In late September the heather had faded somewhat: it was no longer the vibrant purple of August. 

But it was still beautiful – this area of Surrey heathland could be Scotland – and that was the reason we were gathered there on September 24 for the dedication of the restored grave to Scottish artist Arthur Melville.

The grave is sited just beyond the formal boundary of Brookwood Cemetery and on Brookwood Heath, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

In his book London’s Necropolis, John Clarke describes the grave as “set in splendid isolation”. That it is. 

When that book was published, John wrote: “The grave is incomplete since the upright stone, which included the inscription, is missing.” 

However, the grave could be identified through the grave number still visible on the kerbing. 

This description encouraged Jon Leach, a member of the Brookwood Cemetery Society, to carry out some detective work. While rambling around the perimeter of the cemetery in midsummer with the bracken at its highest, he stumbled across a section of broken pink granite inscribed In loving Memory of Arthur Melville. 

Scrabbling in the bracken, Jon found a second piece. This led to more questions, for the area of the grave had been part of the original Necropolis land but was acquired in 1979 by Woking Borough Council to maintain as heath land. 

Graves on that land were exhumed and reinterred elsewhere within the cemetery. Why was Melville left in peace? Was the severe damage to the headstone caused by a mechanical digger, the pieces dumped and, over time, subsumed by heather and bracken? Could it be restored? 

The Brookwood Cemetery Society agreed but as the grave was on a SSSI they had to, literally, tread carefully. 

There was paperwork to be cleared as well as undergrowth from the grave. It was a long job which allowed time for Jon to contact Melville’s extended family. 

Haven Memorials did a brilliant job of joining the damaged stones and the Old Woking clay pigeon shoot allowed the necessary lorry to cross its land so the heavy stones could be positioned.

Arthur Melville, 1855 to 1904, was an adventurer, voyager, explorer and water colourist. He travelled from his native Scotland to Persia, Turkey, Egypt and Spain recording the sights with his vivid paintings. 

Although comparatively unknown during his lifetime, he was one of the most powerful influences on contemporary art in his day and his work influenced the Glasgow Boys of the 1880s and 1890s.

It was Melville’s widow Ethel who had his ashes placed there in splendid isolation in a place she thought reminiscent of his Scottish homeland.

Many of his descendants made the pilgrimage to his grave for the restoration of the memorial. There were eight Melvilles with spouses and a great niece and great nephew, and others. They came from Inverness-shire, Derbyshire, Manchester, London – and Denver, Colorado. 

Pipe Major Iain Raymond piped the procession to the graveside where Mary Morgan, Fellowship of Professional Celebrants, welcomed all and introduced members of the family, and gave a brief background to Arthur’s fascinating life. Her poem, written for the occasion, says it all:

Set in splendid isolation on the edge of Brookwood Heath,

Hidden from our eyes under heather and our feet.

This gentleman lay resting as the seasons changed the land,

A moving scene of colours, drawn by Mother Nature’s hand.

A man who travelled widely his adventures wild and bold,

Captured with his brush strokes, his stunning art work told.

Of trials and tribulations, travelling happily on his own,

A friendly charismatic man had kindness from strangers shown.

Transferring from his eye to hand, from palette onto brush,

Breathtaking colours he brought to life with the genius of his touch.

But Arthur’s work was not well received, but his paintings would unfold,

A Cabbage Garden to Loch Lomond, bathed in the warmth of gold.

Capturing light and colour, his impressionistic themes

Of ordinary folk of Eastern life, of vibrant Venetian scenes.

Carefully selected – he painted from his heart,

Eloquently speaking through the talent of his art.

We all die, of course we will, but what is left contains,

The essence of the person that forever will remain.

And Arthur’s paintings stir our souls reveal them from beneath,

And thus, in splendid colour, he lays resting on this heath.