DCS Local Heritage Event : The Ascension Burial Ground and the Alphabet Museum

Saturday 3rd June 2017 Return to Alumni Events


Part of Ascension Burial Ground


Mark Goldie introduces the burial ground


Matt and the group discussing conservation

The DCS attendees and their guests assembled at the entrance of the Ascension Burial Ground and were greeted with an introduction to what we would see by our guide Professor Mark Goldie. We were soon to find out that he was very knowledgeable, in excess of that befitting a history scholar, as with an infectious enthusiasm he related the lives and achievements of those buried at Ascension since it opened in 1867. There was Sir John Cockcroft who split the atom and a Nobel prize winner, John Adams who discovered Neptune, Frances Cornford, Charles Darwin's grand-daughter and poet, and Charles Darwin's sons, Sir Francis Darwin, botanist and biographer of his father, and Sir Horace Darwin, scientific instrument maker. There are the graves of the important philosophers, Ludwig Wittgenstein and George Moore as well as Sir John Hopkins, the discoverer of vitamins, a Nobel prize winner as was Max Perutz. There were many more all presented with their potted biographies. Mark explained that amongst other achievements elsewhere, they tell the story of Cambridge University since Victorian times influencing college life and new Tripos disciplines in the sciences and humanities.

The graves were overgrown with vegetation and difficult to find or see although the Friends of Ascension Burial Ground had cleared some where they felt it was important. Altogether there are approximately 2500 people buried there in 1500 plots.


Frances Cornford and the plaque

Having been amazed by the sequence of biographies we moved on to be with Eric Marland, a letter carver in wood and stone whose workshop is the old chapel in the burial ground. He showed us how he worked, the tools, his training, the fonts and the typical styles of famous letter carvers. Apparently he chose the chapel as he had admired many of the letter carvings on the gravestones, several of which he has added to, and often terms the place the Alphabet Museum. We had already admired a large stone plaque mase by Eric on the outer wall of the burial ground featuring part of a poem by Frances Cornford next her headstone. He talked about commissions he had finished and showed us what he was in the process of finishing. His craftwork , design analysis and knowledge was spectacular. Soon all of us had been convinced that there was a lot more to letter carving than the beautiful hand and eye skills that we were appreciating. In fact, his talk and the questions generated rapidly filled our time until we had to finish to keep our appointment with lunch at the Old Crown at Girton. Happily this also certainly lived up the standard of the morning.


Eric Marland talks about fonts...


.... and tools


Eric's Latest

Our thanks go to Mark Goldie and Eric Marland for such an enjoyable morning. Further details of those buried at Ascension can be found on Wikepedia and further details for Eric Marland at www.cambridgealphabetmuseum.com.

Pictures by Terry and Helen Moore (Click on the pictures for larger versions)

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