The very evil custom of interring the dead in towns

I love this article from the Penny Magazine of August 2nd, 1834. It was published 18 months after the first burial took place in Kensal Green Cemetery. It's a great bit of PR, and Mr Carden, the General Cemetery Company and whoever was responsible for their marketing are to be roundly congratulated, even from this distance.

The very evil custom of interring the dead in and near the places devoted to public worship is, to the best of our knowledge, peculiar to Christian countries. Its introduction seems to have been very early; for we find interments in cities altogether prohibited by an edict of the Emperor Theodosius, in which is very truly stated that such a practise is very injurious to the public health, while monuments by the way-side present salutory memorials to the traveller. A person infringing this law forfeited a third of his patrimony; and an undertaker directing a funeral contrary to this prohibition was fined forty pounds of gold.
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Posted in 19th Century London Cemeteries Magnificent Seven | 1 Comment

Brompton Cemetery’s damp open day

It was, it must be said, a somewhat soggy day for Brompton Cemetery's Open Day. But the Friends are an incorrigibly cheerful bunch, and soldiered on, with or without umbrellas.

I had an excellent tour of the above-ground cemetery with David, and saw a few things I'd never seen before in Brompton: Sioux chief Long Wolf, who died in London while on tour with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and was buried in Brompton until he went home in 1997; Director of Continental Journeys to Queen Victoria, Joseph Julius Kanné's stone erected by the Queen and Prince of Wales; professional soldier Colonel Henry Byrne, who fought in three campaigns and rather nicely has replicas of his medals on his tomb.

Then it was time for a (yes, I'm going to use the s-word) spooky look at the catacombs with Terence. Kensal Green's catacombs have electric lights fitted, at least in the bit you're taken to see. Brompton's, on the other hand, have tea lights. It is very, very dark and my imagination jumped immediately to tripping in the dark and putting my hand through the side of a coffin, and wondering just what, exactly, I was standing on. Fun, all the same - and my guess from KG that catacombs are never a commercial success with the English was bourne out by the swathes of empty space in Brompton's.

Exhibitors included the Met's "stopping drugs and cottaging in the Parks" department, who were all very jolly - as well as the Friends of Nunhead and the Friends of Kensal Green. All in all, a fun day out, if only it hadn't rained quite so hard.

Inevitably, there are more photos...

Posted in 19th Century 21st Century Events London Cemeteries Magnificent Seven | 2 Comments

Some corner of a foreign road : the Huguenot Burial Ground

Apropos of nothing at all, one of the stories I've always loved in Isabella Holmes' The London Burial Grounds is her climbing over walls to check out burial sites she couldn't otherwise access. I hope she wore rational dress, because climbing over walls in crinoline, bustle or corset wouldn't have been easy. She probably could've done with jeans and Docs. Just sayin'.

Anyway, to the subject in hand. The Huguenot Burial Ground is situated between two busy roads in Wandsworth, and is fenced off with a locked gate. Anyone wishing to access it is advised by a laminated notice to contact the Council for the key.

Wandsworth Council have said they are to undertake a program of renovation of the tombs remaining, and that they intend to open up the ground for public use with seating and information boards. This would be nice, because at the moment, the remaining graves seem to be decaying into the foxgloves with nothing being done to stop them.

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Book report : London Cemeteries

Meller and ParsonsMeller and Parsons is the Lewis and Short of London cemeteryism: encyclopaedic, essential and it weighs a ton.

In the decade or so that I've been photographing London's cemeteries, it seems that their fortunes are changing. The neglect of the 60s and 70s is being undone by managers willing to give them the care they deserve, and interest from the not-bereaved is growing, with plenty of apparently normal people saying that, yes, they like looking at cemeteries.

This must be in no small part due to Hugh Meller's book 'London Cemeteries'. First published in 1981, it provided not only a history of burial practices in London, but a comprehensive guide to burial grounds, leading visitors not only to the famous Victorian sites like Highgate and Kensal Green, but also to the quirky and sometimes very personal monuments to be found in more out-of-the-way places.

Hugh Meller's original book had extensive sections on the history of London's cemeteries, as well as notes on monuments, epitaphs and flora and fauna to be found in them. But the real point of the book was the list of more than 100 burial sites, with addresses, history of the foundation and management of the ground, and extensive lists of those buried in each. When I say "encyclopaedic", I mean it: there isn't much you won't find here.

This new edition is the fifth; it's a paperback reissue of the fourth edition published in 2008, in which Brian Parsons added twelve new cemeteries and copious new pictorial material to Hugh Meller's work, as well as largely updating the text itself to take note of recent changes. It's tempting to think of the older cemeteries as static landscapes, but they're not; I was delighted to find out about the rediscovery of Lord Rodney's monument, for example, from Mr Parson's notes. A future edition should probably note that Maurice Selbach's headstone has been moved to the National Cycle Museum from Streatham Park; I've spent hours trying to find it in the cemetery!

His frankness about the more mundane elements of twentieth-century cemeteries was one of the things I loved most about Mr Meller's original text: "There is little to be said for poor Eastcote Lane, it is small, modest and dull" and "[Chiswick New] is not one of London's most appealing cemeteries and must be the noisiest, set down in a water meadow sandwiched between an arterial road and a suburban railway line." Mr Parsons continues this dryly humorous tradition, with such gems as Hatton Cemetery which occupies "a flat site beyond some enormous greenhouses", and Hillside which is "not a cemetery worth a detour".

It must be said, this is not a tome to tuck in your pocket and take cemeterying: even the paperback version is extremely heavy, but that's a price worth paying for the well-produced and beautifully illustrated work. If you're in the slightest bit interested in London cemeteries, then you need this book.

I feel duty bound to point out, though: this isn't a complete list of London cemeteries. Extended churchyards are included where they're still churchyards - St. Nicholas Chiswick and Mitcham Parish Church's - but those which have nominally been turned into gardens - e.g. St. George's - are not. You'd think "London cemeteries" was an easy brief, but there'll always be questions about how you define London and how you define a cemetery.

For sites which are definitely cemeteries, Hortus and Havelock in Southall, Hounslow, Borough, Feltham and Bedfont (all run by the London Borough of Hounslow) and Havering's Upminster, for example, are missing. There's always some argument about where London begins and ends, of course, but all of the above are run by and are in London boroughs and were open before 2008, so should merit inclusion. And by London cemeteries, if we mean "cemeteries where Londoners get buried", some of those even further out like Epping Forest, the Gardens of Peace and even Chiltern Burial Park should probably also be included in future. Mr Parsons, if you want a collaborator for the sixth edition, I'm happy to volunteer.

Available direct from the publisher or from Amazon.

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Royal Family burials part 4 : the Stuarts

Children of Charles I by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1637)

L to R: Mary, James, Charles, Elizabeth, and Anne. Not pictured, because not born yet, is Henrietta, the ancestress of the current Stuart claimants to the British throne.

I must confess, I have a bit of a mental block about the Stuarts. I can never remember that Charles II and James II are brothers, and then I get caught up in trying to figure out what relation Queen Anne was to her successor, George I (second cousins, I think - they have a great-grandfather, James I, in common). Honestly, take me back to the Wars of the Roses where one side was called Henry and the other side was called Richard and Edward, and it was all so simple. (On the sons of Edward III, I'm your woman. Not only do I correctly picture John of Gaunt as an emaciated grandee, I picture Thomas of Woodstock as a Plantagenet hippy.)

Anyway. When it comes to burials, the Stuarts are pretty simple. Most of them are in vaults under the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Several of them had monuments planned but never executed, so most of them are commemorated by small stones in the Chapel's floor. Here we go in detail:

  • James I and his queen Anne of Denmark are in vaults beneath the Henry VII Chapel.
  • Charles I is in St. George's Chapel Windsor, in the Henry VIII vault (with Big Fat Hal himself, Jane Seymour and one of Queen Anne's babies); William IV put a rather nice memorial stone in the Chapel floor.
  • Charles' queen, Henrietta Maria of France, was buried at the Saint Denis Basilica near Paris (with her father, Henri IV of France); her remains were thrown into a common grave after the mob raided the Bourbon vault in 1793.
  • Charles II is in the Henry VII Chapel; a wax effigy stood over his grave for many years and is now in the Abbey museum.
  • His queen Catherine of Braganza returned to Portugal after his death and is buried at the Jerónimos Monastery, in Belém, Lisbon.
  • James II died in exile in France. He was buried in the Chapel of Saint Edmund in the Church of the English Benedictines in the Rue St. Jacques in Paris. In 1793, his tomb was set upon by the mob and his remains scattered. However, his viscera were buried near his place of death in the Parish Church of Saint-Germain-en-Laye; these were rediscovered in 1824 and reburied in the church. (I'm assuming the separation of the body was to do with preserving it while preparations for a state funeral were made; anyone want to correct me?)
  • Lady Anne Hyde, James' first wife and the mother of the two queens who succeeded him, is buried in the Mary Queen of Scots vault in the Henry VII Chapel.
  • Mary of Modena, James' second wife, was buried with him in Paris and also had her remains destroyed in 1793. Her viscera were reburied with his in 1824.
  • Mary II and her husband and cousin William III are buried under the Henry VII chapel. A joint monument to them was planned but never executed, though wax effigies were made of them too, and can be seen in the Abbey museum. Mary's spectacular funeral cost £50,000
  • Mary's sister, Queen Anne, and her husband Prince George of Denmark and Norway, Duke of Cumberland, are buried under the Henry VII Chapel. Anne's body was so obese and swollen by gout that it apparently had to be carried in a coffin that was almost square.

Stuart tomb in the VaticanOf course, I don't want to take sides, so:

  • James II's son, James Francis Edward, Prince of Wales, a.k.a. James III, a.k.a. The Old Pretender, died in Rome and was buried in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.
  • His son, Prince Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Maria Stuart, a.k.a. Bonnie Prince Charlie, a.k.a. the Young Pretender, was initially buried in the Cathedral of Frascati where his brother was bishop. After his brother's death, his remains were moved to St. Peter's Basilica, though his heart was left in an urn in Frascati.

And for the republicans:

Visiting: Westminster Abbey is not cheap: £16 per adult to visit as of time of writing. Check opening times before you go; sometimes it's closed for religion. Despite all that, it's utterly spectacular and everyone should go at least twice in their lifetime.

Stuart children painting by van Dyck and Jacobite tomb in Rome courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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