Gray’s Monument and Gray’s Field Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire
Standing near St. Giles’ Church, this extraordinary five metre high monument of brick faced with Portland stone captures the poet Thomas Gray’s long association with the village of Stoke Poges and recognises his world-famous 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard'.
Thomas Gray became an acclaimed figure in the mid-18th century literary world following the publication of his 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard' in 1751.
Composed over a number of years, the poem is believed to reference Stoke Poges, a village with which Gray had a close association throughout his life and in which he was known to be staying when he completed the verse in 1750.
" The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea, The ploughman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me. "
Acclaim was instantaneous and overwhelming, but the “Elegy” has also stood the test of time and was, until quite recently, routinely learnt by school children.
As well as contemplating death and the afterlife, Gray also explored ideas about society and education; themes that helped ensure his “Elegy” remains popular and relevant to this day.
Poet, letter-writer and academic
Born on 26 December 1716, Thomas Gray was a studious child whose early education at Eton and subsequent entry to Cambridge University shaped his life to be one of quiet study. Although he became well-known, he was not the most prolific of poets, and in later life seemed to turn away from poetry, preferring the study of history and antiquities.
After his death, on 30 July 1771 aged 54, he was buried in St. Giles’ Churchyard in Stoke Poges; the scene of his greatest work.
Monument to a scholar
The monument was commissioned by John Penn to form part of the vista from his new mansion at Stoke Park. Designed by James Watt and erected in 1799, it is surrounded by a ha-ha – a form of ditch – which also dates from the 18th century.
Concern for the long-term protection of the monument led villagers to purchase the surrounding land in the early 1920s (now known as Gray’s Field) before giving it to the National Trust in 1925.