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Category Archives: London Cemeteries
Camberwell Old Cemetery seems like its getting a lot more care than it was when I last visited 7 years ago. It certainly has an awful lot more new graves: caring for a cemetery and earning income from it are a virtuous or viscious circle; stop one and you'll stop the other; step up one, and you'll step up the other too.
And there are some spectacular new graves in Camberwell, not least the ones with the attached granite benches, kerbstones ordering visitors to "kneel and pray".
But my favourite find was an old one, the fallen soldier which once topped the grave of George Brydges Harley Dennett, 7th Baron Rodney, who died in 1909. The 3rd edition of Meller said that all trace of this memorial was gone, and I've never been able to find it. And then I spotted it in a video, and found that Brian Parsons had also put a photograph in the 4th edition of Meller... and there he was! I wept a little tear for him, I must say, and can't help hoping his head turns up one day too.
Lord Rodney is typical of so many of Camberwell's older graves. Despite the grass being cut and the flowers being planted, the older memorials aren't being cared for. They're fallen and lying in the grass, or taken down and laid unceremoniously on top of the flat part of the memorial. The northern part of the cemetery is no longer being maintained at all, and is completely overgrown (more so even than Abney Park) except for a single looping path. It's all rather sad.
Visiting: Honor Oak Park station is about a mile away. 63 bus stops outside the cemetery gates. No one bats an eyelid at photographers: met a young couple out cemeterying, and a nice dog named Molly.
Most of the photos that I - and other people - take in Kensal Green are all about the old graves, the Victorian craziness and the pompous monuments. It's easy to forget that this is still a working cemetery, and has new graves popping up all the time, sometimes in the western part, but also amongst the older graves. Here are some photographs of newer monuments in Kensal Green.
With apologies to Leonard Cohen for the title.
East Sheen and Richmond Cemeteries were established separately, and have existed back-to-back for over a century. Richmond Council has now started managing them as one establishment, so I am also treating them as a single cemetery from now on.
Bizarrely, I can't even find a reliable date for the opening of East Sheen Cemetery: Richmond Council's website says 1905, Meller says 1906, but the date on the gate is 1903. If anyone can shed any light, please leave a comment.
The East Sheen end of things remains the more interesting. The pretty, 13th century-style chapel is the only one in either cemetery and is used for all funeral services held here. Walking up towards it from the entrance on King's Ride, you'll pass many of the more interesting monuments: the yellow stone grave of actor Roy Kinnear with its moving tribute from his wife, the stepped gates of the Mawhinney family (there are a number of smaller examples of this kind of monument, which I've never seen anywhere else), and - just off to the right - the seated soldier on the grave of William Rennie-O'Mahony of the King's African Rifles.
All of these are quite literally dwarfed, though, by the enormous bronze angel, monument to George William Lancaster and his wife Louisa. The Lancasters were a northern family who made their money in coal-mining, and the sculpture is by Sydney March.
Walking uphill past the chapel, don't miss the silver-painted wooden dolphins: they're suffering quite badly from (I think) water damage, and may not last much longer.
Off to the right is where the Richmond part of the cemetery begins. This is dominated by war graves: the South African section, with a cenotaph-like memorial by Lutyens, and the memorial to those who've died in the Star and Garter home for disabled service personnel nearby. Further down the hill, Richmond Cemetery tails off into modern burials, with the usual back-to-back rows of stones, leaving a nice wide path for council mowers to cut. It's a rather mundane end to an otherwise rather lovely place.
Visiting: Richmond station and then the 493 bus which stops near the King's Ride entrance to East Sheen. Alternatively, North Sheen rail station is walking distance. Nobody bats an eyelid at photographers. Has toilets by the King's Ride gate.
Poor little Isleworth deserves a lot better treatment than it's had. The beautiful pair of Gothic chapels are boarded up and fenced off; the mortuary is falling down; kerbstones have been kicked or fallen in. Hounslow Council may, though, be doing their belated best to tidy things up; there's evidence of contractors working on the site, though whether they're doing anything more than piling up pieces of broken headstone remains to be seen. I'd love the chapels to be opened again: the hints you can see from outside the fence speak of something rather lovely, and I wished I were younger and fitter and could shin over the barbed wire and have a proper look.
Even so, it's worth a visit. Two memorials particularly stand out. The red granite obelisk is for Alice Ayres, the nursemaid who rescued three children in her care from a fire. Overcome by smoke inhalation, she fell from the building, and injured her spine. She died two days later in Guy's Hospital. The monument was paid for by public subscription.
The grey granite baroque "pepper pot" is for the Pears soap dynasty, including Tom Pears who drowned in the Titanic disaster.
Visiting: Richmond station and then the H37 bus to the Isleworth war memorial; 267 bus from Hammersmith or Hampton Court; or one of the buses that goes along London Road: 235, 237, 635. Don't try and cut through West Middlesex Hospital to get to the cemetery from Twickenham Road; you need to walk down Park Road.
The astonishing thing about the Hanoverian dynasty is that we begin it in (what feels like) the distant past, and end it in ordinary London cemeteries, and in the memory of our (or my, anyway) grandparents. This is mostly due to the astonishing reigns of Georges II and III, who notched up 93 years of kinging between them.
But let's kick off with George I: king of England by virtue of being the great-grandson of King James I, he was very, very German: Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Elector of Hanover, his Protestant religion won him the throne of England. He was the last King of England to be buried outside our island, at the Leineschloss. After WW2, his remains were moved to the Herrenhausen.
His wife, Sophia Dorothea of Celle died after being imprisoned by her husband in the Castle of Ahlden for the last 30 years of her life as punishment for an affair. George I forbad mourning on her death from (probably) liver failure, and Sophia was initially buried in Ahlden's cellar. Her body was later moved to Celle and buried beside her parents.
George II, son of George I and Sophia, was another last: the last King of England to be buried in Westminster Abbey. His queen, Caroline of Ansbach was also buried there, along with most of their children, including George II's eldest son, Frederick Prince of Wales, who died before his father.
Unlike his father and grandfather, George III was born in England, in London at Norfolk House in 1738. After the third-longest reign of any British monarch, he died at Windsor Castle in January 1820, and is buried in St. George's Chapel, beside his wife, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the second-longest-serving British royal consort, after the current Duke of Edinburgh. (Yes, I'm counting: I'm not a royalist but these stats are fun.) You want to know what happened to their children? There are fifteen of them... Okay, here goes:
- George became Regent and then King George IV on his father's death. He's buried in St. George's Chapel.
- Frederick Duke of York: SGC, Windsor.
- King William IV: SGC, Windsor.
- Charlotte, the Princess Royal, later Queen of of Württemberg is buried in the royal vault at Ludwigsburg Palace.
- Edward, Duke of Kent: SGC, Windsor
- Princess Augusta: SGC, Windsor
- Princess Elizabeth, Landgravine of Hesse-Homburg is buried in the Mausoleum of the Landgraves, Homburg.
- Ernest Augustus, King of Hanover is buried in a mausoleum in the Herrenhausen gardens.
- Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex is in Kensal Green Cemetery
- Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge: SGC, Windsor. His son and successor, George Duke of Cambridge, is also in Kensal Green.
- Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh: SGC, Windsor
- Princess Sophia is (of course) in Kensal Green too.
- Prince Octavius died aged 4, Prince Alfred died aged 2 and Princess Amelia died aged 27: all in SGC, Windsor
So we shipped some of them off to Germany, and some got buried, like good royalty, in St. George's Chapel. But Sophia and Augustus were buried in Kensal Green. Augustus died in 1843 and specified in his will that he did not want a state funeral. He was the only adult son of George III not to have a military or naval career, and married twice in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act (in short, he failed to gain his father's permission for the marriages). I imagine a younger son, for whom royalty is a restraint that's never going to be thrown off: he had enough older brothers to know he would never be king.
For Sophia, too, royal blood must have been a burden. Forced to live a cloistered life with her mother, when she died 5 years after Augustus, she had chosen to be buried near him rather than at Windsor. It's hard to think of burial in Kensal Green as an act of rebellion, but for these two, as for their nephew, I think it was.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons