Gray’s Monument and Gray’s Field Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

Gray's Monument, Stoke Poges

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'.

'Gray’s Elegy'

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. "
- Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

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.

Thomas Gray’s inspiration

As well as visiting the monument, you can also walk around the landscape which inspired Thomas Gray, including part of the ancient parkland which forms the Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens and St. Giles’ Church as well as take in wonderful views across Stoke Park and the Manor House.

How to get here

Gray’s Monument is located on Church Lane, Stoke Poges SL2 4NZ.  Car parking is available in the St. Giles’ Church car park which is open to dusk each day.