Edgwarebury Jewish Cemetery

In an utterly shameless bit of SEOery, here are a couple of old (2005 I think) photos of Edgwarebury Jewish Cemetery, where Amy Winehouse's funeral took place today. The cemetery was opened in 1974, and controversial plans for its expansion onto green belt land were approved on appeal last year.

Amy was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, where her grandmother was also cremated.

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8 London cemeteries win Green Flags

Congratulations to the City of London, Croydon, Westminster Hanwell, East Finchley, Gunnersbury, Margravine, Mill Hill and Wood Green cemeteries, who have been awarded a Green Flag for 2011. City of London was also named as a Green Heritage Site. My favourite green burial site, Epping Forest, also won a Green Flag.

Green Flags are awarded by Keep Britain Tidy, to recognise and reward the best green spaces in the country, judged against eight criteria, including being welcoming, safe and secure, well-maintained and - delightfully - having a marketing strategy in place (for those who don't know, I wear a marketing hat when I'm not wearing a cemetery hat).

Congratulations to London's cems winners - all of whom also won a Green Flag last year. Let's see a few more London cemeteries joining them next year.

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Cems on film : Back to Black

Starring Abney Park Cemetery as well as Amy Winehouse. Love the song, love the vid, love (obviously) the cemetery.

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St. Martin’s Gardens

St Martin's GardensIn 1802, an Act of Parliament was passed to turn four acres of farmland in north London into Camden Town Cemetery, as the new burial ground for St. Martin's in the Fields. The Act provided for the building of a chapel and other accomodation on the site, as well as stating that the cemetery should be enclosed by a "substantial brick wall"; the north wall which still exists today is believed to be part of that.

Three years later, the cemetery was consecrated by Beilby Porteous, the Bishop of London. But its life was not a peaceful one: someone always had their eyes on this desirable bit of land. In 1817, permission was granted to build almshouses on an unused part of the ground: these survive to this day. In 1854, further permission was granted for development on the site, including demolition of the existing buildings.

Work began in 1855. The project required the exhumation of hundreds of bodies from the site, and the public outcry was huge. Fencing around the site was torn down, and navvies working on the dig were pelted with stones. It was said in contemporary newspaper reports that the stench from the exhumed bodies was "abominable" and that the Under-Secretary of State visited the site and immediately had the digging stopped. It's thought that the large mound in the centre of the gardens could be the exhumed bodies from this time, though it may date back several decades earlier, to the clearing of St. Martin's original burial ground, lost when Trafalgar Square was constructed in the 1820s.

Either way, by 1884 the cemetery was closed as a burial ground, and reopened as public gardens five years later by the Countess of Rosebery, Hannah Rothschild. These days, they're in pretty constant use by the sunbathers and beer-drinkers of Camden; one corner has been fenced off to make a children's playground. A few chest tombs survive, and headstones line the north wall. The Gardens were reopened in 2006 after restoration by the council, by the current Countess of Rosebery, the granddaughter-in-law of the last one to do the job.

It's easy to assume that no one else is taking any notice of the history in a place like this, but one lovely Irish gentleman spotted me trying to puzzle out the inscription on a tomb, and told me he's spent the last 15 years walking past it, trying to see what it says. Neither of us could figure it out.

The Friends of St. Martin's Gardens have a blog, though they don't post on it very often.

Visiting: St. Martin's Gardens is on the corner of Pratt Street and Camden Street. Walkable from Camden Town or Camden Road stations; any bus that will get you to Camden will also do. No one bothers about photographers here.

First picture borrowed from Camden Council's website.

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Longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

When the news of Amy Winehouse's death broke last night, one of my earliest thoughts was that I should get down to Camden Square and see what was happening. Call me ghoulish or intrusive if you like: I'm just interested in how people deal with death.

Why do we do this? Why go to Camden Square? I have no data, only my imagination, but this is how I think it works.

Place is important when dealing with death. In the first initial hit of grief, it's about being close to the person you lost. Whether that's leaving flowers at Amy's house or Diana's palace, visiting a fresh grave in a cemetery, or (if you're a Victorian) sitting beside the coffin in a catacomb, physical nearness is important. We want to hold on.

Sometimes physical nearness is impossible. When we're mourning a celebrity, we won't be invited to the funeral, and by the time there is a grave to visit (if there will be), the initial outpouring of grief is over. So when we need it, when the news of the death hits, the place they lived or died can act as a proxy for the actual body. It's becoming unusual to even have a grave: only around a quarter of British dead are now buried, so we have to become more flexible on place. Roadside memorials to those who die in traffic accidents are just one instance of this.

Ones own approach to the place is important: visiting is an act of pilgrimage, the disruption of the daily routine as an act of memory, the leaving of a token to prove the visit. I'd argue that the taking, too, is important: mediaeval pilgrims brought back badges to prove where they'd been. Now, we take photos and put them on Flickr and Facebook. I was worried I'd be intrusive, taking photos; as it turned out, almost everyone was.

But having a place that belongs to the dead is a way of coping too. Once the initial burst of grief subsides, *visiting* the dead is a way to corral grief (loss, guilt, anger... whichever emotions you have) into a discrete location, to be visited but not inhabited. It can be left.

Many different types of place can represent this memorial space. It does not need to be the grave itself. Diana's rather difficult to reach grave leaves Kensington Palace a more accessible place to remember her: I'll be visiting on 31st August, and I will bet right now, there will be huge numbers of memorials to her again this year. It's actually (and forgive me for introducing the Nazis into this, but it was in the news this week...) why destroying Rudolf Hess's grave will most likely not stop the neo-Nazi pilgrimages: the site is the important thing, not the presence of the body - and the site is already established as a place of pilgrimage.

The title, for those who are wondering, is a quote from The Canterbury Tales.

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