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Thursday, 28 July 2011

Britain's Brainiest Cemetery



The BBC named it 'Britain's Brainiest Cemetery' and in a recently written article said: A galaxy of talent lies buried here, in a little city of the distinguished dead. The story of academic life, of the birth of whole new disciplines since Victorian times, can be told through those who have their resting place here.

'It might have more IQ interred in one acre than any other in the world', writes Cambridge University history teacher Dr Mark Goldie.

The location is the Ascension Burial Ground in All Souls Lane, Cambridge.
This peaceful, yet wildly over grown cemetery is one of Cambridge's best kept secrets,  scarcely known to even the local people of the area.


At the last count, there are three Nobel prizewinners here, seven members of the Order of Merit, and over sixty who have entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: engineers, biologists, classicists, historians, poets, philosophers.
Collectively, these great minds, trace the revolution of thinking that began in Victorian times and produced the modern University.
This happened in three ways: Science, Secularisation, and Women.
Laboratory science took off, with larger labs appearing: Sir Horace Darwin ~ son of Charles Darwin ~ was crucial here, as an expert scientific instrument maker.


Another Son and Grandaughter of Charles Darwin are also interred here, as is
Charlotte Scott, pioneer woman student, who shocked the university in 1880 by performing outstandingly in the mathematics exams. Sadly it took decades before she could collect her rightful degree. She spent the later part of her career in the United States and was influential in the development of American mathematics, including the mathematical education of women.

 

Sir John Cockcroft, who split the atom in 1932, in the heyday of the great Cavendish Physics Lab, which produced a dozen Nobels. Later he became first Master of Churchill College - named for the great wartime leader who knew how to use science in war.
  

There's a sprinkling of astronomers here also, due to the nearby University Observatory including the astronomer who predicted the existence of the planet Neptune.


Also, Mr A.C. Benson, the author of the Patriotic lyrics ~ Land of Hope and Glory ~ for Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance Marches No.1.


Another grave in the burial site is that of Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins, who was the first to identify the existence of vitamins, back in 1912.


Sir Arthur Eddington who was the astrophysicist who made the crucial observations of a solar eclipse that confirmed Einstein's Theory of Relativity.


Sir James Frazer, who practically invented modern anthropology, even though he rarely left his college desk. His 'fieldwork' consisted of the study of the world's literature on ritual, folk religion, and superstition.
He smashed the traditional Christian belief by showing parallels between Christian and pagan myths. Frazer's book 'The Golden Bough' has never been out of print.


One of the most most sought-out graves is that of Ludwig Wittgenstein 1889 ~ 1951, perhaps the greatest philosopher of the 20th century.


Although this graveyard belongs to the Church of England - the parish of the Ascension -the usual financial difficulties, means that the church struggles to find the wherewithal to look after this historic place.
Cambridge ceased to be an Anglican enclave, and began admitting people of all religions and none - there are plenty of non-believers in this parish cemetery.

A Friends of the Ascension Burial Ground is being launched to save this little necropolis, because it is not officially part of Cambridge University, even though it lies in the centre of the University's development zone.
Once a year the Open Cambridge Scheme throws open it's doors to visitors dozens of labs, colleges, historic buildings, and gardens, including these burial grounds.
The former chapel is now the studio of American-born letter cutter Eric Marland.






2 comments:

  1. At the last count, there are three Nobel prizewinners here, seven members of the Order of Merit, and over sixty who have entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: engineers, biologists, classicists, historians, poets, philosophers." THERE ARE EIGHT MEMBERS OF THE O.M. BY THE WAY: COCKCROFT, EDDINGTON, FRAZER, HOPKINS, JACKSON, JEBB, MOORE & PERUTZ.

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  2. "Another Son and Grandaughter of Charles Darwin are also interred here..."burial ground includes five members of the family of Charles Darwin: two sons: Sir Francis Darwin and Sir Horace Darwin, two daughters-in-law: Lady Florence Darwin (third wife of Sir Francis) and Lady Ida Darwin (wife of Sir Horace), and a granddaughter: Frances Cornford : the daughter of Sir Francis by his second wife, Ellen Wordsworth Darwin, née Crofts." THAT'S A LOT OF DARWINS AND A CORNFORD!!

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