Pre-Raphaelites in The City: Maria Rossetti and Chelsea FC

Dinah Roe

Maria Rossetti and Chelsea FC An Unlikely Connection

In searching for Maria Rossetti’s grave I learned two important lessons:

1. The Friends of Brompton Cemetery are amazingly helpful and deserve an award of some kind. But until that day comes, you can help support their work HERE.

2. When a grave of historical importance and great personal meaning is near a football ground, one should consider leaving one’s husband at home.

When I decided to make the treck to Brompton Cemetery to visit the grave of Maria Rossetti, I knew my husband (henceforth ‘the chap’) would be particularly useful. The Friends of Brompton Cemetery had kindly provided me with a map and a photograph of the Maria’s grave, but I knew from bitter experience that my navigational skills might lead me astray. Frankly, if the Friends of Brompton Cemetery had painted a line of yellow footprints from the Cemetery entrance to Maria Rossetti’s grave, I’d probably have taken a wrong turn and ended up blinking in confusion under the traffic lights on the Fulham Road.

Brompton Cemetery

So I was grateful when the chap agreed to accompany me. Among his native Londoner skills are: an ability to meander across violently busy streets as if he were strolling down a shady country lane; a knack both for successful map-reading and for instinctively finding his way.

Because I do not possess this knack, I failed to realize when we set out that my destination was perilously near Chelsea Football Ground. Until we sat down on the bus, and the chap told me. And then gave me a potted history of Chelsea FC. I am not, I confess, a Sports fan. ‘But you’re not a Chelsea supporter’, I protested, trying to make it stop. This led to a mini-lecture on the virtues of the football team he does support, with a few digressions on the apparently many faults of Chelsea.

As we walked toward the Cemetery, the chap used Chelsea Football Ground as his North Star, pointing out when it was in view, and faltering slightly when it was not. When we entered the Cemetery gates, and made our way toward the chapel, with colonnades stretching out from it, looking like St Peter’s in Rome in miniature, I was captivated. Like its sister-cemeteries, Highgate and Kensal Green, this one, built in the 19th century to receive the overflow of the city’s dead, was very grand and yet somehow intimate. It struck me somehow as more humble and less dramatic than the others; a perfect resting place for the modest Maria Rossetti. The day was one of those atmospheric days, peculiar to England, which are at once sunshine and shadow.

Maria had chosen to be buried, not with her family, but with her adopted ‘Sisters’, the Anglican nuns who comprised the Sisterhood of All Saints, Margaret Street. A scholar and Italian language teacher like her father, Maria had grown up in the shadow of her more famous siblings Dante Gabriel and Christina. Forced to leave home at a young age to work as a resident governess when her family’s fortunes took a turn for the worse, she was reportedly a lot tougher, more resilient, and happier by nature than her sister Christina. She published a successful work on Dante Alighieri which was praised by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but this was the apex of her literary accomplishments.

Although her family supported her choice to join an Anglican convent, they were heartbroken when she started life with her new Sisters, and her religious vocation became an absolute priority. She died at age 49, at the Sisters’ residence at 82 Margaret Street, following a painful battle with ovarian cancer. She was, by all accounts, a wise person and a diplomat like her brother William. My favourite Maria Rossetti quotation is: ‘This is the great secret of peace-keeping; to be such that no one can quarrel with us.’

I was telling the chap all this when he interrupted me. ‘Look! Over there!’ I spun around, prepared to come face to face with Maria’s tombstone. ‘You can see Chelsea football ground from here,’ he informed me.

Reader, it was true. Yet not what I’d hoped for. I slumped on a bench feeling defeated while he took pictures of the top of the football ground of a team he doesn’t even like. He walked away to get a better angle. After a while, he beckoned me over. He ignored my thunderous face and pointed at a grave which I realized was Maria Rossetti’s. Typically, he had found it without a map.

Maria Rossetis Gravestone
Maria Rossetti’s gravestone.

There was no escaping football that day. Later that evening, we spotted Chelsea star Frank Lampard in the pub where we’d stopped for a swift half. I considered stopping to inform him that he could spot Brompton Cemetery from his home ground. But he’s probably about as interested in Maria Rossetti as I am in football, so I let the man nurse his drink in peace.

If you’re curious about the location of Maria’s grave, email me and I’ll give you directions. If you’re curious about football, I’m afraid I am unable to assist you. 

Maria Rossettis Grave
Grave of Maria Rossetti

Responses

  1. Thanks, Dinah.  I found this very interesting.

    My wife and I have a nice 1894 copy of Maria’s “A Shadow Of Dante” which was a present from Patricia O’Connor, the Society chair who I think will be introducing you when you talk in Birmingham on Saturday week.

    So we’d be grateful if you’d send us directions for Maria’s grave in Brompton Cemetery.

    Also, what team does you husband support?

    Cheers,

    Ian
    from Northampton (92nd in the Football League)

    Ian Macsporran responded at 10:02pm on 01/31/2012
  2. I’m glad you enjoyed it Ian. I’ll email you the directions for Maria’s grave.

    I’m intrigued to hear that you have a copy of ‘Shadow of Dante.’ Not many people do. Have you read it? And what did you think of it if so? I love the frontispiece and ‘map’ of Hell.

    Looking forward to seeing you in Birmingham ...

    Dinah smile

    PS: The chap supports Charlton Athletic. He’s been threatening to make me attend a match for years, and often jokes about renewing our vows on the center circle at The Valley.


    Dinah responded at 01:39pm on 02/05/2012
  3. This is a gem, both hilarious and informative! (And reminds me to be grateful that I married not only a fellow sci-fi geek, but one with zero interest in sports. *g*)

    Valerie Meachum responded at 04:16pm on 02/12/2012
  4. Valerie, you are one lucky, lucky lady! As I type, I can hear the roar of some sort of football game on the radio in the background…If I play my cards right, maybe he won’t tell me about it.

    Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Dinah responded at 10:02pm on 02/24/2012
  5. I live in London fortunately. Could you email me the directions? Thanks!

    Caroline responded at 11:27pm on 05/12/2012
  6. I’ve just emailed you directions to Maria’s grave. Enjoy the visit!

    Dinah responded at 09:02pm on 05/15/2012
  7. Hi Dinah,

    I’m planning a trip to London in October and will be staying in the area. Could you email me directions?

    Thanks

    Melissa responded at 10:49pm on 08/08/2012
  8. Hello Melissa,

    I’ve emailed you the directions as requested. Hope you have a wonderful time in London.

    Dinah responded at 10:23am on 08/11/2012
  9. Hi Dinah,
    I’m hoping to visit the grave in September - could you please send me directions?
    Thanks

    Laura responded at 01:31pm on 08/21/2012
  10. I’ve emailed you the directions. Have a great visit!

    Dinah responded at 07:07pm on 08/21/2012
  11. Hi Dinah,

    You kindly e-mailed me directions for Maria’s grave over a year ago now.  But I’ve lost them.  And I’m going to visit Brompton Cemetery with a group of cycling friends tomorrow (Saturday 17th February).

    Could you send me the directions, again, please?  I could pick them up on my phone.

    I’ve got a plan of the cemetery and so I know where Frederick Leyland’s and Val Prinsep’s monuments are.  Is Maria’s grave near to those?

    Many thanks!!

    Ian

    Ian Macsporran responded at 11:40pm on 02/15/2013
  12. Hello Ian. I’ve just emailed you the directions. I hope you enjoy your visit.

    Dinah responded at 11:03am on 02/16/2013

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Pre-Raphaelites in the City

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This blog explores the thriving Victorian cities which inspired the Pre-Raphaelites, and were shaped by them in turn. While the Pre-Raphaelites produced poetry and art praising the natural world, most were born and raised in urban environments, and their work retained a cosmopolitan sensibility. Although this blog will sometimes take excursions into the countryside, its focus will remain on city life. If you want more information on images or sources, please get in touch.