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Category Archives: 19th Century
Faces from the eastern half of Highgate Cemetery.
My boss, J., may be the nicest person in the world. "I'm knackered, find me some work to do that doesn't need my brain," I said this morning. "Oh, have the afternoon off and go play in the sun," he said. So I went to Highgate Cemetery.
I don't mind admitting, I went with a little trepidation. I've been told off in Highgate more often than I care to remember: for wearing a vest top deemed "unsuitable", for wanting to take photos on many occasions... frankly, it feels like I've been told off for wanting to visit at all. An innocent question about what the Friends might need help with, 7 or 8 years ago, met with a chilly "no thank you". But things have changed quite dramatically: I got smiled at when I arrived. By the formidable Mrs P. (I think) as well: good for her.
A change in management in the cemetery may have had something to do with this. Maybe they've just realised that they're primarily a tourist attraction and secondarily a cemetery (or will have to be, if they want to raise the £1,000 a day it takes to support the place). On a sunny Friday afternoon, the eastern half of the cemetery was full of tourists, with no one I could identify as a mourner at all. Perhaps the days of guide books voting Highgate Cemetery the UK's most unfriendly tourist destination are over.
Visiting: Highgate is still a pain in the backside to get to. On the tube, Archway is just about walkable and nearer than Highgate station. The C11 bus will drop you almost outside the gates, but will drag you on a tour of north London back streets first: pick it up at Archway station. Otherwise get the 210 or the 143 bus to Highgate Hill and walk through Waterlow Park. Driving is strongly not recommended; there is no parking at the cemetery.
Mobility-impaired visitors should be aware that Swain's Lane is a very steep hill, and that only the very main paths in the east part of the cemetery are tarmacked.
Tucked between Charing Cross Hospital and Barons' Court tube station is Margravine Cemetery, once known as Hammersmith Cemetery. It's a long corridor of a thoroughfare, either side of the busy path lined with graves. Like most suburban cemeteries, it's not over-supplied with spectacular monuments, though Margravine has a decent crop of quirkiness: check out the Fletcher family's throne, and bandmaster Tom Brown's cello, now sadly damaged. Spectacular in both name and monument is Sextus Gisbert van Os: pillows on graves are not that unusual, especially in west London, but his is one of the best examples I've seen.
The cemetery is being nicely managed as a mix of Victorian burial ground and wildlife habitat by the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, with help from the Friends of Margravine Cemetery. There are no new burial spaces available in Margravine, though interments can still happen in family graves.
"Margravine", by the way, is the female form of "margrave"; the cemetery is so named now because it's on Margravine Road. The margravine in question is Elizabeth Craven, the Margravine of Brandenburg-Ansbach (who looks like a rather interesting person). The Margravine herself is buried in the English Cemetery at Naples, also the resting place of Mary Somerville.
Visiting: Public transport to Hammersmith station, it's a 5 minute walk. From Fulham Palace Road, turn down St Dunstan's Road, on the north side of Charing Cross Hospital, and right into Margravine Road. Cemetery has a lot of livings in it, mostly passing through. No one acts like photography is weird.
Of all the things that the Daily Mail writes which make me angry (and there are many), cemeteries aren't usually high on the list. But they've managed it today, with a bit of filler about the last Duke of Cambridge, George, the second Duke (grandson to George III), who died in 1904.
The piece, obviously a follow up to Prince William's new title, is titled Sad resting place of last Duke of Cambridge, and begins "The last Duke of Cambridge is buried in a forgotten tomb, overgrown with weeds, in a North London cemetery." By coincidence, I happened to visit that very spot today. It's right in the middle of Kensal Green Cemetery (just to the west of the main chapel), and though it didn't have a cortege of mourners outside it, there were plenty of people passing by and at least one person (me) took a photograph of it. Unlike the Daily Mail reporter, I didn't lie down in the grass to make it look "overgrown" either (it isn't).
A long thin piece of land running alongside Fulham Palace Road, Fulham Cemetery is pretty, but feels as though it's being managed back to nothingness. After some vandalism in the 1980s, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham has grassed over a number of grave spaces, which makes the place feel more empty than it really is. There aren't really any outstanding monuments, beyond a rather disturbing Tudor-style tomb for a baby, and a large group of First World War graves, but the tympanum above the chapel door, depicting knights at the Resurrection, is rather fine.
Visiting: It's near the southern end of Fulham Palace Road, near the junction with Fulham Road. Plenty of public transport to the area: walkable from Hammersmith station. Lots of joggers and playing children in the cemetery.