Portland stone tomb of 1797, carefully reinstated in part in 1992, commemorating Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin and Mary Jane Godwin.
Reasons for Designation
The tomb of Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin and Mary Jane Godwin in St Pancras Gardens is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: it commemorates the writers and radical philosophers, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, who married in the church in 1797. Wollstonecraft is best known for 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman', published in 1792 to mixed reception but now celebrated as a key feminist text. Godwin is best known for 'Political Justice', first published in 1793 and identifying him as an important political philosopher. None of the buildings where Wollstonecraft lived in London survive, which endows this monument with additional meaning.
* Group value: the tomb is near the Grade I tomb of Sir John Soane for his wife (1815), six other listed tombs, the Grade II Gothic fountain and sundial given by the philanthropist Baroness Burdett-Coutts in 1877, and the Grade II wrought iron gates of 1891. St. Pancras Old Church is listed Grade II* and the former churchyard, now St. Pancras Gardens, is included on the Register of Parks and Gardens at Grade II.
* Architectural interest: a plain, yet elegant, pedestal tomb of the late C18, the die of which was carefully reinstated in 1992, the bicentenary year of the publication of 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman'.
Mary Wollstonecraft was born on 27th April 1759 in Spitalfields, the second of six children. Her father was a man of fierce temper, her mother was withdrawn, and it was not a happy childhood. At a young age, Mary’s family moved to Epping Forest and then to Barking, and then to a farm near Beverly, Yorks. At age 15, the family moved again to Queens Row, in Hoxton, where Wollstonecraft met the Clares, a cultivated couple who took Mary under their wing, as well as Frances (Fanny) Blood, with whom she would form an intense friendship. She was first able to leave her parent’s home in 1778, when she took up a post as a companion in Bath. Following the death of her mother in 1789, Mary opened a school in Newington Green, when she also became close to a number of prominent dissenters, including Dr. Richard Price. It was this experience, as well as her own education despite her parents, that led to her first publication, a pamphlet entitled 'Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: With Reflections on Female Conduct, in the More Important Duties of Life' (1787). The school was not a success and she later took up a post as governess of Lord Viscount Kingsborough in Ireland. She traveled with the family to Bristol where she wrote Mary, a fiction apparently based largely on her friendship with Fanny.
Wollstonecraft went to London soon afterwards, where she reconnected with the publisher, Joseph Johnson, whom she had first met when publishing her pamphlet. He would become her great friend and supporter and she lived in his house on St. Paul’s Churchyard, before settling into a house on George Street, Southwark in 1787. Here she worked on her novel and took on French translation work and made frequent contributions to Johnson’s new and radical journal, Analytical Review. Wollstonecraft became close with Johnson’s circle of literary and radical friends, including the Swiss painter, Henry Fuseli, to whom she would form a passionate attachment. In 1790, Edmund Burke published his 'Reflections on the Revolution in France', the views in which angered Wollstonecraft; she immediately published a response, 'Vindication of the Rights of Man'. Wollstonecraft had moved north to Store Street, off Tottenham Court Road, in 1791 and it was while dining at Johnson’s, together with Thomas Paine and others, that she first met William Godwin, who was writing 'Political Justice'. In 1792, she published her most important work, 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, with strictures on political and moral subjects'. This polemical text advocated equality of the sexes and argued against the popular view of women as charming creatures; the reviews were mixed between acclaim and repulsion for its modern thinking.
Soon after the publication, Mary embarked on a brave journey to revolutionary France, where she lived for two years and wrote 'Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution', which was published in 1794. It was here that she met the American merchant, Gilbert Imlay, with whom she entered into a common law marriage and bore her first child, Frances (Fanny) Imlay in 1794. After a few months together in France, Imlay abandoned the relationship. Following Imlay back to London, Mary attempted suicide off Putney Bridge but was rescued. With the relationship permanently ended, she took lodgings in Cumming Street, Pentonville and, unconventionally, called on William Godwin, who was living in nearby Somers Town. They became lovers and although marriage was against both their principles, they decided to marry in 1797 at St. Pancras Old Church, largely due to her pregnancy (Wollstonecraft had already borne single motherhood for three years). They moved to a house in the Polygon, Somers Town, where Godwin also took separate rooms nearby for his study. Wollstonecraft gave birth to Mary Godwin at home in the Polygon, on August 31, 1797 but died from infection ten days later. Godwin recorded that ‘Her remains were deposited, on the fifteenth of September, at ten o’clock in the morning, in the church-yard of the parish church of St. Pancras, Middlesex. A few of the persons she most esteemed, attended the ceremony; and a plain monument is now erecting on the spot, by some of her friends, with the following inscription…’ (Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Philadelphia, 1799).
William Godwin (1756-1836) was born in Wisbech, Cambs to a dissenting minister father. Godwin, too, initially pursued a clerical vocation, but after a change of religious views he moved to London and became a writer. As with Wollstonecraft, his most important work came as a response to Burke’s 'Reflections on the Revolution in France' (1790): 'An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice summarised contemporary developments in political philosophy' and was published in two volumes in February 1793. Its success led to Godwin’s prominence in radical circles and the following year, his most popular novel, 'Things as they are, or The adventures of Caleb Williams', was published. After Wollstonecraft’s death, Johnson published a further edition of 'Political Justice' and a rushed edition of 'Memoirs of M. Wollstonecraft Godwin, Author of A Vindication of The Rights of Woman'. This account of Wollstonecraft’s life unintentionally damaged her posthumous reputation. Godwin, too, fell out of favour with the political climate of the time, although he continued to write prolifically, including later on, plays and children’s books.
Following her death, Godwin raised Wollstonecraft’s daughter from her first marriage, Fanny (who committed suicide in 1799), and their daughter, Mary Godwin (1797-1851). He regularly visited her tomb with his daughter and step-daughter, and it was here that Mary Godwin secretly met her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley before their elopement to France, where following their marriage, as Mary Shelley, she wrote 'Frankenstein' (1818). In 1801, Godwin remarried the widow Mary Jane Clairmont, also a writer, with whom he established a precarious publishing house. Clairmont’s reputation suffered from her difficult relationship with her step-daughter, Mary Shelley. Godwin published 'Essay on Sepulchres or, a Proposal for erecting some Memorial of the illustrious Dead in all Ages on the Spot where their Remains have been interred' in 1809, where he discussed marking the graves of the morally great with a simple wooden cross.
In 1851, following the death wishes of Mary Shelley, the remains of Wollstonecraft and Godwin were removed from St. Pancras churchyard to the Shelley family tomb at the church of St. Peter in Bournemouth (q.v.). Only the remains of Clairmont, who died in 1841 and is also commemorated on the tomb, remain in situ. The die, or central part of the pedestal, was carefully reinstated with new lettering in 1992 to mark the bicentenary of the publication of Wollstonecraft’s Vindication.
Pedestal tomb. Late C18 cornice top and base; die (central part of the pedestal) carefully reinstated with new lettering in 1992. Portland stone. Square on plan. Moulded rectangular base with plain stone die inscribed in Roman capitals on three faces. Deep overhanging moulded cornice top.
West face: ‘MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT GODWIN Author of A Vindication of the rights of Woman born 27th April 1750 Died 10th September 1797’.
South face: ‘WILLIAM GODWIN author of Political Justice born 3rd March 1756 Died 7th April 1836 Aged 80 years’.
East face: ‘MARY JANE Second Wife of WILLIAM GODWIN Died 17th June 1841 Aged 75 years’.