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Bringing in the New Year with Charles Dickens

The cruciform headstone of Marianne Layard (d.1879 whilst living in Blackheath) lies undisturbed aside a shady inner pathway in Ladywell cemetery. The Layards were a distinguished Huguenot family including two members with entries in the Dictionary of National Biography (Sir Austen Henry Layard included here and Daniel Peter Layard d.1802).

  Photo of Marianne Layard buried in Ladywell cemetery 

She was the daughter of Nathaniel Austen, banker, of Ramsgate, whose uncle was Benjamin Austen, a London solicitor was a close friend of Benjamin Disrael and distantly related to the novelist Jane Austen.

Marianne married Henry Peter Layard in 1814 and was the mother of Mary Layard (1816-1816), b. Brussels, Belgium

Austen Henry Layard (1817-1894), b. Paris,

France Frederic Peter Layard (1818-1891), b. Bath,

Arthur John Layard (1819-1855), b. Bath,

Bernard Julian Layard (1820-1821), b. Florence, Italy.

Peregrine Edward Layard (1822-1822), b. Florence, Italy

Edgar Leopold Layard (1824-1900), b. Florence, Italy.

But for the purposes of this post from such an illustrious family lineage I have selected a Christmas meeting between Sir Austen Henry Layard and the novelist Charles Dickens from 1852. The background to their friendship is described below.

In 1848 Henry Layard, while staying at Canford (Dorset), finished his book “Nineveh and its Remains” and immediately left for Constantinople. By the time he returned to England in July 1851 his book had become a bestseller and he was a much a sought after guest of the rich and famous – Charles Dickens amongst them. In December 1851 Dickens invited Layard to see in the New Year with him. His letter suggests that they had met previously at The Grapes in Wapping and at a reception held by Miss Coutts, an extremely rich heiress and philanthropist.



I want to renew your recollection of "the last time we parted"--not at Wapping Old Stairs, but at Miss Coutts's--when we vowed to be more intimate after all nations should have departed from Hyde Park, and I should be able to emerge from my cave on the sea-shore.

Can you, and will you, be in town on Wednesday, the last day of the present old year? If yes, will you dine with us at a quarter after six, and see the New Year in with such extemporaneous follies of an exploded sort (in genteel society) as may occur to us? Both Mrs. Dickens and I would be really delighted if this should find you free to give us the pleasure of your society.

Believe me always, very faithfully yours.”

In 1853 Dickens left England with Wilkie Collins for a holiday in Europe and met Layard in Naples.Where their sybaritic interests seem to coincide :

'Of macaroni we ate very considerable quantities everywhere; also, for the benefit of Italy, we took our share of every description of wine. At Naples I found Layard, the Nineveh traveller, who is a friend of mine and an admirable fellow; so we fraternised and went up Vesuvius together, and ate more macaroni and drank more wine." (1854 letter from Charles Dickens)

Layard later sent a present of Venetian champagne tumblers to Dickens to celebrate his marriage (1869)

He died in 1894 and his grave is to be found in Canford Magna parish church yard . The angular mabled headstone bears a striking similarity to that of his mother's in Ladywell cemetery.

Austen Henry Layard (1817-1894), British archaeologist, politician and diplomat, 1851. He excavated Nimrud/Nineveh, Iraq. Wood engraving.

Three of his illustrious siblings who survived infancy are remembered below.

Photograph of Captain Layard (Austen's younger brother) standing beside a horse, both facing left. He is wearing military uniform and holding the reins in his right hand and a sword in his left. There is a tent behind him to the left. Captain Layard was aide-de-camp to General Pennefather during the Crimean War and died of disease in 1855. (Photograph : Roger Fenton -Royal Collection Trust)

Generel Frederic Peter Layard, (1818-1891) became Bengal Army Ensign, 19th Bengal Native Infantry in 1838; Captain in 1851; Major in 1862; and Colonel with Bengal Staff Corps in 1864. He was a keen amateur artist and many of his sketches of Bengal (Volume 1 c.1851) are much sought after.

His son Lieutenant Julian Henry Layard, was a British military attach̩ who served with the Ottoman Army under Osman Pasha and died in 1877 at Shipka in Bulgaria Рtaken by typhoid during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878.

Edgar Leopold Layard ( 1824-1900) was a Naturalist and Ornithologist who in 1887 published The Birds of South Africa, where he described 702 species. His avian fame is remembered by the name of a parakeet (not those fluttering noisily over the cemetery!) but a species of green parrot found in Sri Lanka , called 'Layard's parakeet'

This very readable and accessible journal of his mid -19th century excavations is a gripping narrative of archaeological discovery and gritty historical endeavour and reads like an early Indiana Jones adventure!


The headstone of the Actor, Comedian and Playwright John Baldwin Buckstone (1802-1879) lies a short distance away . He was one of Charles Dicken's favourite actors and his life is narrated by Mike Guilfoyle in the tenth and final podcast on some of the cemetery's illustrious deceased produced by Tempest Productions .London Epitaphs 10. JB Buckstone by Tempest Productions