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Category Archives: 19th Century
I love this article from the Penny Magazine of August 2nd, 1834. It was published 18 months after the first burial took place in Kensal Green Cemetery. It's a great bit of PR, and Mr Carden, the General Cemetery Company and whoever was responsible for their marketing are to be roundly congratulated, even from this distance.
The very evil custom of interring the dead in and near the places devoted to public worship is, to the best of our knowledge, peculiar to Christian countries. Its introduction seems to have been very early; for we find interments in cities altogether prohibited by an edict of the Emperor Theodosius, in which is very truly stated that such a practise is very injurious to the public health, while monuments by the way-side present salutory memorials to the traveller. A person infringing this law forfeited a third of his patrimony; and an undertaker directing a funeral contrary to this prohibition was fined forty pounds of gold.
I had an excellent tour of the above-ground cemetery with David, and saw a few things I'd never seen before in Brompton: Sioux chief Long Wolf, who died in London while on tour with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and was buried in Brompton until he went home in 1997; Director of Continental Journeys to Queen Victoria, Joseph Julius Kanné's stone erected by the Queen and Prince of Wales; professional soldier Colonel Henry Byrne, who fought in three campaigns and rather nicely has replicas of his medals on his tomb.
Then it was time for a (yes, I'm going to use the s-word) spooky look at the catacombs with Terence. Kensal Green's catacombs have electric lights fitted, at least in the bit you're taken to see. Brompton's, on the other hand, have tea lights. It is very, very dark and my imagination jumped immediately to tripping in the dark and putting my hand through the side of a coffin, and wondering just what, exactly, I was standing on. Fun, all the same - and my guess from KG that catacombs are never a commercial success with the English was bourne out by the swathes of empty space in Brompton's.
Exhibitors included the Met's "stopping drugs and cottaging in the Parks" department, who were all very jolly - as well as the Friends of Nunhead and the Friends of Kensal Green. All in all, a fun day out, if only it hadn't rained quite so hard.
Inevitably, there are more photos...
In 1853, the Home Secretary, Lord Palmerston, published regulations for the new cemeteries established under the Metropolitan Burial Act 1852. Here's how they looked published in the Illustrated London News in December of that year:
An Evening Standard columnist once said of Kensal Green's annual open day: "It was like a cross between a funeral, a gig by the Cure and a village fete." He wasn't wrong. For me, it's one of the highlights of the cemetery calendar.
The open day centred around the Anglican Chapel, with a range of stalls: most were Etsy Live, with artisans selling everything from jewellery and jams, to cemetery photographs and books. Gingerbread coffins, complete with iced skeletons, were much in evidence, and classic hearses lined the main avenue. Death, Goths and a man on a penny farthing milled about. It was magic.
Top of the bill for me were the tours. The Friends of Kensal Green run tours regularly on Sundays, but Open Day has many to choose from, including the opportunity to go into the catacombs. The latter are fascinating: please go if you have the chance. At 2,000 deposits in the last 170-odd years, they're not exactly a commercial proposition, but they are still being used. And seeing 150-year-old coffins with their red velvet covering still intact and even a trace of gilding left on the coffin furnishings is amazing.
Special hat-tips: Dr Julian Litten for the most excellent tour of the above-ground cemetery (and his equally excellent pre-need gravestone); the guys from Silent Cities: great to finally meet you; all the Friends for their amazing work and such a good day out.
Inevitably, there are more KG photos...
If you're lucky enough to work in the area around Bunhill Fields, the City of London Corporation are running a series of events at lunchtimes next week. Ranging from complementary therapy sessions and bike surgery to (rather more to my taste) history tours and natural history talks, there's something on between 12.30 and 13.30 each lunchtime next week. Check out the press release for more information.
Organisers of events in cemeteries and friends' groups may like to know that I now have a calendar of London cemetery events in the sidebar over there -> to which your event can be added (for free, obviously). Just drop me a line with as much info as possible and a web link if there is one.