Mary the Sleeping Angel - by Jeane Trend-Hill
Every time I visited Highgate cemetery in North London I would gaze at a monument of a sleeping angel. The angel is in the West Cemetery which is only accessible by grave owners or by tour guide. I became totally fascinated by it to the point I was dreaming about her and even did a painting. I really wanted to know who was buried beneath it.
The inscription says:
“In Ever Loving Memory of Mary, the darling wife of Arthur Nichols and fondly loved mother of their only son Harold who fell asleep 7th May 1909. Also of Dennis Arthur Charles son of Harold and Winifred who died 28th April 1916 aged 18 months”.
The story goes that the angel was covered in ivy for many years and discovered by a photographer. The ivy was removed and she was on display for a while but now she is usually covered with planks of wood as the cemetery management don't want people to know she is there in case of vandalism and questions about her came to an abrupt end. Hmmmm....I love getting to the bottom of a good mystery!
Mary Nichols proved to be rather elusive as it was a very common name in the UK when she died in 1909 and transcribing the records often went awry, she could have been entered as Nichol or Nicholls in which case I’d probably never find her. After looking through 526 death, marriage and census records, I narrowed it down to four possible’s and sent for one death certificate which was hopefully the right Mary Nichols and will contain more information.
The first certificate I got back was the wrong Mary, this one was a spinster, no husband or children, so she has to be one of the remaining three. A week later I received confirmation that certificate number two was on it’s way, this was the one I had the hunch about. The details on it were “Died Seventh May 1909 aged 58, married to Arthur Nichols. Cause of death, Diabetes and heart failure”. It looked like it could be the right Mary Nichol’s at last!
When the certificate arrived the next day I could hardly wait to rip open the envelope – there she was, Mary Nichols, THE Mary Nichols. I gazed at it awestruck. The date of death and other details matched up, this was definitely the correct Mary and the one I had a hunch about all along. Her address was Woodland Gardens, Muswell Hill; she was married to Arthur, a bank manager (which explains the wonderful monument which must have cost a fortune even in 1909.) Harold Nichols (her son) registered the death on 10th May and was present at the time of death and living at the same address.
A couple of days later I received some more great news, English Heritage are cleaning the monument and restore it to it’s former white marble glory and she will remain uncovered so that others may enjoy her beauty. I’m absolutely delighted. Phase one of the cleaning of Mary has already started and I was suitably impressed, she looks good, not too white. I touched her and felt an overwhelming sensation of love. I also got the feeling that she was pleased that I had managed to find out who she was. If you are ever in the Highgate area of London I highly recommend a visit.
Top- Mary before cleaning.
Bottom left - Mary after cleaning.
Bottom right- Author Jeane & Mary