Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial - History and Facts | History Hit

Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial

London, England, United Kingdom

Peta Stamper

05 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial

The Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial is a structure located in Old St Pancras churchyard in London and was built in the later 19th century at the request of Baroness Burdett-Coutts. The former churchyard was the burial ground of St Giles-in-the-Fields, where many Catholic and French immigrants were buried.

With the names of over 70 people whose graves were disturbed during the works for the Midland Railway, the obelisk is also perhaps an unwitting memorial to queer ways of life, and has been a Grade 2 listed building since September 2016.

Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial history

By 1837, the Baroness Burdett-Courtts was one of the wealthiest women in Victorian England. She was a great collector of artwork and renowned philanthropist, donating money to the Church and funding the erection of the Greyfriar’s Bobby Fountain in Edinburgh. The Baroness also unconventionally lived out most of her life with a female companion, her governess, who she described as the “sunshine of my life for 52 years”.

Built between 1877 and 1879, the Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial was requested by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts. The Victoriana style obelisk was designed by George Highton of Brixton, featuring gothic influences and  built with Portland stone, marble, granite and extensive mosaics depicting the seasons. The top of the obelisk holds a sundial. On each corner were placed stone animal statues that are said to be modelled on the Baroness’ collie dog.

The Old St Pancras churchyard had been closed to burials in 1850 and in 1865 saw significant works on the Midland Railway. The memorial was intended to represent those whose graves were disturbed during the construction of St Pancras railway station.

One of these graves belonged to Chevalier d’Éon, a French diplomat and soldier who fought in the Seven Years’ War. Chevalier d’Éon was also a spy who successfully infiltrated the Imperial Russian court by presenting as a woman, after which, she lived as a transgender woman for 33 years until her death in 1810.

Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial today

Today, visitors to the historic churchyard will find the Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial under a canopy of green-leaved trees. The tower stands on an octagonal base which is completely fenced-in by railings that display a plaque to Johann Christian Bach, who was buried in a nearby pauper’s grave.

You can read an anonymous poem as well as extracts from the Gospel of St Matthew on the marble side-panels. The Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial is found in St Pancras Gardens, a lovely spot to pause within bustling central London.

Getting to Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial

The memorial is a 10 minute walk from King’s Cross St Pancras central railway and tube station on the Circle, Hammersmith and City, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria lines. Nearby Chenies Place bus stop is along the 46, 168 and 214 London bus routes.