London's Most Peculiar Grave: The Floating Coffin Of Pinner

By M@ Last edited 20 months ago

Last Updated 26 October 2022

London's Most Peculiar Grave: The Floating Coffin Of Pinner
A coffin hangs out of the side of a stone mausoleum. It's very peculiar

Coffins should go below the ground, right? Not this one.

This is the tomb of William and Agnes Loudon in the churchyard of St John the Baptist, Pinner. It towers over its neighbours and, more importantly, appears to house a floating sarcophagus.

What we have here is a monolithic stone wedge, lightened at the bottom with a fan-like metal grille, and significantly oddened at the mid-point by the protruding coffin.

A red-roofed church with a wedge-shaped monument in the foreground.

If you think it looks a bit peculiar from the front, then consider the side view. Here we can see that the supposed sarcophagus really does pass all the way through the tomb. It looks like a magician's trick; a floating coffin.

Two sides of a sarcophagus peek out either side of the stone mausoleum.

In truth, the Loudons are buried beneath the monument. The levitating sepulchre is pure artifice. But why does it take this peculiar form?

This curious monument was designed by the Loudons' son John Claudius Loudon, who would go on to become a noted landscape gardener and cemetery designer.

An amusing just-so story offers one explanation, albeit spurious. It's said that the Loudons inherited a sum of money that would keep paying in instalments while they were still "above ground" (i.e. alive). By interring their bodies a metre off the ground, Loudon junior ensured that the dividends would keep coming his way.

A wedge-shaped tomb with a coffin poking out the front
The dead have risen... they all float down here... etc. etc.

The story is given further mileage by an enigmatic phrase woven into the ironwork. "I byde my time." It could be a reference to the Loudons prolonging the inheritance through cunning, though it's more likely a reference to the dead rising on the day of Judgement.

The truth is unknown, but probably more mundane. In all likelihood, Loudon junior designed the tomb to elevate his parents above their fellow parishioners, or to signify that they were now closer to God.

A faded inscription on the side of a tomb
The ends of the 'sarcophagus' note the lives of Agnes and William, and relate that their son is buried in Kensal Green.

Whatever the reasoning behind its strange design, the facts of the monument are these: it marks the final resting place of William Loudon who died in 1809, and his wife Agnes who lived until 1841. Neither is interred in the flying sarcophagus, but in more conventional coffins below ground.

Along with Joseph Grimaldi's musical grave and the kennel-grave of "Nazi dog" Giro, this must rank as one of London's strangest sepulchral monuments.