The Legend of Fig Tree Tomb

By Jack Latimer, Watford Museum Team

Before restoration
After restoration

The Fig Tree Tomb was a popular tourist attraction in Victoria times. Legend claims that the person buried there was an atheist. They had asked that something be buried in the tomb with them when they died that if God did exist could germinate as proof.  The existence of God was proved by a fig tree that grew up from the tomb, dislodging the lid. This strange sight drew visitors to the graveyard to hear the story and take a twig as a souvenir. There certainly was a fig tree growing from the tomb, right up until the early 1960s.This has now gone, but the tomb and the legend remains. There are several versions of this story, but one says it was a Naval Officer buried here named Ben Wangford. However, the slate panel carrying the tomb inscriptions would have eroded away long ago and the lack of any names or information on the tomb would have only fuelled the legend at the time.

However, it has not been possible to identify anyone of the name Wangford through naval records and the growth of the fig tree has been put down to the vicar’s preference for eating figs as he walked to church, spitting the pips out as he went. It is also unlikely that an atheist would have occupied such an impressive tomb, so close to the church.

Whoever was buried here must have come from a wealthy family as the tomb is of Portland stone and quite an elaborate design. The choice of slate for the inscription panels would have been down to it providing an extremely crisp carving when installed, but this would have delaminated and worn away relatively quickly.

This page was added on 26/02/2014.

Comments about this page

  • I lived in Watford and was born in 1952. I remember the fig tree. My mum told me about it.

    By Anona Lyons (19/01/2019)
  • Isaw the tree growing out of the tomb and that would have been in the early to mid 60’s . And the legend was very similar in that it was a lady buried there and that a fig tree would grow out of her heart.

    By Beverly lawrence (08/12/2017)
  • According to “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” 1929, Mr. Wangford had requested he be buried with a fig in his hand. The fig tree grew from the seeds of thar fig.

    By David Bondehagen (19/06/2017)
  • I have a postcard sent by my dad who was staying in Watford to his brother in Tooting. The postmark is 1929. The picture is a photo of the fig tree in the churchyard. The caption says: “This tree is famous on account of the legend of the lady buried in the vault, who was an atheist, and on her death-bed is reported to have expressed a wish that if there were a God a fig tree might grow from her heart.”

    (The postcard was printed by Photochrom Ltd. London and Tunbridge Wells)

    By Anne Harwood (29/03/2017)
  • I was also told that it was a woman. Does anyone have photos of the tree I wonder? I saw it as a child but that was a long while ago!
    I’m studying for a BA in creative writing & would love to write a story around this local myth. If anyone had any information that may help or indeed any other juicy local myths to share please let me know !

    By Anne Westall (24/02/2017)
  • I too heard that it was a woman. The winter of ’63 did for the fig. I saw it when I attended the WGBS founders day in the early ’60s

    By Cavan McDonald (01/02/2017)
  • I too remember the legend told to me by my mother, she said that a wealthy lady said that she didn’t believe in God but if there was a God a fig tree would grow out of her heart!!

    By Trisha Woods (22/07/2014)
  • I remember clearly the fig tree when I was young. However I thought it was more recently that it died than the 1960’s. We did have a very cold winter in 1962/3 and another a few years later. I have a feeling the Watford Observer carried the story. I was told the legend by one of my aunts but cannot now remember the tale related.

    By Doreen Andrews nee Smith (19/06/2014)

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