Inklings Graves in Oxford

Quarry Hollow

Isn’t that the coolest name? Quarry Hollow. So lovely and evocative and spooky. I wish I had been there at night to take a proper Hallowe’en picture.

I took this picture when I was cutting through some alleys in the Headington area so I could find my way to C.S. Lewis’ grave. Earlier this month, on a particular Friday in Oxford, the sun was shining and I was looking toward to a day at the archive. But the next day, Saturday,  called for pouring rain. So I switched my plans up and decided to spend Friday wandering around Oxford and Saturday in the archive. It was a beautiful autumn day thousands of miles from where I live at the centre of a new generation of fantasy literature.

So, naturally, I decided to visit the Inklings’ graves.

Last week was the first time I ever made this sort of pilgrimage, a journey through Oxford by visiting the graves of the Oxford Inklings. This circle of scholars and writers gave us The Lord of the Rings and Narnia, but in a much broader sense created a culture of critical creativity from a broad Christian tradition that deepened theological perspectives, challenged cultural norms, and opened up new ways of telling stories. No doubt I have missed some essential figures, but this is how I spent my afternoon and evening.

I begin with Hugo Dyson–partly because I found his grave by accident, and partly because, honestly, who thinks of Hugo? Holywell Cemetery had a very spooky sign but I forgot to take a picture. Holywell is the long-term home of Kenneth Grahame, James Blish, Austin Farrar (an Inkling I didn’t find), Max Müller, and other legendary lights. Famous women, apparently, place their restful bones elsewhere. But there is also Hugo Dyson, famous for helping lead C.S. Lewis to Christ and for his great impatience with Tolkien’s elves. So here is the gravestone of Hugo and Margaret Dyson.

But Holywell’s main attraction, for me, was the gravestone of Charles Williams. Could there be an Inkling more fitting for a cemetery scene? Even in life, he lived in the liminal space between the living and the dead. Here is the headstone that tells its final tale.

Though this is pretty normal in UK graves, I find it a bit creepy there is a footstone too, as if trying to keep the corpse in. The initials on that footstone, covering its ancient bone digits, is CWSW: Charles Walter Stansby Williams. Joined with him in mouldering depths is his wife, “Michal,” who survived him by 25 years, and his son who lived to see a new century dawn.

Holywell Cemetery is at the centre of old Oxford but other Inklings lay at the edges. About 3 miles north is Wolvercote Cemetery. This is the resting area of Edith Tolkien and her mythopoeic mate, the creator of Middle-earth. I actually had trouble finding the Tolkien memorial in the Roman Catholic section of the cemetery. Wandering though, I found this forested graveyard, a tiny woods of organic memorials.

I also found a very sad space that terrified me a little: an active, living memorial for lost children in Wolvercote.

Eventually, I found my way to the grave of the Tolkiens.

There they are, Edith and John Ronald, Beren and Lúthien, a grave filled with flowers and notes from fans and followers. More than a gravestone, this is a shrine, a place to remember the one who had transformed our understanding of what was possible in imaginative literature.

From Wolvercote Cemetery, with its children’s memorial and Catholic section and Jewish gravestones, I went east to Headington Hill. Headington was, of course, the community of J.R.R. Tolkien (in much of the 50s and 60s), C.S. Lewis (from 1922 to his death in 1963), and Hermione Granger (dates unknown, but from the 90s until sometime before she became a political leader). In particular, Headington Hill is the home of the Kilns, the house of C.S. Lewis and his brother Warren, and their nearby Holy Trinity Church at Headington Quarry.

It was here I found Quarry Hollow, a pathway near the entrance to Holy Trinity’s church walk, which is really quite lovely.

I will come back another day to this church, I think, but it is a Victorian stone chapel in the midst of a graveyard. It is in this cemetery where we find Inklings brothers, Clive Staples and Warren Hamilton Lewis. I first encountered the war memorial which opens the visitor up to the entire graveyard.

And, after wandering for a few minutes, I found the Lewis grave. Warnie and Jack are buried together, in the same grave, sharing a memorial that was so important to their history.

“Men must endure their going hence.” It is a quotation in King Lear V.II, from the mouth of Edgar. Shakespeare was an interest to Lewis, but it was also the quote from a quotation calendar on the day their mother, Flora Hamilton Lewis, died on 23 Aug 1908. While much can be said about the Inklings, their legacy, and the way they led for mortal eyes, but perhaps Edgar has said it best.

The Inklings, there they rest. But, of course, Oxford is alive with the dead. Because I was hosted for part of my tour by another Inklings scholar, perhaps we should end with the Shelley memorial. With a pigeon.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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50 Responses to Inklings Graves in Oxford

  1. I knew that Austin Farrar was connected to C.S Lewis but I did not know that he counted among the Inklings. So there was a member of the clergy and a theologian among that number. How active was he? I had thought of the Inklings as an entirely lay society and did not think the less of them for that. I even wondered whether all the best English theology was done by poets or, at least, most of it, has been written by poets.
    Perhaps I still think that. Farrar was good but Lewis and Tolkien were better.


  2. Joe R. Christopher says:

    The basic list of the Inklings is found, with short biographies, in the appendix by David Bratman to Diana Glyers’ _The Company They Keep_–there are 19 of them. (The same names are given in Carpenter’s _The Inklings_.) Bratman also gives a list of eight others who are known to have attended as guests or occasional visitors. Although he does not say why, he omits those who attended _only_ the Tuesday pub sessions. I think the basic reason to omit the pub sessions is that W. H. Lewis in his journals uses “Inklings” _only_ to refer to the Thursday evening creative meetings in which the members most often were reading their works in progress to each other. Warnie should know what’s an Inklings. (By the way Farrar was _not _ an Inkling.) [Sorry about being didactic; I have been known to slip into the mode.]

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      It is worth adding that Farrar was a ‘Socratic’: see the list of Socratic Club Papers and Speakers in Walter Hooper’s “Oxford’s Bonny Fighter” and Farrar’s “In His Image”, both in James T. Como’s collection, C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences.

      Also worth mentioning is David Bratman’s annotated bibliography, “The Inklings in Fiction”(updated 17 Sept. 2018):

      I wonder if the Oxford detective novel, The Missing Link (1952), by Austin’s wife, Katharine Farrar, ought to be added, as I think she is playing with the Tolkien family? in it (but this may be fanciful or far-fetched on my part)?

      Another Inklings-acquainted ‘Socratic’ theologian, whom Farrar’s Wikipedia article notes as one of his “Notable Students”, is Donald M. MacKinnon.


  3. L.A. Smith says:

    Oh gosh, how wonderful! Thank you for sharing these great pictures of your wander around the graveyards. What a marvellous opportunity to pay your respects. One day I will walk in your footsteps and go there, too!


  4. Charles Huttar says:

    Thank you, Brenton, for this engaging tour of Inklings’ resting places. We know now the non-Inkling status of Austin Farrer (note spelling) but it’s worth noting that he and his wife Katharine were good friends of C. S. Lewis. Farrer was a distinguished preacher and scholar, author of many books in theology and New Testament studies. The ones I know best are “A Rebirth of Images,” a ground-breaking study of the book of Revelation, and “Saving Belief,” which Susan Howatch selected as one of her eight commissioned reprints of classics of 20th-century Anglican spirituality. There has indeed been a resurgence of interest in Farrer: see, for example, “Captured by the Crucified” by David Hein and Edward Henderson — whose edited volume “C. S. Lewis and Friends” contains Henderson’s essay “Austin Farrer: The Sacramental Imagination.” . . . On Sunday afternoon, May 15, 1995, the 50th anniversary of Charles Williams’s death, the Charles Williams Society held a commemorative service in St. Cross Church, at which my wife and I were present, followed by a visit to Williams’s grave in the adjacent Holywell Cemetery, where also are buried, among others, Kenneth Grahame (“The Wind in the Willows”) and composer John Stainer (“God So Loved the World”). The cemetery is also a wildlife refuge. When we were there, one-third of it was being mowed each year (or grazed by sheep?), on a rotating basis, leaving wildflowers to grow in the rest. Whether it still participates in that scheme I don’t know. . . . Ten years ago St. Cross Church, a portion of whose fabric dates to around 1200, was closed as a parish church, owing to severely declining attendance. It is now a research and study center for Balliol College.

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      On my last visit, I was grateful to find a sign with map indicating the graves of many notable folk – to which I had to keep returning, as my sense of it was sadly muddled (Walter Pater and his sisters and Sir John Rhys were much farther from the Williamses than I remembered), though I seem to recall that James Blish is not hard to find (do ‘we’ know if the Lewises, or other Inklings, for that matter, read him?). Margaret Dyson told me her husband wanted to be buried near Williams (she was a regular worshipper at St. Cross).

      I thoroughly enjoyed Farrer’s Love Almighty and Ills Unlimited: An Essay on Providence and Evil, containing the Nathaniel Taylor Lectures for 1961 (Collins, 1962). Happily, a couple of his books (including his Bamptons) are scanned in the Internet Archive, with his Leibniz selection, Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God the Freedom of Man and
      the Origin of Evil (1951), transcribed at Project Gutenberg.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for all this Charles. I didn’t know about those other fellows (thanks David for more). There weren’t any wildflowers when I was there–perhaps in spring? But mowing wasn’t much of a thing. Basically there were paths where people walked, and then long grass. But it wasn’t terribly long (didn’t go to seed).
      Thanks for the Farrer links.


    • Joe R. Christopher says:

      Charles, thank you for catching my spelling error of Farrer’s name!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    In your fine photo, Quarry Hollow looks like somewhere attentive hobbits could scramble off the path (whether over the wall or into the undergrowth) to avoid the Nazgul…


  6. Joe R. Christopher says:

    Did you go by Joy Davidman’s memorial tablet in the crematorium? (I realize you were photographing the graves of Inklings,not wives of Inklings, but…) In the Gilbert and Kilby book of photographs it’s said to be “near The Kilns.” Clyde Kilby said at the time he was pleased in their book to thus get the first publication of Lewis’s poem.


    • No, Joe, I didn’t go, but because of poor planning and no other reason. I had no idea where it was when I got there and not enough data to google around. It is a gap in my visit. Does anyone know where it is?


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I’ve been there (was it hiking, or getting a lift?), but cannot say instantly… I’ll try to figure it out… unless someone else says, first.


  7. Yewtree says:

    A pity you didn’t go into Holy Trinity Church as they have a beautiful Narnia window in etched glass. Also buried not far from Lewis is William Kimber, famous Morris musician of Headington Quarry, who was playing the accordion when Cecil Sharpe rediscovered Morris dancing. Sad to say, though I lived in Oxford for nearly seven years, I didn’t visit Williams’ grave. I have visited both Tolkien & Lewis though.


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I remember William Kimber’s grave, but (idiotically) don’t remember ever trying to find out (or happening to hear) about Kimber and Lewis acquaintance, though, checking Kimber’s Wikipedia article, they were presumably fellow Church members there for 30 years (and the Lewis brothers were music lovers, as was Maureen Moore who married the musical Leonard Blake)! I hope ‘we’ know more about this, even if I have not (yet) encountered the fact!

      Liked by 2 people

      • (Both Kimber and Morris Dancing are entirely new to me!)


        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Never thought to check, till now! But, wow!:

          and (with an appreciative comment by a great great grandson!):


          Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            And they seem to have a Channel in this generation:

            and searching for

            The Headington Quarry Morris Dancers

            brings up assorted other things including bits of the Mummer’s play:


            And here’s something not unrelated from not long after the Lewises and Moores moved into The Kilns:

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks for all these. I had no idea about any of this. If I ever do a film about a cult, I think I’ll recreate a “Morys Danse”.
              To my ears, the music sounds like Quebecois folk music. Which makes me wonder why I have no idea about English folk music, but love celtic and Atlantic and French music. Even Russian.


              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                “If I ever do a film about a cult”… I think the original Wicker Man (1973) had Lord Summerisle playing with (elements of?) Morris dancing as well as other ‘folk’ things – but it’s been a while since I saw it…


              • Yewtree says:

                There’s an excellent humorous short film on YouTube about the ‘cult’ of Morris dancing.

                Interesting that you’ve never come across it, Brenton. The first Morris dance in Canada was in 1583, by Sir Humphrey Gilbert and his ship’s crew, who overwintered in Newfoundland and performed for the locals, presumably the Beothuk people.

                Morris dancing also featured in the efforts of the excellent Thomas Morton to make friends with Indigenous people. His efforts were stymied by the Puritans breaking up the party and arresting him. These events are still commemorated at Merry Mount in Boston, and there’s a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story about it.


              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                I’d love to learn it, but I was messy enough at Scottish country dancing at a nimbler age, and you don’t have to worry about getting thwacked with a stick if you do momentarily get muddled, there! (By the same token, I’ve never tried Scottish sword dancing…)

                Liked by 1 person

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                I’m very much ‘know what I like’ – and like just about everything I hear, one way or another – about folk music (I’ve run into and bought various lp and cd samplers down the years, but don’t know when I first heard – or saw – Morris dancing).


              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Picking up on Yewtree’s comment – I’m sure I’ve seen Morris dancers in Massachusetts (but without knowing this history) – maybe they were my first ‘live’ ones (or did I see some even earlier at a local International Folk Festival?).

                Liked by 1 person

      • Yewtree says:

        Oh yes I suppose they could’ve known each other — never thought about it!


    • Oh, and I’ll talk about that in tomorrow’s post too. Though not with the great insight here–just some pictures.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Yewtree says:

    Oh and anybody else visiting Headington and the Kilns: do check out the C.S. Lewis Nature Reserve, bear the Kilns — purchased by Lewis and now owned by the Wildlife Trust.

    Liked by 1 person

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