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Samuel Coleridge’s remains found behind church wall

Family coffins found in hidden crypt

21 May, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Drew Clode in the crypt

THE remains of Romantic poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge have been found hidden behind a brick wall beneath a church in Highgate.

St Michael’s Church, in South Grove, has launched a fundraising drive to re-inter his coffin and those of his relatives. Church steward Drew Clode and vicar Kunle Ayodeji were aware that the Coleridge family had known the family were buried at the church since 1961 – but no one knew the exact spot.

It was only when they clambered through the dark, dusty and rubble-strewn cellar and, peering through an air-vent in a bricked-up wall, spotted the outlines of five coffins.

Descendants of the poet are helping to clear rubble away from the crypt area. They also want to create a new visitors centre to celebrate his works. Coleridge was a friend of John Keats, and wrote such celebrated verses as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan.

A conference on his life and work will be held at the church on June 2 as they kickstart the £500,000 fund-raising drive. Mr Clode added: “We want to raise money and refurbish the crypt as much as we can and perhaps turn part of it into a library and space to celebrate his work.”

St Michael’s was built in 1832, meaning Coleridge would have watched it go up as he was living with his friend Dr James Gillman in South Grove at the time. Before St Michael’s was built, the parish church for the area was the chapel at Highgate School.

When Coleridge died in 1834, he was buried as were his wife, daughter, son-in-law and grandson. They lay in the tomb on the site and were then moved to St Michael’s in 1961.

Drew Clode at St Michael’s Church

The church had been built on top of foundations of an earlier building called Ash Hurst House – and the architects had used a wine cellar built in 1694 as a new crypt. It meant Coleridge’s remains, and those of his family, were interred into the cellar and then the entrance closed.

“They simply bricked it up, went away and left it,” said Mr Clode.

Richard Coleridge – the poet’s great-great-great-great grandson – told the New Journal: “We did not think you could access the crypt at all, but then Drew contacted us and we realised you could actually get to it. It would be fitting for Highgate’s poet to be celebrated. Highgate is the right place for this, it is where he spent most of his life and it was where he wrote much of his philosophy, as well as some poetry.”

He added: “A lot of people come to the church because he is buried there, and it would be fitting to have a place for them to learn more about his life and work – and his coffin not to be covered in rubble.”

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