ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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THE GRAVE OF ROBERT BUCHANAN

 

1. Introduction.

2. The Original Memorial.

3. The Grave in August, 2003.

4. The Return of Buchanan’s Head - March 15th, 2011.

5. The New Bust of Buchanan.

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Introduction

Robert Buchanan was buried alongside his wife, Mary, and his mother, Margaret Buchanan, in the churchyard of St. John the Baptist in Southend-on-Sea. Harriett Jay is also buried in the same plot.

To begin at the beginning. Mary Buchanan died on November 7th, 1881 at 2, Devereux Terrace, Southend. The following notice was printed in The Times on November 14th, 1881:

marydeathtimes

Mary Buchanan was buried in the churchyard of St. John the Baptist on November 13th, 1881. Buchanan’s mother, Margaret Williams Buchanan, died on November 5th, 1894. The following notice was printed in The Times on November 8th, 1894:

motherdeathtimes

On November 8th, 1894 Buchanan wrote in his diary: “To-day I took my darling to Southend and laid her in her grave beside poor Polly.”
After the death of Robert Buchanan on June 10th, 1901, the Southend Standard and Essex Weekly Advertiser in their obituary gave the following description of the gravesite:

     “As we stated in the heading, Mrs. Buchanan was buried in St. John’s Churchyard, Southend, and a representative was despatched to ascertain particulars of the little known event. After a long search, with the aid of the sexton, the grave was discovered in the north-east corner, near the wall, and close by the Rumble enclosure. It is a brick grave and was covered with long grass, and the low head-stone was nearly hidden from view. The inscription thereon is: “Sacred to the memory of Mary Buchanan, who fell asleep at Southend-on-Sea, November 7th, 1881 aged 36 years.” We understand that another interment—that of a sister—was made in the grave about seven years ago, but no record is given on the headstone. The sexton states that up to a few years ago he was paid to keep the grave in repair, but since then it has not been attended to. A few weeks since, however, some ladies made enquires and diligent search in the churchyard for the resting place, but were then unable to find it.”

The mention of a ‘sister’ being buried ‘about seven years ago’ (i.e. 1894) probably refers to Buchanan’s mother and the fact that she is not mentioned might indicate that Buchanan never got round to adding her name to his wife’s gravestone. Given Buchanan’s financial problems at the time of his mother’s death this is quite feasible and might also explain why the date of his mother’s death on the current memorial is incorrect.

Buchanan was buried in St. John’s churchyard on June 14th, 1901.

Harriett Jay died on 21st December, 1932 and was buried alongside Buchanan, his mother and her sister, Mary on Christmas Eve. I have only found one brief account of her funeral.

The Observer (25 December, 1932 - p.13)

FUNERAL OF HARRIET JAY.

     Miss Harriet Jay, who wrote the popular farce, “When Knights Were Bold,” over twenty-five years ago, and who died in seclusion at Ilford, at the age of seventy-nine, was buried yesterday in the family grave at St. John’s Church, Southend-on-Sea.
     The service was conducted by the vicar, the Rev. John J. Whitehouse.

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The Original Memorial.

 

In August 1901 an appeal was launched to fund a public memorial to Robert Buchanan in Southend. Letters were sent to the newspapers signed by the Rev. Thomas Varney of St. John’s Parish Church, and the writer (and Southend resident) Mr. Coulson Kernahan. The Mayor of Southend, Mr. J. Francis, was to act as treasurer for the fund and the American representative was the Rev. Walter E. Bentley.

 

The Echo (14 August, 1901)

The Late Robert Buchanan.

     Sir,—It will be within the memory of many of your readers that the late Mr. Robert Buchanan lies buried in Southend- on-Sea, where for several years he made his home.
     It has been suggested to us that the residents of this town would be pleased to see steps taken towards a public memorial to so distinguished a man, and we have good reason to believe that such a movement would meet with a generous response. But it seems to us that in the case of a poet of such eminence as Robert Buchanan a memorial of this sort should not be confined to any particular town.
     Will you therefore favour us by inserting this letter, and by allowing us to say that the Mayor of Southend-on-Sea (J. Francis, Esq., J.P., Wilson-road, Southend-on-Sea) has kindly consented to act as treasurer, and any contributions forwarded to him will be duly acknowledged in the public Press?
     We should like to add that this letter has the approval of Mr. Buchanan’s relatives, who hope, however, that the response will be marked not by the extent of the amount subscribed, but by the number of subscribers. They venture to suggest, therefore, that subscriptions be limited to a comparatively small sum so that Mr. Buchanan’s humble admirers (of whom there are many) may not hesitate to contribute their mite.
                                                             (Rev.) THOMAS VARNEY
                                                                       (S. John’s Parish Church, Southend-on-Sea),
                                                             COULSON KERNAHAN
                                                                       (“Thrums,” Westcliff-on-Sea, near Southend).

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The Dundee Evening Telegraph (14 August, 1901 - p.3)

A ROBERT BUCHANAN MEMORIAL.

     The Rev. Thomas Varney, St John’s Parish Church, Southend-on-Sea, and Mr Coulson Kernahan, “Thrums,” West Cliff-on-Sea, near Southend, write to the “Westminster Gazette,” saying that it has been suggested to them that steps be taken to raise a memorial to the late Mr Robert Buchanan at Southend, where Mr Buchanan was buried. The Mayor of Southend-on-Sea (J. Francis, Esq., J.P., Wilson Road, Southend-on-Sea) has consented to act as Treasurer, and any contributions forwarded to him will be duly acknowledged in the public press. The appeal has the approval of Mr Buchanan’s relatives, who hope, however, that the response will be marked not only by the extent of the amount subscribed, but by the number of subscribers. They suggest, therefore, that subscriptions be limited to a comparatively small sum, so that Mr Buchanan’s humble admirers (of whom there are many) may not hesitate to contribute their mite.

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The Yorkshire Telegraph and Star (15 August, 1901 - p.2)

Proposed Buchanan Memorial.

     The many friends of the late Robert Buchanan in London have received with favour the suggestion that a memorial should be erected to him in Southend, where he lived for some years, and where he is buried. It is perfectly well known that the appeal will be responded to by a limited class for Mr. Buchanan though his name was well enough known, has not left any mark upon the sentiment of the nation that makes more than an interesting figure in the literary history of the closing quarter of the 19th century.

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Black and White (24 August, 1901)

Criticism as ’tis Writ

     One of the most absurd pieces of literary criticism that I have ever come across appeared in the Daily News one day last week. Some sage youth had evidently been given Mr. Coulson Kernahan’s latest book, Wise Men and a Fool, to review. Now, to those who know anything of belles lettres, I need scarcely say that the book in question is one in which Mr. Kernahan has gathered together some of his charming literary essays, nor need I remind my readers that it is as a critic we have Mr. Kernahan at his best. Indeed, apart altogether from the popular success of A Dead Man’s Diary, he might well allow his reputation to rest on his admirable essays in criticism.
     It is true that for a mere whim he has written a couple of ultra-sensational stories, in reading which we are not without the feeling that the author has been laughing up his sleeve. They are quite distinct from his serious work, and must not be taken as affecting his literary reputation one way or another; yet—will it be believed?—this Daily News reviewer curtly dismisses Mr. Kernahan’s latest work with, “The ability to write sensational stories does not imply the faculty of   criticism,” or words to that effect, and practically suggests that Mr. Kernahan had better stick to his sensational stuff.
     Obviously this writer is quite ignorant of Mr. Kernahan’s literary output—as ignorant as he who reviewed Mr. Morley Roberts’ second last novel under the impression that it was the work of a beginner, and kindly advised him to try his hand again. Can we wonder that criticism is brought into contempt?

A Memorial to Buchanan

     Mr. Kernahan, by the way, is interesting himself just now in the movement to erect a memorial to Robert Buchanan over his grave at Southend-on-Sea. Buchanan lived there during the last years of his life, and there is quite a little colony of literary men who make their home in that breezy seaside resort. Mr. Kernahan is one of these, and, as an admirer of Mr. J. M. Barrie, he has christened his house “Thrums.” It is to be hoped that there will be wide response to the appeal for subscriptions in aid of the Buchanan Memorial. Some of Buchanan’s poetry deserves to rank with the best; it is a contribution of enduring value to our national literature.

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The New York Times (31 August, 1901)

For a Memorial to Robert Buchanan.

     The following speaks for itself. It is signed by the Rev. Thomas Varney of Southend, where Robert Buchanan spent several years of his life, and Mr. Coulson Kernahan, author of “The Child, the Wise Man and the Devil”:
     It has been suggested to us that the residents of this town would be pleased to see steps taken toward a public memorial to so distinguished a man, and we have good reason to believe that such a movement would meet with a generous response. But, Sir, it seems to us that in the case of a poet of such eminence as Robert Buchanan a memorial of this sort should not be confined to any particular town. Will you therefore favor us by inserting this letter, and by allowing us to say that the Mayor of Southend-on-Sea (J. Francis, Esq., J. P., Wilson Road, Southend-on-Sea) has kindly consented to act as treasurer, and any contributions forwarded to him will be duly acknowledged in the public press? We should like to add that this letter has the approval of Mr. Buchanan’s relatives, who hope, however, that the response will be marked, not by the extent of the amount subscribed, but by the number of subscribers. They venture to suggest, therefore, that subscriptions be limited to a comparatively small sum, so that Mr. Buchanan’s humble admirers (of whom there are many) may not hesitate to contribute their mite.

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The New York Times (26 April, 1902)

Memorial to Robert Buchanan.

     A notice signed by the Rev. Thomas Varney, St. John’s Parish Church, Southend-on-Sea, and Coulson Kernahan, from the same neighborhood, representing England, and by the Rev. Walter E. Bentley, for America, invites the public to subscribe to the memorial to the late poet and dramatist, Robert Buchanan, who is buried in Southend-on-Sea, England, where for several years he had made his home. The Mayor of the town, Mr. J. Francis, is acting as Treasurer, and contributions from Americans may be sent to the editor of THE NEW YORK TIMES SATURDAY REVIEW OF BOOKS. The relatives of Mr. Buchanan suggest that individual subscriptions be limited to a small sum, so that the poet’s humble admirers, of whom there are many, may not hesitate to contribute the small amounts they can spare. Mr. Bentley has been giving a course of sermons at All Souls’ Church, on “Our Life After Death.” Last October, while he was General Secretary of the Actors’ Church Alliance, he preached on “My Summer’s Tour in behalf of the Actors’ Church Union of England and Its Results.”

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The Stage (10 April, 1902 - p.10)

     SOUTHEND—EMPIRE.—The Southend Dramatic Society on Tuesday night gave a performance in aid of the Fund to provide a Permanent Memorial to the late Robert Buchanan, who had resided at Southend for a long period, and now rests in “God’s little acre by the sea,” beneath the sheltering wall of the Church of St. John. The local society decided to give performances on two nights—Tuesday and Wednesday—in aid of the Memorial Fund, and for such an occasion could not have presented a more attractive programme. Indeed, the curtain raiser was produced for the first time by permission of the author’s sister-in-law, Miss Harriett Jay. This was a poetical drama in one act, by Robert Buchanan, entitled:—

The Night Watch.

Heinrich von Auerbach    . . . . Mr. Reginald Sewell
Vicomte de Lisle   . . . . . . . .  Mr. J. K. F. Picken
Hubert   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Mr. G. W. Taylor
Dr. Marton     . . . . . . . . . . . . Mr. Reveirs-Hopkins
Irene de Grandfief     . . . . . . . Mrs. Reveirs-Hopkins

This drama was admirably acted by a quintet of well-known amateurs; but it was not a cheerful opening for an evening’s entertainment. It was tragedy, as a contrast to the comedy to follow. Mrs. Reveirs-Hopkins cleverly interpreted the character of Irene de Grandfief, and Mr. Reginald Sewell appeared as Heinrich von Auerbach, who is supposed to have witnessed the death of the Vicomte de Lisle, to whom Irene is betrothed, and who, by a freak of fortune, is brought wounded to the chateau of which Irene is mistress. The participation of Heinrich in the events which led to the supposed death of her lover leads Irene to be tempted to allow Heinrich to die by neglect, but her better feelings hold sway, and as the curtain falls her lover returns well, and the scene closes with the usual conquest of meaner feelings with virtue triumphant. Buchanan’s Sweet Nancy was the chief feature of the programme. Mrs. Reveirs-Hopkins decidedly scored a success as an amateur in the part of Nancy; Mrs. Cardy Bluck made a charming Barbara, and the other sister, Teresa, became an admirable juvenile part in the hands of Miss Dora Seal. Mr. William Gray looked the character as Sir Roger Tempest, and acted admirably. Mr. Donald Gray was a very fair Frank Musgrave.

Back to the Bibliography or the Plays

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The Stage (22 May, 1902 - p.13)

     Miss Harriett Jay’s life of Robert Buchanan will not be published until after the Coronation. Miss Jay, who has just written a play with Mdme. Sarah Grand, has been staying at Southend while completing the work. Among the contributors to the Buchanan Memorial Fund are many eminent names, notably that of Mr. Herbert Spencer. It is understood that many of the dramatist’s admirers incline towards the erection of a drinking fountain in Southend, opposite Buchanan’s former residence, as the most suitable form for the memorial.

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The Echo (7 June, 1902)

THE LATE ROBERT BUCHANAN.

     We are asked to state that the subscription list of the proposed memorial to the late Mr. Robert Buchanan will shortly be closed. The movement has, we learn, received the support of many distinguished men and women connected with the literary and dramatic professions; and a committee will shortly be appointed to consider what form the memorial shall take.
     In the meantime the honorary secretaries will be grateful if intending subscribers, who have not yet contributed, will be so good as to communicate with the Rev. Thomas Varney, St. Mark’s Hostel, Southend-on-Sea, or with Mr. Coulson Kernahan, the Savage Club, Adelphi-terrace, London.

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I also came across the following letter for sale on the David J. Holmes Autographs site:

KERNAHAN, COULSON. ALS, 2pp (grey paper), 8vo, on printed letterhead of “Thrums,” Westcliff-On-Sea, Essex, 16 August, n.y. To an unidentified woman, thanking her for a subscription to the Robert Buchanan Memorial, and writing: “I have sent your letter to the Mayor. . . . Your estimate of Buchanan the man is I think very true. . . . I only wish that in the case of men like Mr. Buchanan others would follow your example & say the appreciative and helpful word while the ears to which it is addressed are open to hear. Why should we wait till the man has passed when he no longer needs human sympathy & appreciation?. . .”

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The memorial to Buchanan was unveiled on Saturday, 25th July, 1903.

The Observer (26 July, 1903 - p.7)

     MEMORIAL TO ROBERT BUCHANAN.—Yesterday afternoon, in the presence of a large congregation, a memorial to the late Robert Buchanan, which has been erected in St. John’s Churchyard, Southend, was unveiled. Mr. T. P. O’Connor, M.P., and Miss Harriet Jay (the deceased poet’s sister-in-law) approached the monument together, and as Miss Jay removed the covering, Mr. O’Connor declared the bust unveiled, and handed it over to the custody of the vicar and churchwardens. He afterwards gave an address.

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The Times (27 July, 1903 - p.9)

     A memorial to Robert Buchanan, the poet and dramatist, consisting of a bust, was unveiled on Saturday by Mr. T. P. O’Connor, M.P., in St. John’s Churchyard, Southend-on-Sea, where Buchanan and his wife and mother were buried. The bust stands on a granite pedestal, and at the back is a stone screen, while yew trees protect the sides. Mr. George R. Sims was present at the unveiling, in addition to the poet’s sister-in-law, Miss Harriet Jay, the Mayor and Mayoress of Southend, Sir F. C. Rusch, M.P., Colonel Tufnell, M.P., and Mrs. Tufnell. After the gift had been formally handed over to the vicar and churchwardens on behalf of the subscribers, Mr. O’Connor gave an address in the schoolroom descriptive of the lives of Buchanan and his wife and mother. He observed that Buchanan had parents who devoted themselves to what they considered to be right opinions and the benefiting of their fellow men and women. They evidently, however, belonged to that great and imperishable race of dreamers who in the pursuit of the welfare of others forgot their own. Like his father, Buchanan never learned the art of compound addition. Whatever money he made disappeared quickly. Mr. O’Connor pointed out in reference to Buchanan’s attitude that there were always a number of false reputations. It required some clear voice to remind the public that the number of copies sold must not always be taken as the eternal verdict of literature on the quality of the writer. A vote of thanks to Mr. O’Connor was passed at the close.

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The Yorkshire Evening Post (27 July, 1903 - p.4)

“T. P.” ON CERTAIN POPULAR AUTHORS.

     Mr. T. P. O’Connor M.P., on Saturday unveiled, at Southend-on-Sea, a memorial to Robert Buchanan, the poet dramatist. In a speech, he said: Buchanan, like his father, never learned the art of compound addition; he was chronically, hopelessly, eternally hard up. Whatever money he made disappeared quickly, and the result was that painful combination of the drudge and the spendthrift. He was too busy and too much of a drudge ever to be at his best, or to achieve that greater and higher fame he ought to have reached. There were authors who sold by hundreds of thousands who were really not fit to write for kitchenmaids, and it required some clear voice to remind the public that the number of copies sold must not always be taken as the eternal verdict of literature on the quality of the writer.

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The Aberdeen Weekly Journal (29 July, 1903 - p.7)

ROB BUCHANAN.

     It was a happy selection the choosing of Mr T. P. O’Connor to unveil the memorial to the late Mr Robert Buchanan in St John’s Churchyard, Southend, on Saturday. Both men came to London in a penniless condition. Buchanan and his chum David Gray tramped from Glasgow to the Metropolis, and “T. P.” has told the story of how he himself had solved the problem of living in London on sixpence a day. There was this marked difference between the two men: Both made fortunes, but the initial act of O’Connor when he made his first successful hit was to secure himself a competency in the shape of an annuity to provide against any future contingency. Buchanan frittered away his means in speculation and horse-racing, and died as poor as he began.

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The Stage (30 July, 1903 - p.10)

MEMORIAL TO ROBERT BUCHANAN.

     On Saturday a memorial to the late Robert Buchanan, which had been erected in St. John’s Churchyard, Southend, was unveiled. Mr. T. P. O’Connor, M.P., and Miss Harriett Jay, the deceased poet’s sister-in-law, approached the monument together, and as Miss Jay removed the covering Mr. O’Connor declared the bust unveiled, and handed it over to the custody of the vicar and churchwardens. The memorial, the cost of which has been defrayed by public subscription, is of plain sunk Bath stone, semi-circular in form, in front of which is a pedestal surmounted by a bronze bust of the late Mr. Buchanan. York stone forms the base, upon which is the inscription, and on either side are planted yew trees. Mr. Buchanan passed his last days at Southend. Mr. Buchanan’s body is interred with those of his wife and mother in the churchyard where the bust was unveiled.
     Among those present at the unveiling were Major Sir Carne Rasch, M.P., Col. E. Tufnell, M.P., Mr. George R. Sims, Mr. Val Brown, L.C.C., the Rev. Conrad Noel, the Rev. W. Walsh. Mr. O’Connor’s address at the Parochial Hall was most warming and sympathetic. He said that the hardships of Buchanan’s later years were brought about not so much by his inability to get money as by his generosity to others and his want of business aptitude. The best feature of his life was his wholehearted devotion to his invalid wife and to his mother. The Mayor, Councillor A. Martin, expressed his sense of the honour done to Southend by the visit of Mr. O’Connor, to whom Alderman J. Francis proposed a vote of thanks, seconded by Mr. John Burrows. The monument was designed by Mr. Morley Horder, and executed by Mr. W. Darke of Southend.

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Essex County Chronicle (31 July, 1903 - p.2)

MEMORIAL TO ROBERT BUCHANAN AT SOUTHEND.

     On Saturday, in the presence of a large assembly, a memorial to the late Robert Buchanan, the poet, which had been erected in St. John’s Churchyard, Southend, was unveiled. Mr. T. P. O’Connor, M.P., and Miss Harriet Jay, the deceased poet’s sister-in-law, approached the monument together, and as Miss Jay removed the covering Mr. O’Connor declared the bust unveiled, and handed it over to the custody of the vicar and churchwardens. He afterwards gave an address in the Parochial Hall bearing upon the life of Buchanan. The memorial, the cost of which has been defrayed by public subscription, is of plain sunk Bath stone, semi-circular in form, in front of which is a pedestal surmounted by a bronze bust of the late Mr. Buchanan. York stone forms the base, upon which is the inscription, and on either side are planted yew trees. Mr. Buchanan passed his last days at Southend. His sister-in-law, Miss Harriet Jay, collaborated with him in the production of the plays—“Alone in London,” “Fascination,” “The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown,” and “The Romance of a Shop Walker.” Buchanan was a fertile as well as a most able writer. In 1872 he created an enormous sensation by an attack on what he called the “Fleshly School of Poetry.”
     Mr. Buchanan’s body is interred with those of his wife and mother in the churchyard where the bust was unveiled.
     Mr. O’Connor arrived at Southend early on Saturday afternoon and lunched with the Mayor and Mayoress, Councillor and Mrs. A. Martin. Among those present at the unveiling were Major Sir Carne Rasch, M.P., Col. E. Tufnell, M.P., and Mrs. Tufnell, Mr. and Mrs. E. H. Draper, Mr. W. Lloyd Wise, Mr. Elliott Fletcher, Mr. Geo. R. Sims, Mr. Wm. Hellas, Mr. Françillon, Mr. Macdermott, Mr. Doherty, Mr. Val Brown, L.C.C., the Rev. Conrad Noel, the Rev. W. Walsh, Mr. E. Turner, Mr. Mcguire and Miss Harriett Jay.

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The only picture I’ve found of the original monument is the drawing from Harriett Jay’s biography of Buchanan, which was published in February, 1903 (several months before the monument was erected). Jay also mentions in Chapter 23, referring to The City of Dream, that “a verse from which is now to be found upon his tomb.”

JAYBUCH902

Essex County Chronicle (10 June, 1904 - p.5)

     To-day is the third anniversary of the death of Robert Buchanan, poet, novelist, dramatist, and humanitarian. Many of his admirers will take flowers to his graveside in St. John’s Churchyard, Prittlewell.

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The Daily Mirror (13 June, 1905 - p.5)

TO A POET’S MEMORY.

     Saturday, the 10th inst., being the fourth anniversary of the death of Robert Buchanan, quite a number of people yesterday visited the little churchyard at Southend, where the poet is laid to rest.
     The wreath sent by Mr. H. Beerbohm Tree was a particularly fine one, and its inscription, “In affectionate remembrance of Robert Buchanan,” was read with great interest by all.

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The Wells Journal (15 June, 1905 - p.4)

BUCHANAN DAY.—The fourth anniversary of the death of Robert Buchanan, the poet, was kept on Saturday last, the 10th inst., when the Mayor and Mayoress of Southend-on-Sea attended in the churchyard of St. John, at the poet’s grave, to receive floral memorial tributes from Robert Buchanan’s friends and admirers. Amongst those who brought or sent flowers and bay and laurel wreaths were Mr. Beerbohm Tree, Miss Clough, Miss Harriet Jay, the poet’s sister-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Tate, of Leigh-on-Sea, and many others. The morning was wet, but the afternoon, when the reception by the Mayor and Mayoress took place, at three o’clock, was fine and breezy, and many had assembled at the poet’s grave, where he lies buried with his two Marys, his mother and his wife. Robert Buchanan some years ago occupied a beautiful old house, which at that time stood in fields surrounded by gardens, but the now fashionable resort of Westcliff-on-Sea, near Southend, has enclosed it on every side. The churchyard of St. John overlooks the broad estuary of the Thames.

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The Daily Mirror (11 June, 1906 - p.6)

     In celebration of the fifth anniversary of the death of Robert Buchanan, whose body lies at Southend, the Mayor and Mayoress and Miss Harriett Jay were present yesterday afternoon at the grave to receive the many floral tributes sent by the admirers of the dead poet.

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Essex County Chronicle (15 June, 1906 - p.5)

     A large number of wreaths were placed on the grave of Mr. Robert Buchanan, at Southend, on the anniversary of his burial.

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The Essex County Chronicle (11 June, 1909 - p.5)

     BUCHANAN DAY.—Yesterday was observed as Buchanan-day, in memory of the poet, Robert Buchanan, who was buried in St. John’s Churchyard. A victor’s palm, wreaths, and flowers were placed at the foot of the obelisk.

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The Essex County Chronicle (10 June, 1910 - p.8)

buchananday1910

Essex County Chronicle (13 June, 1913 - p.6)

     THE TWELFTH ANNIVERSARY of the death of Robert Buchanan, poet, dramatist, and novelist, who lived at Southend for many years, was celebrated on Tuesday by his tomb in St. John’s Churchyard being decorated with flowers.

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The Grave in August, 2003

GRAVE6

I visited the grave at the end of August 2003. I bought a postcard of the church, took some photos and later added a description of the grave to the site:

GRAVE5

“The church of St. John the Baptist lies just behind the ‘seafront’ of Southend-on-Sea, across the road from the car park of a new shopping centre. As can be seen from the postcard above, the churchyard is well-tended but many of the older graves have collapsed over the years. The grave of Robert Buchanan is easy to spot due to its stone background and lies on the northern edge of the churchyard. 

There is a collapsed grave just in front of the Buchanan monument which spoils the effect somewhat and Buchanan’s grave itself is overgrown (with a blackberry bush) and in need of repair. The top of the marble plinth is coming away from the base and the memorial stones to his wife and Harriett Jay (on the left-hand side) are obscured by a hedge. The base of the grave, surrounded by rusty iron railings, is also in a pretty rough state.”

GRAVE9

I then indulged in a little speculation regarding whether this was the original monument or a replacement. Back in 2003 I regarded the Jay biography as gospel, and so I expected the monument to look the same as the drawing and also expected to find the quotation from The City of Dream. Given the condition of the grave I was not surprised to find the bust of Buchanan missing, and I remember asking the vicar if he knew what had happened to it, but he didn’t. The addition of the memorial stone to Harriett Jay, which would have occurred after her death in 1932, and the fact that its condition matched those commemorating Buchanan’s wife and mother (i.e. they did not seem to show an extra 30 years of wear), made me wonder whether the whole grave had been renovated in the 1930s. Harriett Jay did make provision in her will for £200 to be left in trust for the upkeep of the grave. Also there was no sign of the quotation from The City of Dream. The Jay biography was published before the memorial was erected, so it’s possible that the quotation was just a possibility and was not inscribed on the final monument. The only other mention of an inscription occurs in the report in The Stage, which says it is on the base of the monument. In 2003, I had enough problems clearing the bushes away so that I could take photos of the inscriptions - I had neglected to bring my JCB along to excavate the base. However, following the 2011 renovation, I received this photo of the base, which does appear to be part of the original monument.

macbeth

“After Life’s Fitful Fever They Sleep Well” - not from The City of Dream but an adaptation of a line from Macbeth (Act III, Scene ii): “After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.”

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The Return of Buchanan’s Head - March 15th, 2011

gravecovered1

In 2009 the Southend Borough Council embarked on a scheme to renovate St. John’s churchyard. The renovation was designed by Fraser Borwick, and as well as tidying up the graves, removing railings, creating new access points and footpaths, planting trees etc., it was decided to replace the lost bust of Buchanan on his grave. Local sculptor, Lisa Hawker, was commissioned to create the new bust and on Tuesday, 15th March, 2011, the unveiling ceremony took place.

unveiled

[Lisa Hawker (sculptor), Cllr. Ann Holland (Mayor of Southend) and the Ven. David Lowman (Archdeacon of Southend).]

monument
buchalone
maryharriett
mother

[The stone for Buchanan’s mother with its incorrect date of death.]

As part of the churchyard renovation project several information plaques have been installed, including one for  Buchanan. To read the Buchanan plaque, click on it in the picture below - it’s in the bottom right-hand corner.

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Prior to the unveiling ceremony there was a church service conducted by Canon Stephen Burdett and the Ven. David Lowman, Archdeacon of Southend. During the service, verses (1, 2, 3 and the last) from Buchanan’s poem, ‘Victory’ were read by Mike Lambert, the former chief executive of Renaissance Southend. ‘Victory’ was published in Buchanan’s final book of poems, The New Rome, in 1898 and the complete poem is available on this site:

 ‘Victory’

To see the pamphlet with the Order of Service, click the picture below:

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The New Bust of Buchanan

 

The new bronze bust of Robert Buchanan was sculpted by Lisa Hawker. Further information about Lisa’s other work can be found on her website. On Friday, 11th March the Southend Echo ran a story about the new bust of Buchanan, which gives some of Lisa’s insights on the process. Click the picture below for a readable version or access it online.

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While Lisa was working on the sculpture, she asked me if I could suggest any inscription that she could add to the base. I suggested a few things: a verse from Buchanan’s final published poem, ‘I End As I Began’, the refrain from Balder the Beautiful, “All that is beautiful shall abide, All that is base shall die” (which I don’t particularly like, but seemed like the sort of thing you’d put on a gravestone), and I also pushed her in the direction of The City of Dream (because Harriett Jay had said it was on the original monument) in case she could find something appropriate there. Almost as an afterthought, I suggested a phrase from one of Buchanan’s letters to Robert Browning: ”Truth first; afterwards, if possible, Beauty.” Which is what she finally chose to incise on the left-hand side of the base. Although I say so myself, it’s a good choice - summing up Buchanan’s poetry, in particular, but also hinting at one of the reasons why his fame dwindled so quickly. The full text of the letter can be read here.

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Since I reckoned this was the only occasion when the name of Robert Buchanan could be linked with a news item, I thought I should try to get him a mention in the papers. I submitted a piece to the ‘My Cultural Life’ section of The Observer and I also sent an article to the local paper in Stoke, The Sentinel. Surprisingly, the former was printed in The Observer on April 3rd - click the picture below for the big version:

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The Sentinel was a little more complicated. Although they couldn’t use my original article, they did want to do an interview with me. Unfortunately, they also rejected all the photos I sent them of Buchanan and the new bust in Southend and insisted on sending their own photographer round. So, on Saturday, 9th April, 2011, Robert Buchanan got another mention in The Sentinel and I had my fifteen minutes of fame:

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The Sentinel interview is also available online and I’ve added another page of photos, both from 2003 and 2011, which can be accessed below:

More Photos

Further information about the churchyard of St. John’s is available on the church’s website. For anyone wishing to visit the final resting place of Robert Buchanan, St. John’s is situated next to the Royals Shopping Centre, which has reasonably priced parking (and a Poundland).

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I would like to thank Tim Pyner (Cliff Gardens Manager, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council) for inviting me to the unveiling ceremony, Lisa Hawker for keeping me posted about her progress with Mr. Buchanan, and Tony for some extra photographs.

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And finally ...

In April, 2014, I came across this on the British Library Newspaper Archive site. It’s from the Edinburgh Evening News of Monday, 18th June, 1906.

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[The Last Months of Robert Buchanan]    [Obituaries 1]    [Obituaries 2]

[Obituaries 3: Buchanan and Besant]    [Obituaries 4: Buchanan and Besant 2]

[The Funeral of Robert Buchanan]    [The Grave of Robert Buchanan]

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