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Category Archives: 20th Century
Hendon Cemetery begins in spectacular style, with a half-timbered lodge and gothic-lettered sign post, a relic of its founding by the Abney Park Cemetery Company: it's now maintained by Barnet Council. Sadly, the inside never quite lives up to this beginning. Even the more imaginative monuments here are quirky rather than spectacular; the flint-built chapel complex is tidy and there is much evidence of grass-cutting, but somehow this seems to only fight against the rural feeling of the stream and extensive tree-planting and leave the whole place rather undecided whether it's a neat municpal park or something retreating back into woodland wilderness. There are, however, special sections set aside for Greek, Russian and Japanese burials, which are worth visiting.
The chief function of Hammersmith Cemetery seems to be to provide a short cut between Baron's Court tube station and Charing Cross Hospital, yet amazingly for such an open cemetery, several rather nice memorials have escaped the vandals' attention and the site in general is clean and well-maintained. Sextus Gisbert van Os' cushioned bed is almost as magnificent as his name, and the throne of the Fletcher family is, as far as I can see, unique. One small mausoleum in terracotta stands guard over the western end of the cemetery.
First opened in 1852, the cemetery in East Finchley founded by the St. Pancras Burial Board was the first publicly owned cemetery in London. Extended to over 180 acres in 1877, it became and remains the largest cemetery in the capital.
St. Pancras and Islington has something for everyone. Enter the drive with its Council bedding plants, and you will meet a rather lovely Victorian cemetery: angels, columns and mausolea surround the St. Pancras Chapel with its beautiful 100 foot spire. From the Chapel, head down Central Avenue to the Mond mausoleum. No photograph can do this temple to an industrial chemist justice: it is perhaps the most magnificent monument in any public cemetery in the city.
Sadly, further afield, things are not quite so magnificent. Though Camden Council's maintenance team are frequently to be seen cutting grass and chopping back the undergrowth, large sections of the less spectacular older stones are now almost entirely overgrown: rhododendrons and monkey puzzles as well as ivy and sycamore are running wild. Non-management as a nature reserve is acceptable where there is nothing to be lost, but to the best of my knowledge, nothing has been done to preserve or record the memorials which are even now being lost forever.
Yet just yards from this impenetrable jungle, neat rows of new grave slabs stand back to back, making room for the lawnmowers, and incredibly, imaginative and beautiful modern memorials are also being erected. The less said about the typically ugly crematorium and its stench of rotting roses, the better: but at least it is in reasonably nice surroundings.
Nowhere else in London, I think, can the whole range of the last 150 years' memorial customs be so widely seen.