Visiting the grave of W.S Gilbert – the very model of a modern Major-General

One of the main things I waned to find on my walk I wrote about on Monday was the grave of W S Gilbert.  I’m used to finding obscure graves amongst hundreds thousands in cemeteries a mile or more in length so finding this couldn’t have been easier.

W. S Gilbert was one half of the famous Gilbert and Sullivan.  Sir William Schwenck Gilbert (18 November 1836 – 29 May 1911) was an English dramatist, librettist, poet and illustrator best known for his collaboration with composer Arthur Sullivan, which produced fourteen comic operas. The most famous of these include H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and one of the most frequently performed works in the history of musical theatre, The Mikado.  Altogether he wrote over 75 plays before his tragic and untimely death.




Sir William Schwenk Gilbert

Sir William lived in a grand house just a mile or so from where I live and I will write a post on him and it another time but for now as I often do, I was looking for a grave.  Or for those of us who are learning latin…. Ubi Sunt Sepulchra?   Where are the graves?

St John Stanmore

On Monday I wrote on the ruined church of St John the Evangelist, the photo above shows its Victorian successor and currently used church of St John.

St John current

Another beautiful day,

IMG_3158 2

The final resting place of W. S Gilbert

I must admit though I know the names of some of the plays and some of the lyrics of his more famous songs, I’ve never watched any of them even though they are still very much on the go.

W S Gilbert grave

His grave lies between the current church and the ruined one.

Probably the most famous work of Gilbert and Sullivan is the Pirates of Penzance and from that the most popular song is ‘I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major-General’.    Interestingly I believe despite being a very British show, Gilbert and Sullivan had this premiere on Broadway in New York.

I think it’s interesting as just as now many especially in America rightly make a big deal of how China steals intellectual copyright and technology, this used to happen quite a bit with the USA stealing from the U.K.   Back in the 19th century American laws did not allow copyright to foreign individuals and Gilbert and Sullivan lost a lot of money by having very shoddy but lucrative imitations of their latest work played in America before their own productions could leave from their London run.

To get round this, the Pirates of Penzance played out first in the USA and they were very successful in making their dues and stopping the the immoral if not then illegal productions there before bring the hit back to the U.K.   I think it’s fantastic that even back then, clever people could find their way out of a problem.

If you’ve never heard I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major-General then here is an old link below with the text beneath that.  Can you imagine having to learn all of this.   I wonder if I should do a little performance on my new tour when it gets going, I will either get good tips or rotten tomatoes I guess.

I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;[a]
I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I’m teeming with a lot o’ news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

I’m very good at integral and differential calculus;
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

I know our mythic history, King Arthur’s and Sir Caradoc’s;
I answer hard acrostics, I’ve a pretty taste for paradox,
I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous;
I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,
I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!
Then I can hum a fugue of which I’ve heard the music’s din afore,
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.

Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
And tell you ev’ry detail of Caractacus’s uniform:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

In fact, when I know what is meant by “mamelon” and “ravelin”,
When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin,
When such affairs as sorties and surprises I’m more wary at,
And when I know precisely what is meant by “commissariat”,
When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery,
When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery –
In short, when I’ve a smattering of elemental strategy –
You’ll say a better Major-General has never sat a gee.

For my military knowledge, though I’m plucky and adventury,
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

With my mission complete I trudge the 4 miles home but look at the scenery.  I hope I’m convincing people of just how London is an incredibly green city. and also as I said years ago, just how dry and often warm it is compared to most of Europe and much of North America which always surprised my tourists. (Busting the myth of London being a Rainy city)

On the way home

These photos show how 75% of my walk home was like and we’re in London.  Isn’t it beautiful?   Having seen the various points I’ve visited over the last month or two, do you think it would make an interesting off the beaten track tour?

Social Distancing

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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5 Responses to Visiting the grave of W.S Gilbert – the very model of a modern Major-General

  1. padresteve says:

    Great post, I would have never known without this, thank you.


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