|St Mary's Churchyard, Harrow on the Hill||Harrow|
The church of St Mary Harrow on the Hill dates back to at least medieval times and is on the site of an old hilltop settlement that may have been a pagan religious centre. Harrow on the Hill was once the largest parish in Middlesex, and the village is now dominated by Harrow School. A famous pupil at Harrow, Lord Byron, spent time in the churchyard where he composed poetry. The old part of the churchyard surrounds the church and a detached burial ground was added in the mid C19th. To the north of the church is a memorial garden and C20th parish rooms.
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Harrow School’s buildings now dominate the old village of Harrow on the Hill, of which St Mary’s has been the parish church with a history dating back to at least medieval times. The Domesday Book refers to a priest in 1086 but not to a church and the earliest known documents record a church consecrated by Lanfranc, the first Norman Archbishop of Canterbury in 1094, and the Archbishops owned the church from the Middle Ages. The church was built piecemeal and has some earlier remnants including a late C12th marble font. The octagonal lead landmark spire was constructed on the C12th west tower, when the church was rebuilt and restored by G G Scott in 1846-49.
The oldest part of the churchyard surrounds the church and was closed to burials in 1884. There are limes along the eastern boundary, numerous shrubs, C19th plane trees, and several yews. The mid-C19th detached extension to the burial ground is on the west slopes, laid out in a planned quarter-circle, with curving terraces. It is dominated by yews, ragged Cedar of Lebanon, Scots pine, rhododendron, holly and a large beech multi-stemmed at its base; it contains numerous good C19th monuments. To the north of the church are the C20th parish room and a memorial garden. As a schoolboy at Harrow Lord Byron (1788-1824) used to lie on the table-top of the tomb of John Peachey in the churchyard to compose his poetry, a spot with fine views where he ‘used to spend hours musing and gazing over the countryside’. Next to the tomb, now railed, is a plaque commemorating Byron’s connection with this place, inscribed with a poem he wrote here. Allegra, his illegitimate daughter by Claire Clairmont, the stepsister of Mary Shelley, was buried in the churchyard and there is a plaque in her memory on the porch wall of the church. She had died in 1822 in Italy aged 5, and Byron brought her body back to England for burial at Harrow. However, the rector of St Mary, outraged by Byron's reputation and her illegitimacy, only permitted her to be buried at the entrance of the church without a grave plaque, and he later refused to bury Byron at Harrow. Allegra's memorial plaque was placed here in 1980 by the Byron Society, inscribed with words from a letter Byron wrote to Shelley after her death: 'I suppose that Time will do his usual work... - Death has done his'. Other literary figures attending Harrow School include Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) and Anthony Trollope (1815-1882).
The Churchfields below the graveyard to the west show evidence of medieval farming, with terracing to allow use of plough and oxen on the steep slope. To the north of the church is a small area of private woodland reputed to have contained carp ponds dating from at least 1323 belonging to the Archbishops. In 1569 two men were caught breaking into the 'water of John Warren at Harrow Well' and taking a 100 carp 'worth 40 shillings'.
Ball; Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England London 3: North West' (Penguin, 1999 ed) p260-262; Samuel Gardner, 'A Detailed Guide to St Mary's' 1918 (reprinted)