A trip out of town to Eton, and on the recently restored west end of the Eton College Chapel, the magnificent gargoyle that you see in the image below.
It is of Montague Rhodes (M.R.) James (1862-1936). Educated at Eton and at King’s College, Cambridge, he was a medieval scholar and became Provost of King’s and then of Eton.
He is perhaps better known as a writer of ghost stories – his collections include ‘Ghost Stories of an Antiquary’, ‘A Thin Ghost’ and ‘A Warning to the Curious’ – which are well worth reading. (They’re all out of copyright, so one can get them for free on Kindle and the Gutenberg Project amongst other places.)
In a ‘typical’ James story, a scholar researching in some out of the way library or church uncovers a text or object that alludes to some medieval horror. Dismissing it as superstition, he then starts to notice strange events – a movement out of the corner of his eye in a darkened room, an object that has moved although no one has been present, a sense of being watched or followed, a sculpture or a carving that seems to have changed appearance. It’s this last strand that makes the James gargoyle so apposite, and I tip my (top) hat to whoever came up with the idea.
I’ve been unable to find out when the gargoyle was carved, or the name of the sculptor (a Jamesian mystery in itself). It appears on Google streetview in 2011, but the College website has no information about it. If anyone has any answers, please let me know so I can give credit.
One final connection with James and the nearby Windsor Castle. 170 stories were commissioned to fill the books in the library of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, and James wrote (what else?) ‘The Haunted Dolls’ House’ that sits in a miniature volume on the shelves.