A Celebration of Coleridge in Highgate - a short account by Justin Shepherd

st michaels church small

Reclaim the Crypt
Saturday 2 June 2018, St Michael’s Church, Highgate

This day was an unusual mixture of Coleridge family reunion, memorial service and celebration. The idea evolved considerably over time and the Friends of Coleridge were delighted to be able to help in this process. Drew Clode, the organiser, deserves warm congratulations for his energy and commitment in bringing this day to successful fruition It is hoped that the event will provide the impetus to help raise the money to preserve the five coffins and enhance the entombment of ST Coleridge, his wife, his daughter, his nephew, who was also his son-in–law, and Herbert Coleridge, his grandson.

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The Rev Kunle Ayodeji, Vicar of St Michael’s,welcomed the many people present. Most of the three front pews on either side of the aisle were filled with Coleridge family members. This was a highly impressive turn out and is clear evidence of great pride in the family name. Richard Coleridge, the poet’s great-great-great-great grandson spoke about the honour and the responsibility of carrying the name. Later in the day Rosemary Coleridge-Middleton, the poet’s great-great-great granddaughter also spoke listing the many connections to the family tree with entertaining enthusiasm, anecdotes, and sense of responsibility for upholding the name. Sir Paul Coleridge, formerly a High Court Judge and distinguished family lawyer, gave an urbane and fluent televised greeting, congratulating the initiative and hoping “Reclaim the Crypt” would be successful.

I encouraged those present to support the Friends of Coleridge and then introduced Rev Dr Malcolm Guite, poet and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge. He gave the first of the two plenary lectures and chose Coleridge: A Life in the Church as his topic. He focused on Coleridge’s lifelong devotion to prayer, and gave a powerful Christian reading of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. He quoted memorably from the Marginalia and Biographia Literaria and read his own poem about visiting the Church and being transfixed by the tombstone’s invocation to “Stop, Christian”.

The short service which followed enhanced the Christian context of Coleridge’s work and featured the impressive choir and organist of St Michael’s, who later performed music specially written for the re-interment as well as other pieces performed at the 1961 ceremony.

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Coleridge’s verse was not omitted. Lance Person gave a dramatic reading of Frost at Midnight and Kubla Khan, while the Friends’ own Ian Enters read from some of the late, less familiar works and briefly related them to those of Keats, Shelley and Hopkins. The Friends’ newly appointed Patron, Prof Seamus Perry once more generously gave of his time and talent. His deft and entertaining plenary on Coleridge in Highgate conveyed a portrait of the poet as talker, drawing upon his own research into contemporary accounts of meetings with Coleridge, including a memorable anecdote about Coleridge exchanging metaphysical pleasantries with local boys, amongst whom he was, apparently, something of a favourite.

The tour of Highgate in the afternoon included a guided visit to both the crypt under St Michael’s, where Coleridge now lies, and the site of his original tomb, which was in ground now occupied by Highgate School buildings. Both were interesting and made concrete the need to improve the current arrangements. The Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution put on a special display of Coleridge related material. And in St Michael’s itself there was a temporary small exhibition, including fascinating original letters, and portraits. Boards, beautifully designed by Terence Sackett and written by Ian Enters, described Coleridge’s life in Highgate, the Church, and in Literature.

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The day was constantly interesting and engaging and it was very well organised, including an excellent buffet lunch. All enjoyed the event and the walking through Highgate itself in a magnificently, bright, warm summer’s dayenhanced the experience. There was plenty of warmth left in the sun when several of the Friends met up to discuss the day in The Flask, one of Highgate’s great institutions.

Click here to see the three A1 display boards

Photographs kindly supplied by courtesy of Kim Gray (www.ktbweddingphotography.com)

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