The moment of my greatness, Flickr
Category Archives: 20th Century
Mostly ones that are new since last time I visited, and the inevitable Karl Marx. Douglas Adams' grave has pencils stuck into the grass beside it too, which I thought rather nice.
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.
Opened in 1891 and now run by the London Borough of Wandsworth, Putney Vale is just stunning. In twenty metres of path behind the chapel, there are more amazing monuments than you'll see in the whole of most cemeteries. It has a particularly good crop of angels, and three rather lovely mausolea. As you work your way down the hill away from the chapel, the early twentieth century splendour does tend to run out: areas used for newer burials are mostly lawn cemetery. The chapel itself is rather lovely, but has the crematorium chimney tacked on the back rather bizarrely disguised as a square, white castellated tower.
Visiting: Putney Bridge tube and then the 265 bus: it stops right outside. Start at the chapel (eastern) end, where most of the more interesting monuments are. Funerals happen on Saturdays, so be prepared to melt into the background while the living do their thing.
Manor Park's nicely managed by the same company who opened it in 1875. You can see the whole of London's memorial history in this one place: from Victorian angels and solid granite edifices, through grey stone and then black granite slabs, and finally the myriad standard rose bushes that memorialise those who have been cremated here. It's nice, but not all that exciting, and I've seen it before and wouldn't have come again but for one thing: Steve Marsh's astonishing granite BMW.
Steve's daughter told the Daily Mail:
He was a car enthusiast all his life, he loved cars from a child. ... He always drove BMWs, we've all got them. We couldn't just give him a normal headstone. We wanted it to look as realistic as possible. We had a lot of trouble getting it done. We had to order it from China and have it shipped over. It weighs about a ton and was made out of one piece of granite. I think my Dad would absolutely love it.
I absolutely love it too. Rest in peace, Steve: you'll never be forgotten.
Visiting: Manor Park rail station, or walkable (just about) from East Ham tube. Very few livings, one guy washing his car. Has toilets!