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Category Archives: London Cemeteries
An Evening Standard columnist once said of Kensal Green's annual open day: "It was like a cross between a funeral, a gig by the Cure and a village fete." He wasn't wrong. For me, it's one of the highlights of the cemetery calendar.
The open day centred around the Anglican Chapel, with a range of stalls: most were Etsy Live, with artisans selling everything from jewellery and jams, to cemetery photographs and books. Gingerbread coffins, complete with iced skeletons, were much in evidence, and classic hearses lined the main avenue. Death, Goths and a man on a penny farthing milled about. It was magic.
Top of the bill for me were the tours. The Friends of Kensal Green run tours regularly on Sundays, but Open Day has many to choose from, including the opportunity to go into the catacombs. The latter are fascinating: please go if you have the chance. At 2,000 deposits in the last 170-odd years, they're not exactly a commercial proposition, but they are still being used. And seeing 150-year-old coffins with their red velvet covering still intact and even a trace of gilding left on the coffin furnishings is amazing.
Special hat-tips: Dr Julian Litten for the most excellent tour of the above-ground cemetery (and his equally excellent pre-need gravestone); the guys from Silent Cities: great to finally meet you; all the Friends for their amazing work and such a good day out.
Inevitably, there are more KG photos...
Hammersmith New Cemetery seems to have changed its name back to Mortlake Cemetery. This - in case of future confusion - is the one on the east side of Mortlake Road, opposite North Sheen Cemetery, which latter is sometimes known as Fulham New Cemetery. I don't know what it is about having two cemeteries in close proximity that causes such confusion, but this is worse than the Hanwells!
Anyway. Like its sister over the road, lots of Mortlake Cemetery is being allowed to go grassy until the autumn, to encourage wildlife in the area. And it's really rather nice. Not spectacular, but shady and quiet on a hot June afternoon. It was opened in 1926 but somehow feels older than North Sheen's 1909: I suspect because the older memorials are more visible, and the lawn plaques are currently in a very small area only.
Mortlake's most notable graves for me today were two police officers killed in the line of duty. PC Edwin P Cook died in 1927, aged 33, attempting to rescue two workmen trapped in an inspection chamber and overcome by poisonous gas. He's also memorialised at Postman's Park as Percy Edwin Cook... wonder which name he preferred?
WPC Jane Arbuthnot, killed in the Harrod's bombing, is also buried here, and has a tree planted in her memory: no photo because there were some mourners tending a grave right opposite hers. It's odd, which memorials move me, and I can never quite predict what will: but this 22 year old police officer, killed on duty, certainly did.
In the north-east corner, a hedged-off area of the cemetery hides the crematorium. Mellor calls it "dour"; I rather liked it: at least the Deco windows are trying. The gardens are neat and tidy and utterly souless, but honestly I'd rather have that than acres of standard roses (sorry, people who plant standard roses).
Visiting: go to North Sheen Cemetery and walk through; otherwise the R68 bus stops outside. Has toilets disguised as a ski chalet behind a lot of hydrangeas.
Just when we had given up all hope - yes, I know that is always the time that things do happen in novels and tales; but I can't help it. ... It WAS just when we had given up all hope, and I must therefore say so.
Jerome K. Jerome's words from Three Men in a Boat have never seemed more apt. I had trailed round a goodly part of North Sheen Cemetery hoping to prove that Neil hadn't made up the most improbable epitaph ever. And just when I'd decided that turning up with no real idea of where the grave was, was silly, and resolving to phone the cemetery office tomorrow, there she was. I'm torn between asking what her family can have been going through, and what they can have been thinking of:
North Sheen (a.k.a. Fulham New) is a cemetery of two halves. The southern, older half is covered in long grass, being left that way until the autumn to encourage wildlife in the area. Wildlife spotted included a green woodpecker, but nothing else very unusual.
The northern, newer half is filled with regimented, back-to-back rows of gravestones, with just enough room to run the grass mower between them. There's some evidence that in the 60s, Hammersmith and Fulham Council wanted to standardise things even further: there are a couple of rows of headstones, all the same size and shape, engraved on both sides. They look like council-supplied stones. Whatever they in fact were, I don't think they were terribly popular because there are several not engraved at all, and the practise was obviously discontinued after a few years: the rows revert to individually chosen formats.
Joan Keat's family are not the only people in North Sheen Cemetery with unusual ideas about what should be written on a gravestone. The family of biochemist Edward Tomich have a chunk of Gray's Elegy - was he as depressed as that choice makes him sound? But the best work is from Tony O'Gorman, who's set up at least three gravestones with the most wonderful, personal messages I've ever read. Good on you, sir.
Visiting: Allegedly 10 mins walk from Kew Gardens rail station (take the "not Kew Gardens" exit): this is only true if you turn down West Park Road and turn right down Mortlake Road. I, unfortunately, walked down North Road to the roundabout by Sainsburys. Once you've done that walk, it's 10 mins to the cemetery, or three stops on the 190 bus. Or drive, if you do drive.
Has toilets. Plenty of livings about, but no one bothering me about taking photos, possibly because I had my "looking for a grave" face on. Which indeed I was.
If you're lucky enough to work in the area around Bunhill Fields, the City of London Corporation are running a series of events at lunchtimes next week. Ranging from complementary therapy sessions and bike surgery to (rather more to my taste) history tours and natural history talks, there's something on between 12.30 and 13.30 each lunchtime next week. Check out the press release for more information.
Organisers of events in cemeteries and friends' groups may like to know that I now have a calendar of London cemetery events in the sidebar over there -> to which your event can be added (for free, obviously). Just drop me a line with as much info as possible and a web link if there is one.
Lambeth Cemetery is either a tragedy, or a triumph of practicality, depending on your point of view. Opened in 1854, few of the original Victorian monuments survive, due to a "lawn conversion" carried out between 1969 and 1991, which removed all but the most interesting Victorian graves, freeing up new space for burials. Thus the visitor to Lambeth today sees an unusual admixture of twenty-first century granite and Victorian, lichen-covered angels. It feels very strange.
At least the pair of super-sized Gothic chapels have survived, though only one is in use and the other has been fenced off, apparently derelict. The original lodge is also still in existence. At the other end of this long, thin cemetery is the modern crematorium opened in 1969. This is typically utilitarian in design, and surrounded on one side by numbered rose beds, and on the other by sunken paths bearing memorial tablets.
Visiting: Very busy, with new graves and hence livings throughout. Numerous cars parked all over the place: is it just me who finds people driving up to the actual gravesite rather distasteful? But has toilets. 493 bus stops right outside, or visit Streatham Cemetery at the same time and walk from there.