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Category Archives: 20th Century
Hammersmith New Cemetery seems to have changed its name back to Mortlake Cemetery. This - in case of future confusion - is the one on the east side of Mortlake Road, opposite North Sheen Cemetery, which latter is sometimes known as Fulham New Cemetery. I don't know what it is about having two cemeteries in close proximity that causes such confusion, but this is worse than the Hanwells!
Anyway. Like its sister over the road, lots of Mortlake Cemetery is being allowed to go grassy until the autumn, to encourage wildlife in the area. And it's really rather nice. Not spectacular, but shady and quiet on a hot June afternoon. It was opened in 1926 but somehow feels older than North Sheen's 1909: I suspect because the older memorials are more visible, and the lawn plaques are currently in a very small area only.
Mortlake's most notable graves for me today were two police officers killed in the line of duty. PC Edwin P Cook died in 1927, aged 33, attempting to rescue two workmen trapped in an inspection chamber and overcome by poisonous gas. He's also memorialised at Postman's Park as Percy Edwin Cook... wonder which name he preferred?
WPC Jane Arbuthnot, killed in the Harrod's bombing, is also buried here, and has a tree planted in her memory: no photo because there were some mourners tending a grave right opposite hers. It's odd, which memorials move me, and I can never quite predict what will: but this 22 year old police officer, killed on duty, certainly did.
In the north-east corner, a hedged-off area of the cemetery hides the crematorium. Mellor calls it "dour"; I rather liked it: at least the Deco windows are trying. The gardens are neat and tidy and utterly souless, but honestly I'd rather have that than acres of standard roses (sorry, people who plant standard roses).
Visiting: go to North Sheen Cemetery and walk through; otherwise the R68 bus stops outside. Has toilets disguised as a ski chalet behind a lot of hydrangeas.
Just when we had given up all hope - yes, I know that is always the time that things do happen in novels and tales; but I can't help it. ... It WAS just when we had given up all hope, and I must therefore say so.
Jerome K. Jerome's words from Three Men in a Boat have never seemed more apt. I had trailed round a goodly part of North Sheen Cemetery hoping to prove that Neil hadn't made up the most improbable epitaph ever. And just when I'd decided that turning up with no real idea of where the grave was, was silly, and resolving to phone the cemetery office tomorrow, there she was. I'm torn between asking what her family can have been going through, and what they can have been thinking of:
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North Sheen (a.k.a. Fulham New) is a cemetery of two halves. The southern, older half is covered in long grass, being left that way until the autumn to encourage wildlife in the area. Wildlife spotted included a green woodpecker, but nothing else very unusual.
The northern, newer half is filled with regimented, back-to-back rows of gravestones, with just enough room to run the grass mower between them. There's some evidence that in the 60s, Hammersmith and Fulham Council wanted to standardise things even further: there are a couple of rows of headstones, all the same size and shape, engraved on both sides. They look like council-supplied stones. Whatever they in fact were, I don't think they were terribly popular because there are several not engraved at all, and the practise was obviously discontinued after a few years: the rows revert to individually chosen formats.
Joan Keat's family are not the only people in North Sheen Cemetery with unusual ideas about what should be written on a gravestone. The family of biochemist Edward Tomich have a chunk of Gray's Elegy - was he as depressed as that choice makes him sound? But the best work is from Tony O'Gorman, who's set up at least three gravestones with the most wonderful, personal messages I've ever read. Good on you, sir.
Visiting: Allegedly 10 mins walk from Kew Gardens rail station (take the "not Kew Gardens" exit): this is only true if you turn down West Park Road and turn right down Mortlake Road. I, unfortunately, walked down North Road to the roundabout by Sainsburys. Once you've done that walk, it's 10 mins to the cemetery, or three stops on the 190 bus. Or drive, if you do drive.
Has toilets. Plenty of livings about, but no one bothering me about taking photos, possibly because I had my "looking for a grave" face on. Which indeed I was.
Lambeth Cemetery is either a tragedy, or a triumph of practicality, depending on your point of view. Opened in 1854, few of the original Victorian monuments survive, due to a "lawn conversion" carried out between 1969 and 1991, which removed all but the most interesting Victorian graves, freeing up new space for burials. Thus the visitor to Lambeth today sees an unusual admixture of twenty-first century granite and Victorian, lichen-covered angels. It feels very strange.
At least the pair of super-sized Gothic chapels have survived, though only one is in use and the other has been fenced off, apparently derelict. The original lodge is also still in existence. At the other end of this long, thin cemetery is the modern crematorium opened in 1969. This is typically utilitarian in design, and surrounded on one side by numbered rose beds, and on the other by sunken paths bearing memorial tablets.
Visiting: Very busy, with new graves and hence livings throughout. Numerous cars parked all over the place: is it just me who finds people driving up to the actual gravesite rather distasteful? But has toilets. 493 bus stops right outside, or visit Streatham Cemetery at the same time and walk from there.
Amongst the random ephemera I've picked up on eBay is this 1902 booklet of the Rules, Orders and Regulations of the London Cemetery Company, relating to their two cemeteries at Highgate and Nunhead. You can download a PDF of the complete booklet here.
I'm devastated to see that
All ... cameras ... must be left with the Gatekeeper during the time that the owners thereof remain in the Cemetery.
We also see the price changes over the first sixty years of Highgate's opening: in 1842, interment in a common grave was £1/5/- (one pound, five shillings); in 1902, £1/10/-. Ground for a grave 6 foot 6 by 2 foot 6 was £3/3/- in 1842; by 1902, it's £3/8/-. 5 shillings seems a very small increase, but in fact, it's not: according to the Bank of England, inflation over that period averaged -0.1% per annum: prices fell. So the expensive burials are getting even more expensive.
Streatham is one of the nicer cemeteries in this corner of London: small, but nicely set out with curving paths, and a pair of chapels with beautiful porches, separated from each other by a couple of hundred yards. Opened in 1892, it's now mostly closed to new burials, though some interments in existing graves do still happen: two last week, but none this, I'm told.
The source of my information on burials is the excellent Barry, employee of Wandsworth Council, who shares with Jean Pateman the dubious honour of being the only cemetery personnel who've trying to stop me taking photos. Assured that I wasn't taking pictures of new graves (well, there aren't any) or inscriptions newer than 100 years or actual mourners, he kindly let me carry on. He also informed me about Streatham's tragedy: the schoolchild who during one night decapitated a number of the anthropomorphic statues in the cemetery. She was caught - apparently - with a store of angel heads beneath her bed, but was too young to be prosecuted.
Visiting: Earlsfield rail station or Tooting tube, and then buses 44, 77 or 270, which all stop outside the cemetery. Probably try to avoid Wandsworth Council staff, but there were absolutely no mourners there when I visited; I'm told there are rarely many.