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Category Archives: London Cemeteries
From The Times, 25th September 1818.
As the workmen employed in clearing away the ground in St. Martin's-le-Grand, which is to form the site of the new Post-office, were a day or two ago removing the foundations of the old houses which stood in the rear of St. Leonard's-Fester lane, they discovered the roofs of some ancient vaults. As soon as the rubbish on the particular spot was removed, three vaults were discovered, each communicating with the other by a narrow passage or gallery; they are built chiefly of large square bricks, intermixed with stone and some flint, and the interstices filled with a yellow chalky earth. They are rather spacious, the height being nearly nine feet, the depth about eighteen and the breadth about six or seven. They appear to have been each originally divided into two compartments. In the back of one of the vaults was found a large quantity of human bones, thrown promiscuously together, as if collected from different graves. In one of them is a stone coffin, rather short in length, made in the shape of the ancient coffins, square in the head, and inclining in a tapering form towards the feet; a place is rather rudely shaped for the head of the body to rest upon, and the remains of a skull and some decayed bones are in the cavity. Adjoining, and in the same line with these arches, is a vaulted roof, supported by small and short stone shafts or pillars, from which spring semicircular arches, intersecting each other at equidistant points, and presenting to the eye the skeleton of a structure, at once simple, durable and beautiful. The subdivisions of the intercolumniation [sic] were evidently open when built, and so arranged as to admit a communication with other parts of a building. The floor of these vaults is about 29 feet below the pavement in Newgate-street, the loose ground on the same level bears all the appearance of having once been a cemetery, from the fragments and calcined parts of bones intermixed with soft earth which are observable in the vicinity. (more...)
In the side streets around Southall, there are two small cemeteries. They're both very typical of west London suburban cemeteries: well-maintained now by the London Borough of Ealing, but with signs of the neglect in their past. The older, Havelock Cemetery on Havelock Road, opened in 1885 and is now closed to new burials. Havelock's most interesting monument is the small pipe organ for William Harry Martin, who died in 1933.
Round the corner, Hortus Cemetery was opened in 1944. It's a large, rectangular piece of ground; there's little planting apart from the hedged rose garden at the front. Nonetheless, it's been popular and now has almost run out of space, particularly in the Muslim section in the north-west corner.
Visiting: Both cemeteries are walking distance from Southall train station. Both are quiet: Havelock was empty on Saturday lunchtime, apart from two lads trying to teach their dog to jump over the wall. Hortus had more visitors, but no one seemed to object to my brief photography exercise.
From the Illustrated London News, October 1842.
For comparison purposes, on the headline inflation rate, £1 in 1842 is approximately £85 in 2011,
and when you went shopping:
- 1lb beef cost 6½d
- 1lb bread cost 2d
- 1 pint strong beer ½d
(There were 240d (old pence) in the pound.)
Approximate wages per annum: a farm worker earned £29, and a labourer earned £42. So it's very clear that only the rich were going to end up in Highgate.
(Food and wages figures from the excellent foodtimeline.org, to whom much thanks.)
I discovered some pictures of the Tower Hamlets Cemetery chapels in the Illustrated London News for 24th March, 1849. As the actual buildings are long-gone, it was rather nice to see what they were like.
There's a very short accompanying article; here it is in its entirety.
At this period, when public attention is so universally directed to the sanitary condition of the metropolis, and when the suppression of intramural interments may shortly be anticipated as the law of the land, a sketch of the City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery, which has been recently completed, cannot fail to be interesting.
To the inhabitants of the City of London especially, it must form a matter for congratulation, that within two miles of the Royal Exchange, a suitable resting-place has been provided for the remains of those who once formed its busy occupants, so preferable in every respect to the already over-crowded churchyard burial-ground.
This cemetery was incorporated by act of Parliament in the year 1841, and a considerable portion of the ground has since been consecrated by the Lord Bishop of London. It comprises an area of upwards of thirty acres, most eligibly situated, being close to the high road leading to Bow.
The chapels, which form the subject of our Illustration, have just been completed from the designs of Messrs. Wyatt and Brandon, and are greatly admired for their purity of style and propriety of arrangement. That erected in the consecrated ground is in the early Decorated period, with a belfry at one angle, in which are some nicely ornamented windows; and at the sides are attached cloisters for the reception of mural tablets, so contructed as to afford an effectual screen from the weather. The chapel appropriated to the use of Dissenters is of octagonal form, and in the Byzantine style of architecture. Beneath both chapels are dry and extensive catacombs, arranged so as to accommodate single coffins or to form family vaults.
The grounds have been judiciously and effectively laid out by the same artists, and inclosed [sic] by high walls and ornamental iron railings; and the drainage, which is effected by means of an artesian well, to a depth of 210 feet, and tributary drains running through the land in various directions, is, we understand most successful — a depth of twenty-six feet having in many instances been obtained without moisture.
The chapels apparently suffered bomb damage in the war (shrapnel damage can still be seen on some of the gravestones towards the front of the cemetery near the Soanes Centre). They were demolished in 1967, following the 1966 purchase of Tower Hamlets by the Greater London Council. Meller notes that there was also a "little Egyptian style mortuary"; I'd dearly love to see a picture of that.
I got to wondering today, how did the new cemeteries go about marketing themselves? (Marketing's what I do when I'm not wearing a cemeterying hat.) Some digging about in old newspapers may be in my near future...
This book has one huge advantage over other guides to London's cemeteries: it's small enough to slip into a pocket. That in itself makes it worth buying, and Darren Beach has the essential qualities of a great guide book writer: he adores his subject, and he has a wonderful love of obscure facts: if you want to find the graves of Bobby Moore, Dodi Fayed, the highwayman Claude Duval, Cunard of the Line, Palgrave of the Golden Treasury or the woman who sang the opening line of The Smith's song The Queen is Dead, you've come to the right place!
Beach visits fifty of the capital's most memorable burial grounds, from Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's, through the grand and gorgeous Victorian cemeteries like Highgate, Brompton and Kensal Green, to more modern sites such as Chingford Mount, last resting place of the Krays, and St. Pancras and Islington, the biggest cemetery in London and a place where you can quite literally get lost amongst the dead. With an encyclopaedic coverage of both the rich and famous, and the obscure but intriguing, he provides a superb and comprehensive guide to historical sites, dead famous people and those who just have intriguing tombs. I've visited all the cemeteries he covers, but reading this book makes me just want to go and visit them all again.
Unfortunately, as a guide book, this has some failings. Firstly, overall organisation: cemeteries are divided into central, north, south, east, west and outer London, and are then listed alphabetically within these sections. There is a map at the front which shows the location of some of the cemeteries, but sadly there is no indication of the geographical boundaries of the sections - especially with so many cemeteries in north-west London, it's a confusion that could have been easily dealt with by expanding the contents over two pages so that the individual cemeteries could have been listed too.
Descriptions of cemeteries themselves are patchy: some have detailed descriptions including directions to the more interesting graves; others read like little more than a precis of Meller.
The other, rather more serious problem with this book is that its editing, proof-reading and fact-checking don't seem to have been done adequately: there are inaccuracies, errors and non sequiturs throughout. Many were listed in Amazon reviews of the first edition and have now been corrected, but here are a few examples of what remains:
- William Blake's marker in Bunhill Fields isn't a "pristine white stone"; it's damaged brown sandstone (p. 16)
- the Rev Dr Thomas Binney was not an "ant-slavery campaigner" (p. 32)
- the bust of Sir Peter Nicol Russell is above the statue of the young engineer, not "close by" it (p. 34)
- Highgate's eastern half listed as "open 10am - 4pm Mar - Oct (last entry 4.30pm)" (p. 45)
- confusion, or perhaps just unclear writing, about when tours of the western half of Highgate Cemetery may be had (pp. 45 & 47)
- Julius Beer's bizarre double appearance in the Highgate section: any decent editor would have spotted and changed this (p. 48)
- there is no such place as Willesden Road Cemetery (it's Willesden Lane), and the Dutch war graves are in rows of 8, not 5 (p. 53)
- Princess Sophia referred to as Sophie (p. 91)
- there is not a road dividing Richmond and East Sheen Cemeteries (p. 219)
- the Hyde Park pet cemetery was not built by the Duke of Cambridge, though his wife's dog was the second to be buried there (p. 226)
- and my website has its own domain; it's not a Flickr group (p. 231).
Pedantry, maybe, but in a guide book of all publications, one would expect accuracy.