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Heysham, England

'Poet Philosopher & Failure' Gravestone

A succinct inscription commemorates the ebb and flow of a woman's life. 

Behind the thousand-year-old church whose windows look out on the noisy redshanks and oystercatchers hunting for mussels and crabs in Morecambe Bay, beyond the stone cut graves featured on the cover of one of many unofficial Best of Black Sabbath albums, is a small graveyard.

Sarah Hannah Jones was buried there after she died on September 5, 1909. There, behind St. Peter’s Church, among the markers on the grassy hill that slopes down into one of the main cargo routes to Ireland, a celtic cross designates her gravesite. It features the curious inscription “POET PHILOSOPHER & FAILURE.”

There is little explanation to be found about the cryptic words. The church was consecrated in 967, and the oldest parts of the physical building date back to the 8th century. Sarah’s husband, James, remarried another woman named Sarah. She died in 1929, and a year after James followed. All three are buried in the spot, their stones stacked under Sarah Hannah’s cross. James’ inscription is strange but a little less mysterious: “ALAS POOR YORICK.”

Jones would’ve been an unusual name in Heysham at the time. St. Peter’s records only have one instance of the name, the baptism of the son of Edward and Elizabeth Jones. There are at least records nearby in Houghton-le-Spring of a marriage of Sarah Hannah Johnson and James Jones in 1895.