In the 1860s, Thomas Hardy, the famous novelist, was learning the ropes as a young architect in London, and was given the unenviable task of digging up graves at Old St Pancras Church to make way for the railway about to power its way from St Pancras Station to the East Midlands and beyond.
He tried to give a decent burial to the human remains and stacked the gravestones around an ash tree, creating what became known as the Hardy Tree. Sadly, weakened by last year's storms, the tree has now fallen.
Two decades later, Hardy wrote a poem about another churchyard where remains had to be dug up and reburied, and included the lines:
We late-lamented, resting here,
Are mixed to human jam,
And each to each exclaims in fear,
'I know not which I am!'
You wonder how much that was inspired by his own experience of the daunting task at St Pancras.
Author of 'Assassins' Deeds. A History of Assassination', 'Secrets of the Centenarians', 'Storm: Nature and Culture', 'Flood: Nature and Culture', 'Britain's 20 Worst Military Disasters', 'London's Disasters', 'The Disastrous History of London' ('Capital Disasters' in hardback), 'A Disastrous History of Britain', 'A Disastrous History of the World', 'Disaster! A History of Earthquakes, Floods, Plagues and Other Catastrophes', and 'Shutdown. Anatomy of a Shipyard Closure.' Producer/director of more
than 40 tv documentaries. Former radio producer. Freelance writer for publications such as the Guardian, Independent, Daily Express, Observer, New Statesman. Freelance communications consultant and adviser. http://www.disasterhistorian.com/