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.