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Category Archives: 19th Century
In the side streets around Southall, there are two small cemeteries. They're both very typical of west London suburban cemeteries: well-maintained now by the London Borough of Ealing, but with signs of the neglect in their past. The older, Havelock Cemetery on Havelock Road, opened in 1885 and is now closed to new burials. Havelock's most interesting monument is the small pipe organ for William Harry Martin, who died in 1933.
Round the corner, Hortus Cemetery was opened in 1944. It's a large, rectangular piece of ground; there's little planting apart from the hedged rose garden at the front. Nonetheless, it's been popular and now has almost run out of space, particularly in the Muslim section in the north-west corner.
Visiting: Both cemeteries are walking distance from Southall train station. Both are quiet: Havelock was empty on Saturday lunchtime, apart from two lads trying to teach their dog to jump over the wall. Hortus had more visitors, but no one seemed to object to my brief photography exercise.
I discovered some pictures of the Tower Hamlets Cemetery chapels in the Illustrated London News for 24th March, 1849. As the actual buildings are long-gone, it was rather nice to see what they were like.
There's a very short accompanying article; here it is in its entirety.
At this period, when public attention is so universally directed to the sanitary condition of the metropolis, and when the suppression of intramural interments may shortly be anticipated as the law of the land, a sketch of the City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery, which has been recently completed, cannot fail to be interesting.
To the inhabitants of the City of London especially, it must form a matter for congratulation, that within two miles of the Royal Exchange, a suitable resting-place has been provided for the remains of those who once formed its busy occupants, so preferable in every respect to the already over-crowded churchyard burial-ground.
This cemetery was incorporated by act of Parliament in the year 1841, and a considerable portion of the ground has since been consecrated by the Lord Bishop of London. It comprises an area of upwards of thirty acres, most eligibly situated, being close to the high road leading to Bow.
The chapels, which form the subject of our Illustration, have just been completed from the designs of Messrs. Wyatt and Brandon, and are greatly admired for their purity of style and propriety of arrangement. That erected in the consecrated ground is in the early Decorated period, with a belfry at one angle, in which are some nicely ornamented windows; and at the sides are attached cloisters for the reception of mural tablets, so contructed as to afford an effectual screen from the weather. The chapel appropriated to the use of Dissenters is of octagonal form, and in the Byzantine style of architecture. Beneath both chapels are dry and extensive catacombs, arranged so as to accommodate single coffins or to form family vaults.
The grounds have been judiciously and effectively laid out by the same artists, and inclosed [sic] by high walls and ornamental iron railings; and the drainage, which is effected by means of an artesian well, to a depth of 210 feet, and tributary drains running through the land in various directions, is, we understand most successful — a depth of twenty-six feet having in many instances been obtained without moisture.
The chapels apparently suffered bomb damage in the war (shrapnel damage can still be seen on some of the gravestones towards the front of the cemetery near the Soanes Centre). They were demolished in 1967, following the 1966 purchase of Tower Hamlets by the Greater London Council. Meller notes that there was also a "little Egyptian style mortuary"; I'd dearly love to see a picture of that.
I got to wondering today, how did the new cemeteries go about marketing themselves? (Marketing's what I do when I'm not wearing a cemeterying hat.) Some digging about in old newspapers may be in my near future...
East Sheen and Richmond Cemeteries were established separately, and have existed back-to-back for over a century. Richmond Council has now started managing them as one establishment, so I am also treating them as a single cemetery from now on.
Bizarrely, I can't even find a reliable date for the opening of East Sheen Cemetery: Richmond Council's website says 1905, Meller says 1906, but the date on the gate is 1903. If anyone can shed any light, please leave a comment.
The East Sheen end of things remains the more interesting. The pretty, 13th century-style chapel is the only one in either cemetery and is used for all funeral services held here. Walking up towards it from the entrance on King's Ride, you'll pass many of the more interesting monuments: the yellow stone grave of actor Roy Kinnear with its moving tribute from his wife, the stepped gates of the Mawhinney family (there are a number of smaller examples of this kind of monument, which I've never seen anywhere else), and - just off to the right - the seated soldier on the grave of William Rennie-O'Mahony of the King's African Rifles.
All of these are quite literally dwarfed, though, by the enormous bronze angel, monument to George William Lancaster and his wife Louisa. The Lancasters were a northern family who made their money in coal-mining, and the sculpture is by Sydney March.
Walking uphill past the chapel, don't miss the silver-painted wooden dolphins: they're suffering quite badly from (I think) water damage, and may not last much longer.
Off to the right is where the Richmond part of the cemetery begins. This is dominated by war graves: the South African section, with a cenotaph-like memorial by Lutyens, and the memorial to those who've died in the Star and Garter home for disabled service personnel nearby. Further down the hill, Richmond Cemetery tails off into modern burials, with the usual back-to-back rows of stones, leaving a nice wide path for council mowers to cut. It's a rather mundane end to an otherwise rather lovely place.
Visiting: Richmond station and then the 493 bus which stops near the King's Ride entrance to East Sheen. Alternatively, North Sheen rail station is walking distance. Nobody bats an eyelid at photographers. Has toilets by the King's Ride gate.
Poor little Isleworth deserves a lot better treatment than it's had. The beautiful pair of Gothic chapels are boarded up and fenced off; the mortuary is falling down; kerbstones have been kicked or fallen in. Hounslow Council may, though, be doing their belated best to tidy things up; there's evidence of contractors working on the site, though whether they're doing anything more than piling up pieces of broken headstone remains to be seen. I'd love the chapels to be opened again: the hints you can see from outside the fence speak of something rather lovely, and I wished I were younger and fitter and could shin over the barbed wire and have a proper look.
Even so, it's worth a visit. Two memorials particularly stand out. The red granite obelisk is for Alice Ayres, the nursemaid who rescued three children in her care from a fire. Overcome by smoke inhalation, she fell from the building, and injured her spine. She died two days later in Guy's Hospital. The monument was paid for by public subscription.
The grey granite baroque "pepper pot" is for the Pears soap dynasty, including Tom Pears who drowned in the Titanic disaster.
Visiting: Richmond station and then the H37 bus to the Isleworth war memorial; 267 bus from Hammersmith or Hampton Court; or one of the buses that goes along London Road: 235, 237, 635. Don't try and cut through West Middlesex Hospital to get to the cemetery from Twickenham Road; you need to walk down Park Road.
New Southgate is a big old Victorian cemetery, but if you go there expecting acres of angels and other sumptuous nineteenth century monuments, you're going to be disappointed: Victoriana is a bit lacking. But there's plenty more to see.
Perhaps the most unusual monument in the cemetery is the eagle-topped pillar for Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, who died on a visit to London in 1957. He was buried in London as his religion required that burial be not further than one hour's journey from the place of death. Many Bahá'í are also buried in this part of the cemetery.
Elsewhere, the many cultures of this part of north London are well-represented at Southgate, with Afro-Caribbean, Greek Orthodox, Jewish and Roman Catholic sections. The interest here is in the variety and vivacity of the memorials left to the dead.
Visiting: Arnos Grove tube or New Southgate rail stations, and then bus 382, which stops outside the main gate.