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Finding the Plot:

100 Graves To Visit Before You Die

Ann Treneman

Grave of artist William Blake, artist and poet (Jerusalem) who died in 1827 - people have left flowers and pennies, both American and English.

Hangman named Calcraft buried under altered name (Calcroft) to avoid retribution from relatives of victims. As hangman he had right to sell the rope ("money for old rope") and the victim's clothes (to waxwork exhibitions usually).

By now everyone knows that Thomas Crapper did not 'invent' the flush toilet, but he did greatly improve the existing models. King Edward VII commissioned him to supply all sanitary ware and drainage for Sandringham Palace. The king once asked Crapper for a light for his cigar, but Crapper didn't smoke and was unable to help. From that day on he carried a gold matchbox in his pocket, just in case the chance should arise again...

Crapper and his brother started every working day with a bottle of champagne at the local inn.

Fred Wolseley, inventor of the sheep shearing machine in Australia and producer of first motor car in England. Born in Ireland, went to NSW as jackaroo at 17, in 1854. By 1887 he had a steam-powered shearing machine working, and a young engineer named Herbert Austin joined the Wolseley Sheep Shearing machine Co. In 1892 he and Fred headed back to Birmingham where the built the first Wolseley.

Spike Milligan's grave has the favorite epitaph, according to a 2012 survey. Church authorities objected to original "I told you I was ill" so used Gaelic translation. Beat out Oscar Wilde's "Either those curtains go or I do" and Frank Sinatra's "The best is yet to come."

C. Northcote Parkinson known for his maxims "work expands to fill the time available for its completion" and "people arepromoted to level of incompetence" but less well known law of triviality - a committee will spend 5 minutes waving through a million dollar budget for a new building but will spend 90 minutes debating whether to spend $100 on annual refreshment budget.

Benjamin Disraeli married money but still managed top overspend in an effort to keep up appearances. A rich female friend left him enough money to pay off his debts on condition that she be buried next to him in the family plot.

Andre Tchaikowsky left his skull to the Royal Shakespearian Theatre Co in Stratford to be used in stage performances (left the rest of his body to medicine). Died in 1982 but actors a bit squeamish, so used an exact fiberglass replica instead. Finally in 2008 they hauled him out of the cupboard for a Hamlet with David Tennant.

J.R.R. Tolkien and his wife both buried under stone which simply says 'Beren' and 'Luthien', their Middle-Earth names. (In Middle Earth Lucien was a beautiful princess who forsook her immortality for her love of the mortal warrior Beren).

William Mackenzie a gambler buried sitting up in a small pyramid tomb, holding a winning hand of cards. Supposedly had sold his soul to the Devil who would take it once he was laid to rest in his grave.

Eleanor Rigby's grave in Liverpool much visited. We know from a pay sheet discovered in 2008 that she was a scullery maid at Liverpool hospital. Paul McCartney acquired the signed pay sheet and auctioned it for charity, raising £115,000.

(London Times)

Here's a new verb to add to your must-do list - graving. When she's not penning parliamentary sketches for this newspaper, Ann Treneman spends her time 'graving', a word that she has invented to describe her love of pottering around graveyards. Finding The Plot makes it sound like an unmissable treat.

At first glance, hanging out in cemeteries before you have to seems a rather gloomy hobby, better suited to trainee undertakers than a writer known for her wit and love of live. That's precisely Treneman's point, however. Despite their image in a culture that prefers to give a wide berth to death, graveyards are, she insists, full of life - and lives. She offers us 100 dotted around the country (albeit with a London bias) that have caught her imagination on her travels among the dead.

Some are familiar tales - of the battle over poet Sylvia Plath's headstone in St Thomas the Apostle churchyard, Heptonstall, and the inclusion on its inscription of the surname of her estranged husband, Ted Hughes. Even here, though, Treneman manages to give it a new twist when her guide turns out to be the son-in-law of the organist who played at Plath's sparsely attended funeral.

There were just eight mourners for the author of The Bell Jar. Today, more than that probably turn up each day to pay homage at her grave. Karl Marx - whose tomb has become Highgate Cemetery's most visited place of pilgrimage - attracted just six to his funeral.

If there's a moral to this book, and the breezy Treneman would shrink from such a lofty claim, it is that memory plays tricks with reputations. To a 21st-century reader, for example, it is beyond comprehension why the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London, under a stele that describes her simply as wife of R.M. Pankhurst.

Elsewhere Treneman provides a catafalque full of intriguing but largely forgotten names: the man who patented Hovis (Richard 'Stoney' Smith); Britain’s most prolific public executioner (William Calcraft - 'Calcroft' in the cemetery records, to deter revenge attacks by relatives of his victims); a 50st exhibitionist (Daniel Lambert) whose coffin required not the usual six but 20 attendants to carry it into the church; Willy Lott, the farmworker who was inside his cottage, near Flatford Mill in Suffolk, when Constable was painting it into immortality in The Hay Wain. Some are born great, as they say, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

Serious 'gravers' might hanker after a little more context: Treneman visits William Blake and John Bunyan's graves in Bunhill Fields next to the City of London without mentioning its role, in the latter part of the 18th century, as one of the first non-conformist burial grounds to break the Church of England's monopoly. Getting serious about graving is the opposite of her intention, however.

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