John Tradescant The Elder
Drawing commissioned by Samuel Pepys
The Tradescant tomb
The tomb of the Tradescant family is one of the most important churchyard monuments in London. The Tradescants were famous seventeenth century plants hunters and gardeners to King Charles I. They lived nearby at their home in Lambeth, where they opened their botanic garden and their cabinet of curiosities to the public as England's first public museum. Both Tradescants travelled around the globe in search of plants to introduce into Britain's gardens - The Elder visited Russia and the Morroccan coast, whilst the Younger travelled to Virgina in the 'New World'.
The tomb was commissioned by Hester Tradescant, widow of the younger John after his death in 1662. The poem carved on to its lid describes “Angels [whom] shall with their trumpets awaken men… and change this Garden for a paradise”. The poem was written by an anonymous author, although an historic anecdote attributes it to John Aubrey.
The panels carved into the sides of the monument depict objects from the Tradescant collection and images of ruins, which also express the vanitas of the poem: that our proud achievements on earth will crumble to dust at the Last Trump. Dr Roger Bowdler of English Heritage has described the tomb as pivotal in the development of the English churchyard tomb. It was one of the very first examples of a prominent monument to be built in a churchyard, as opposed to inside.
There is a drawing of the tomb in Samuel Pepys’s personal “Museum”, his compilation of views and prints of London which is today at Magdalene College Cambridge (Pepys Library PL 2972 / 226a and b). Pepys commissioned artists to make records of objects in London which caught his interest; this is the only churchyard tomb.
The tomb was re-carved in 1773, and the lid replaced. It was again re-carved in 1853 and the eighteenth century lid is on display inside the Museum. A comparison with Pepys’s record shows a degree of re-interpretation of the imagery in the panels.
Read the inscription here