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Frankenstein author Mary Shelley's Bournemouth legacy
Lucy Davenport as Mary Shelley, from the tv drama/documentary Mary Shelley: The Birth of Frankenstein
Lucy Davenport as Mary Shelley, from the 2003 tv drama/documentary Mary Shelley: The Birth of Frankenstein

Fiction writer Mary Shelley is best known for her novel Frankenstein.

But, before she died on February 1 1851, one of her last requests was to be buried in Bournemouth, even though she had never lived in the town.

Her wish was fulfilled - as was her request for her already deceased parents to be re-buried with her.

But the family plot in St Peter's Church also includes something perhaps more unusual - the remains of Shelley's husband's heart.

Boscombe Manor

Bournemouth tour guide and local historian John Walker explains how Mary Shelley's connection to Bournemouth began.

He said: "In 1849, Shelley's son, Percy Florence, was told Bournemouth was the place to build a house [because of its 'warmer climate'], which he believed would help the health of his wife and of his ailing mother, Mary.

"He bought some land in Boscombe, which would become Boscombe Manor, but it wasn't ready for occupation until March 1851 [after Mary's death].

"We know from records and letters that Mary visited Bournemouth at least once - probably to watch the house being built - but she never lived there.

"The interesting thing was, when she was near to death, she said she'd like to be buried in Bournemouth with her parents - but they were already buried at St Pancras in London."


Born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Mary Godwin's parents were both writers - feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and philosopher and journalist William Godwin, so it was perhaps inevitable she would marry a writer too.

John said: "In her late teens, in 1814, Mary eloped with the already-married Percy Bysshe Shelley, the romantic poet.

"Shortly after, aged only 18 or 19, she came up with the idea for Frankenstein, which is sadly the only thing she's really known for."

Frankenstein was an unusual work of fiction for its time, and remains one of the most famous stories of all time.

The remains of a heart

Later, while living in Italy, Mary's husband drowned in a boating accident in 1822.

John said: "The rule was, if your body was washed ashore, you were cremated there on the beach [due to quarantine laws].

"Then, if you were British you would be buried in the British cemetery in Rome.

"But as the remains were being cremated, a friend noticed that Shelley's heart wasn't burning very well.

"So when no one was looking he snatched it out of the pyre, and was able to pass it onto Mary Shelley - and the remains of the heart were kept in Boscombe Manor for many years.

"The when Mary's son Percy Florence Shelley died and was buried in the family plot, the heart was slipped into the tomb.

"It's said that the famous romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley never knew Bournemouth but he has his heart in the town."



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