Thomas Gray Anniversary Project.

Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771) was an English poet, letter-writer, classical scholar and academic. His Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is arguably the most famous poem written in the English language and is believed to have been written in Stoke Poges, a village with which Gray had a close association throughout his life and where he was buried. 2016 marks Thomas Gray’s Tercentenary.

240px-Stoke_Poges_Church

St Giles’ Churchyard, Stoke Poges

Started in 2012, the project worked to restore Thomas Gray’s tomb in St Giles’ Churchyard, Stoke Poges, carry out conservation work on the Monument and introduce a new generation to that much-loved poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”.

Although nearly 5 metres high, the “plain, square block of stone of good size, without ornament or embellishment” which lies at the heart of the Thomas Gray Landscape in Stoke Poges is often overlooked.

This has now changed with the installation by the National Trust of the Thomas Gray Landscape board which welcomes visitors to the site and draws their attention to the legacy of this unassuming poet who penned one of the world’s most famous poems, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”.

On 9 July 2016, the Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt. Revd Alan Wilson came to Stoke Poges to unveil the board and engage the attending audience with his explanation of the importance of this poem and its message concerning the contribution of every individual to the common good and the transitory nature of celebrity.

The Bishop of Buckingham studies the new information-board about Thomas Gray in Stoke Poges

The Bishop of Buckingham studies the new information-board about Thomas Gray in Stoke Poges

Diana le Clercq, a key player in organising the Stoke Poges Village Thomas Gray celebration was delighted to welcome volunteers who had worked on improving the landscape around the Monument and several of the children from Stoke Poges School who had participated in the Thomas Gray School Expeditions started in 2012.  Alex Kurtis who was there with his sister Sarah and their grandmother Pam Oliver is now a student at John Hampden School, founded in the name of a famous Buckinghamshire man who is mentioned in the Elegy.

“Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast

The little tyrant of his fields withstood”.

 

The Thomas Gray memorial

The Thomas Gray Memorial, Stoke Poges

Visitors enjoyed picnics by the Monument where the Burnham Concert Band played, tours of the Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens where teas were served by the Friends and visits to the Bell Tower after the bells rang out to invite people to attend the unveiling at 3 pm. The afternoon finished with a short programme of music and readings in St. Giles Church.  The day was the culmination of a project that started several years ago.

Readers interested to learn more about the Thomas Gray landscape are invited to attend the Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens Heritage walk which will take place on 11 September as part of Heritage Weekend.

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