Immortal beloved: the grave of Sophia Cracroft

Time and the equally relentless British weather had obliterated almost every letter on Sophia Cracroft’s gravestone, which stands in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery.

While the “IN MEMORY OF LADY FRANKLIN/DIED 18 JULY 1875” memorial stone* was still mostly legible,  all that was left of Miss Cracroft’s was a few partial letters clinging to a blackened base.

Such was Sophy’s monument, and perhaps it would not have displeased her. But it certainly didn’t please the Franklinites who have visited to pay their respects to this remarkable woman. So last year, Logan Zachary photographed the site and carefully reconstructed the inscription on illuminator.blog:

“SOPHIA CRACROFT
THE DEVOTED AND ATTACHED NIECE OF SIR JOHN FRANKLIN
AND CONSTANT AID IN ALL LADY FRANKLIN’S EFFORTS IN
THE FURTHERANCE OF ARCTIC SEARCH FOR TRACES
OF HER HUSBAND AND HIS BRAVE COMPANIONS
DIED 20th JUNE 1892 AGED 76″

 

Right at the end of this project, when Logan had already done all the hard work, I found a partial reference to the inscription online. I spoke to the museum, paid the fee, and they sent me a copy of the item. I nearly fell off my chair when I opened the file.

A black and white photograph of a historic grave.
Sophia Cracroft’s grave in Kensal Green Cemetery, as it looked at some point after 1913. Copyright: Royal British Columbia Museums.

We have a clear view of the biblical quote right at the bottom of the block. This was more damaged than the other sections, and while most of it could be reconstructed, some ambiguity had remained.

But no longer:

“WHEN THIS MORTAL SHALL HAVE PUT ON IMMORTALITY
Cor. XV. 54.”

The museum catalogue says the image is from c.1905. This can’t be correct. The grave to the left has a 1913 date on it, although it does look freshly disturbed.

DRAMATIC DIFFERENCE

All three graves look quite different in 2020. They – like so many others in Kensal Green – are subsiding. But the most dramatic difference is in the colour of the headstones.

Sophy’s grave was still relatively clean and bright when the post-1913 image was taken. Today, we can see how London’s pollution has dug deep into the stones.

A photograph of a historic grave.
Sophia Cracroft’s grave in Kensal Green Cemetery in August 2020. This headstone – and the two behind it – have subsided since the early 20th Century.

I feel that Sophia Cracroft is still searching for her own immortality. She wasn’t only a devoted and attached niece, and a constant aid. She was a force of nature who was on top of all the details of each search for Franklin.

I hope that people will continue to remember her as an individual. She was more than the support she gave to Jane Franklin, as considerable as that was. She was more than the choices she made in her personal life, and should not be viewed solely in relation to the men she did not – or did – consider marrying.

VISITING SOPHIA

And I hope people will continue visit her grave. It’s only going to deteriorate further, unless we can somehow organise and fundraise to repair and restore it.

Until then, we have an image that shows it as it was maybe two decades after her death – perhaps more – but which gives us a glimpse of a bright and pristine memorial to a remarkable figure in Franklin Expedition history.

 

* Lady Franklin does not share Sophia Cracroft’s lair, but is buried nearby in the Kensal Green catacombs. These are currently off-limits but Mechtild and Wolfgang Opel were able to visit them recently, and detailed the experience on their blog Trimaris.

One thought on “Immortal beloved: the grave of Sophia Cracroft

  1. Wonderful! One of the curious things about Kensal Green (and other of the “Magnificent Seven”) is that graves were sold as freeholds — this might have seemed good at the time, but it meant that the family were responsible for maintenance, forever, and over time most families simply stopped providing it. When I last visited K.G. I saw Wilkie Collins’s grave, which is maintained by the Wilkie Collins Society — it was in good shape! So I do think the obligation can be shouldered by any willing party.

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