St Peter’s Church may be 800 years younger than its counterpart in neighbouring Christchurch, but its 62 metre high spire dominates the Bournemouth landscape. However, its main claim to fame is the tomb of Mary Shelley, writer of Frankenstein.
The church was built over a period of 24 years, finally being completed in 1879 in a Gothic Revial style. The architect was commissioned to design a ‘finer church to match the beauty of the town’. He lived up to the request, creating an impressive building, complete with stained glass and frescoes.
A later addition was the Chapel of Resurrection, constructed in 1926 and dedicated to the victims of the First world War. Its not the most ornate of buildings, to be honest. I thought it was a public toilet to start with!
St Peter’s is in the heart of Bournemouth, just a 7 minute walk from the beach, so an interesting place to visit if the beach gets too hot/cold/crowded. The church itself is worth a visit, plus, of course, the graveyard. It’s a bit overgrown and unkempt, but the more notable graves have been signposted with information about their occupier.
As mentioned above, the graveyard contains the tomb of iconic writer Mary Shelley. After the death of her husband, the poet Lord Byron, she suffered with ill health. Her son, Percy thought the answer to her problems was to build a house by the sea in nearby Boscombe, but she died before it was completed. It was her wish to be buried with her parents, so Percy had her buried in Bournemouth and moved her deceased parents (feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and philosopher William Godwin) from their graves in London to the family tomb at St Peters. Legend has it that Mary was so distraught at the death of her husband, that she kept his heart in a pocket sewn into her dress. And so Lord Byron’s heart (apparently rescued off the fire when he was cremated) is now buried with his wife and son in Bournemouth.
Another notable resident of the St Peter’s graveyard is Lewis Tregonwell, credited with founding the town of Bournemouth. As it says on the sign, he moved to the area in 1810. Like Percy Shelley, he hoped that living by the seaside would improve the health of a loved one – his wife was grieving the loss of a child. He was instrumental is the creation of the town and promoting it as a holiday destination.
Most visitors to St Peters do, in fact, head straight for the graveyard and the Shelley tomb, which is situated just inside the entrance. If you do want to visit the church to take a peek inside or for something more spiritual, it is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm.
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