The moment of my greatness, Flickr
Category Archives: 21st Century
West Drayton Cemetery looks at first glance like another rather dull suburban ground with rows of older kerbed plots and newer upright slabs. But go a little further in, because this cemetery has perhaps the most spectacular collection of modern monuments anywhere in the capital. The McCarthy and Doyle family memorials are worthy of anything the Victorians created in Kensal Green, and stones to children, with lettering picked out in pink or pale blue, are deeply moving.
Cherry Lane Cemetery is certainly very tidy, but could do with a good deal more landscaping than it currently has. Trees are strictly relegated to the perimeter, and though one main path does manage a curve, nothing else really deviates from a rather obvious grid pattern. Row upon row upon row of mousetrap-style kerb surrounds at the front give way to row upon row upon row of polished granite slabs towards the middle, and the olling empty space up the hill proclaims there's room for plenty more yet.
It's with the more recent graves that Cherry Lane really comes into its own. Floral tributes abound on the newer graves, large sculptures in carnations are the favourites, including a television screen with a picture of John Wayne. It was all rather fun. And a flock of grazing Canada geese seemed to love it.
Trent Park is an extreme example of that invention of the late twentieth century, the lawn cemetery. Here the whole ground is laid to grass, and severe restrictions are imposed on what memorials may be placed on any individual plot. Small bronze plaques supplied by the Council record the name and dates of the deceased; otherwise, one small vase or similar may be placed, and that is all. It makes for easy maintenance, being mowable by tractor in a matter of minutes, and that, of course, is the point.
Though those responsible for cemetery upkeep may like the lawn cemetery, I do not. The visual effect of all that flat grass is bleak and monotonous: no one will ever walk here voluntarily and admire the beauty of the spot. Moreover, when every plot is exposed to view from the whole site, it's difficult to mourn here: there is no privacy, no hedges or trees behind which to hide ones grief, no stones beside which to linger and remember. Though the ground may be fit as a receptacle of the dead, it fulfills none of the other functions of a cemetery.
Other memorial gardens have been created in recent years which Islington might do well to emulate: a little further east at Enfield, for example, a gently rolling landscape, some Council planting and a plethora of memorial plants placed by families of the deceased are intersperced with these same bronze plaques. There, the effect is beautiful. Here, I am afraid to say, it resembles nothing more than a municipal playing field.
Only here and there is a little individuality possible, and even this is transitory: a helium-filled balloon, celebrating a fiftieth birthday, was struggling to escape on the breeze. I felt a great deal of sympathy with it.
Bedfont Cemetery is a delight. The western, older part, is currently being managed as a nature reserve, jointly by the local parish church, and the cemetery's neighbours, Cisco Systems and Bedfont Lakes Country Park. Brambles and lower tree branches are being trimmed back so that memorial stones and their lichen and moss colonies can be seen again and wild flowers can thrive in the light, while other areas are being deliberately left overgrown for the benefit of birds and small mammals.
The newer part of the cemetery really has to be seen to be believed, for it is here that we found the most spectacular examples of grave gifts to be found anywhere in our experience. What may be left on a grave is down to the policy of the cemetery owner, and most borough councils, mindful of tidiness and the safety of their lawnmowers, place strict limits forbidding most offerings. Not so Hounslow Council here. A plethora of garden ornaments, greetings cards, balloons, plastic and plush flowers, toys, mugs, glasses, flags and windmills march across the site: one lucky gentleman enjoyed a bottle of rum and a jar of humbugs. The whole place felt joyful, inhabited, alive: I wish some other boroughs would learn from Bedfont.