Grave Humour from Harrow
Last year, I paid a visit to St Paul’s in Shadwell, overlooking the basin – once known as the sea captain’s church – in the hope of photographing, or at least transcribing some of the tombstones in the graveyard commemorating those whose lives were spent upon the seven seas. But to my disappointment, I discovered that all the stones had been erased by the elements and I was confounded in my quest.
And so – as you can imagine – it rang a bell for me when a beautiful, hand-printed, slim volume of inscriptions from tombstones mysteriously arrived in the mail, collected by the distinguished poet Leonard McDermid in Harrow churchyard.
As a trawlerman, artist, poet, typesetter and bookbinder of over fifty years experience, Mr McDermid is obviously a whizz with the display fonts and these epitaphs afforded the ideal opportunity for him to pull out all the drawers in his comp room. With typography of exemplary elegance, bound in austere black covers and hand stitched by the author, this collection, entitled Northwest Passage, is an honourable tribute to those seamen who might otherwise be forgotten – as the Earl of Ruislip outlines in his brief introduction.
“THE AUTHOR of this collection has done an admirable service in deciphering and recording some of the inscriptions which I am told were to be found until quite recently in the churchyard at Harrow. Unfortunately there is little point in visiting the churchyard now if one is bent on reading the original inscriptions. The effects of the weather, acid rain and Health & Safety Legislation have ensured that no traces remain – The Rt. Hon. Rupert Glance-Chalmondley P.C., C.B.E., R.N.V.R., J.P., The Earl of Ruislip, Ruislip Manor.”
As both poet and seafarer, Mr McDermid has unlocked a certain mordant lyricism in these neglected epitaphs. It has been said of Leonard McDermid’s work that he “wraps his meaning within a shell and hides it in the sea, where it may happily be discovered.” and these nautical inscriptions evoke a rich and strange poetry of seaborne jeopardy, which offers the ideal light relief whenever melancholic tendencies strike.
Copies of Northwest Passage, written, handprinted and bound by Leonard McDermid at The Stitchil Marigold Press can be obtained from www.theshopfloorproject.com
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