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Category Archives: London Cemeteries
Visiting: Mile End tube, turn right and walk down Southern Grove. There's always something going on at Tower Hamlets. Met a nice lady who asked me if I was lost; I said no, I was just wandering; she said "oh good". An old gentleman told me I should have been here 30 years earlier to see more good stuff. This is the kind of cemetery I like.
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.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are buried in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore House in Windsor. Victoria ordered this to be built within four days of Albert's death of typhoid in 1861. She didn't join him there for another forty years, but judging by the photos I've seen of the interior, the two of them rest in just about the most sumptuous burial spot anywhere in Britain. The Royal Mausoleum is normally open to the public on a few days a year, but is closed during the whole of 2011 for restoration work.
Queen Victoria's mother, Victoria Duchess of Kent, is buried in another mausoleum close to her daughter's (Albert and the Duchess of Kent died in the same annus horribilis year). The Queen's father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, is buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor: he predeceased his wife by 41 years.
As for their children, there are several buried beside their parents at Frogmore, while the rest are mostly in Germany. Forgive me for numbering them, but nine is a lot.
- Victoria, the Princess Royal, married Kaiser Wilhelm III and became Empress of Germany. She is buried with her husband in the royal mausoleum at Potsdam, Germany.
- Edward VIII is buried, like most recent sovereigns, in St George's Chapel Windsor.
- Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse, is buried in Sankt-Ludwigs-Kirche, Darmstadt in Germany.
- Alfred inherited his father's title of Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, as well as being Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Kent and Earl of Ulster. He died of throat cancer and is buried in the ducal mausoleum in the public Glockenburg Cemetery of Coburg. (His only son shot himself during his parents' 25th wedding anniversary celebrations after a scandal with a mistress.)
- Princess Helena, who became Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein on her marriage, was originally buried in St George's Chapel on her death in 1923, but was moved to the Royal Burial Ground on its consecration in 1928.
- Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, died in 1939 aged 91 and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium (I believe that makes her the first member of the Royal Family to be cremated). Her ashes were placed initially in St George's Chapel, and later moved to the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore.
- Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn - the longest-living male member of the British Royal Family - is also buried in the Royal Burial Ground.
- Prince Leopold died of haemophilia aged 30. He is buried in the Albert Memorial Chapel in Windsor, and had the ultimate misfortune of having an elegy on his death composed by William McGonagall.
- Princess Beatrice is buried beside her husband, Prince Henry of Battenberg, in St Mildred's Church, Whippingham on the Isle of Wight.
Nunhead's often cited as the "least known" of the Magnificent Seven, and while this might be true, darling Nunhead is one of my favourite cemeteries in London. Though it doesn't have the most spectacular monuments (you want Norwood, Brompton or Kensal Green for those), it does have an absolutely irresistable atmosphere. It's being managed as a nature reserve, which means that much of it is fairly overgrown, but the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery are doing an absolutely amazing job of keeping it good as a cemetery too. Don't expect too many spectacular monuments - the inhabitants of Nunhead are mostly like to prove their solid respectability with square columns and box tombs - but there is nowhere in London with an atmosphere quite like this.
Nunhead's fortunes over the years have been mixed. Founded in 1840 by the London Cemetery Company (who also founded Highgate), on the death of its first superintendent in 1865, it was discovered that he had defrauded the company of thousands of pounds. Lower mortality rates (fewer customers!) didn't help, and by 1960, the cemetery had been bought by a property company planning to build on part of the land. Perhaps the harshest blow was in 1974, when the Anglican chapel was all but destroyed by an arsonist. With vandalism and tales of "black magic rituals" rife, the London Borough of Southwark stepped in, and in 1975 bought the cemetery for £1.
When we first visited Nunhead, nine years ago, I was unsure that the cemetery would win. Today, I was delighted to see that it has. The Chapel has been stabilised, thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund; though it lacks a roof, it's still suitable for summertime concerts and exhibitions, and its slightly ruinous appearance just adds to the Romantic air of Nunhead: it looks like the ruin of a mediaeval abbey. Though many areas of the cemetery are still overgrown, at least the main paths are clear, and the more spectacular monuments intact.
Some parts towards the back of the cemetery have been turned over to lawn and are accepting new burials. This might feel incongruous, but at least it's generating much-needed funds to keep the rest of the place intact.