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Category Archives: 20th Century
Other people are a bit dismissive about East London Cemetery, but I really rather like it. Sure, it's a bit crowded and the blanket of rose bushes at the front are succeeded by a blanket of marble further in, but people here really like to celebrate their dead. The arched gravestone with the family name on the top, a huge bunch of flowers beneath, and a marble slab on which many family memorials can be left (just like the French do it), is standard in East London. But there are plenty of non-standard monuments here too: Billy Gill's enormous dartboard and Signora Vassallo's lifesize statue must be the two most spectacular.
It's funny how much the weather influences my impression of cemeteries (or maybe it isn't). Last time I went to Acton, it was grey, and cold, and started raining torrentially as I was halfway round - and I thought it was a dull little place. Today it was a beautiful sunny spring day, and I really rather liked it.
Acton's never going to make any top ten cemeteries list. It's a neat, well-kept suburban cemetery, divided in two by the Tube line. Tree-planting is good and Ealing Council are obviously looking after it very well, it's just that there isn't a whole bunch to write home about here. There's a lovely pair of chapels joined by a porte cochere, but most of what's interesting at Acton is small detail on gravestones. The trumpet on the Reynolds grave is, as far as I know, unique: I'd love to know its symbolism. More easily explained are the waves and lifebuoy from which the cross rises on Albert Perry's grave: he died in the Lusitania disaster.
Willesden New is a tricky place to find: if you're visiting, take a map, because it's hidden in the back streets of north-west London behind Homebase and a large building site. If you're using public transport, the nearest tube is Dollis Hill; don't try to get there from Willesden, or you'll have a very long walk. Don't trust the map too much either; Willesden New is shown as all of a piece with the Jewish cemetery next door. Though they share a wall, there's no ingress from one to the other.
Someone will get offended by me saying this, but they're really packing them in at Willesden New. The newest graves are right by the entrance gates, something of a giveaway that space is running out, and one of the main paths has also been filled up with burials; Brian Parsons likened this to "a marble traffic-jam", and he's not wrong. The majority of the monuments are unremarkable. Two really stand out: the statue of Georgie Robinson, killed in a car accident on her honeymoon; and the monoliths on the grave of Ernest Schwartz "of the Kalahari", who apparently designed a scheme to irrigate that desert.
I'm a bit worried about dear little South Ealing. The graves seem to be lurching all over the place more than they ever were, and I spotted more than one stone which had fallen over and been left, rather than tidied up and made safe. The windows to the chapel have been broken and boarded up, and the back of the chapel is fenced off. All this smacks of a place that's being neglected rather. I hope I'm wrong, because it's a beautiful cemetery. It's covered with bluebells even at the end of April, and though it acts as a cut-through for locals (and is itself bisected by a fenced-in footpath), it's peaceful and rural. See it while it's still here.
Not to be confused with the other Hanwell Cemetery owned by Westminster Council, this is the Hanwell Cemetery on the north side of Uxbridge Road, owned by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
It's a beautiful little cemetery, set back from the road and reached via a long driveway, so the traffic noise from Uxbridge Road is almost inaudible. The planting is Hanwell's glory: the trees here are beautiful and well-looked after. On a sunny Easter Saturday, I was the only person there and felt as though I were in the middle of the countryside. If you're visiting, don't miss the shell-topped grave of Edgar Albert Smith, conchologist at the British Museum.