The Churchyard was Chiswick’s only burial ground for many centuries. It was closed in 1854 because of lack of space, except for limited burials in existing vaults. For the next twenty years people from Chiswick were interred outside the parish. It was re-opened in 1867. The Duke of Devonshire gave to the parish gifts of land adjoining the churchyard for enlarging the burial ground in 1838 and 1871.
It is difficult now to decipher the inscriptions on the tombs of the many famous people who are buried in the Churchyard and Burial Ground, but many of the details are listed in the Archives.
On the south side of the church is perhaps our most famous tomb, that of William Hogarth, the celebrated painter, engraver and caricaturist, who spent his last years nearby in Hogarth’s House and was buried here in 1764. A poem by David Garrick is engraved on his tomb.
Nearby are some fine table tombs including those of the actor Charles Holland, also with an epitaph by David Garrick, and Richard Wright, Lord Burlington’s bricklayer. This tomb was reputedly designed by William Kent, architect, painter and designer of the grounds of Chiswick House, who died in 1748, and who is himself buried in Lord Burlington’s vault. To the west of the churchyard in the Burial Ground is a small mausoleum, designed by Sir John Soane for the landscape painter P.J. de Loutherbourg (d.1812), and nearby is the tomb of the celebrated Italian poet Ugo Foscolo (d.1827). Foscolo’s remains were later removed at the request of the King of Italy to Florence, Italy, where there is a monument to him in the church of Santa Croce.
Walking down the Burial Ground, on the right hand side is the fine bronze classical tomb of the artist J. M. Whistler (d.1903). Nearby, to the left, is the last resting-place of Henry Joy, the trumpeter who sounded the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, who died in 1893. Further on there is a large tomb to commemorate Frederick Hitch, a hero of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift who won a VC during the Zulu war.
To the north of Hitch’s tomb there is a very unusual memorial to William Blake Richmond and his wife Clara with carved panels on each side and inscriptions from Homer’s Iliad and Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’;
Richmond was a painter and sculptor who died in 1921. One of his statues, a bronze Greek athlete, commemorates him in St. Peter’s Square, Hammersmith. Beside his tomb is a small cross inscribed ‘In loving memory of our dear son Arthur Howell Burden, Assistant Purser on the ‘Lusitania’. He was drowned May 7 1915, age 25 years. Thy will be done’
A recent discovery under six inches of turf, at the request of his great great grandson, is the grave of Sir Charles Tilston Bright, who laid the first cable across the Atlantic to America and was knighted aged 26 by Queen Victoria.
A stone tablet on the eastern wall of the church facing the road bears this singular inscription:
‘This wall was made at ye charges of yeright honourable and trulie pious Lorde Francis Russell Earle of Bedford oute of true zeale and care for ye keeping of this churchyard and ye wardrobe of Goddes saintes, whose bodies lay therein buryed from violating of swine and other profanation so witnesseth William Walker, v.1623’ Rebuilt in 1831: refaced in 1884.’
The graveyard and archives at St Nicholas bear witness to the varied lives and social status of those who lived and died in this parish down the centuries. A guide to the location of the most notable graves is available in the church and the Friends of St Nicholas run occasional tours of the Church Yard.