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Sunday, 31 October 2010

The cemeteries of London.

I love cemeteries! I find them fascinating places to visit, especially Victorian ones.In the nineteenth century there was a shortage of burial places in local parish churches in London. This was mainly due to a combination of London's burgeoning population and several cholera outbreaks that killed thousands of people. Space to bury them simply ran out. Bodies were interred on top of other fresh bodies to within inches of the surface of the earth. This resulted in an extremely unpleasant situation where bodies were being dug up by grave diggers that were still putrefying.
Something had to be done! An Act of Parliament was passed in 1832 allowing for the building of seven cemeteries on the outer reaches of London. These became very popular within a very short time because they were beautifully landscaped with wonderfully designed headstones and mausoleums.  The cemeteries soon became known as The Magnificent Seven.
A wonderfully detailed book worth reading is 'Necropolis: London and its dead' by Catharine Arnold.
 The photo above is Abney Park cemetery, opened in 1840. It's very overgrown and in common with some other cemeteries has now become a nature reserve. Because it's so overgrown half the fun when exploring is uncovering headstones that have been covered over for decades with ivy. I have often disturbed a fox when clambering over to look at a particularly interesting headstone.
This is the abandoned chapel in the centre of Abney Park. Built in the Gothic style of architecture that the Victorians loved and which typifies much of the building style in most of the cemeteries.
Many Victorian and Edwardian graves are highly stylised and this one in Abney Park is a police officers grave. The officer was PC Tyler who was killed while on duty in 1909 in Tottenham.
The font used on the headstones are lead by the style of the day. This lovely type is Art Nouveau.
I've come across many famous people's graves. This one in Brompton cemetery is of Emmeline Pankhurst. It even has a slash placed around the middle in the colours of the suffragette movement.
Karl Marx is buried in Highgate East cemetery. People leave mementoes on it. The day I took this photo someone had laid the flag of Andalucia with the words "Dos Hermanas Spain"
 There are also many graves with headstones decorated with poignant statues often showing someone asleep. Never dead, just asleep. I suppose we can't bear to think of them gone for ever, they are just taking a nap.
This is easily my favourite view of any cemetery I've yet seen. 
It's the entrance to the Egyptian Avenue in Highgate West cemetery. For some reason it always reminds me of Lara Croft on one of her adventures. (That's a William Tell or The Lone Ranger moment). It's so typical for the Victorians to have something that makes them think of Egypt. As I am getting out of my depth here with the Victorians and their love affair with all things Egyptian, so I'll stop there.
Here's a couple of views from The Circle of Lebanon, that the Egyptian Ave leads to.

Wonderful isn't it!

Cemeteries have a history of people (weirdo's) breaking in and doing strange things but sometimes perfectly respectable people break in like graffiti artists, (I love graffiti and have over 1000 photo's of the art on my flickr page and I'm looking for a book deal, hmmm.) Here's an example from Abney Park cemetery. The graffiti says WATCH YOUR SKIN........PEEL
The Bedouin tent below is the most amazing burial plot I have ever seen. It is made of stone and is the tomb of Sir Richard Francis Burton and his wife. It's in Mortlake cemetery and although not an easy place to get to it's worth it just for the sight of the tomb.
 And if that's not exciting enough the dead couple were very thoughtful and knew people would be curious and so at the rear of the tomb they added a viewing window and a ladder!
Isn't that something!
Finally, I have come to the end. This next photo, which at first sight looks a bit boring is of the frontage of the Necropolis Station on Westminster Bridge Road.
It was used exclusively to transport the dead to Brookwood cemetery in Surrey.  The Victorian's, so stylish even at the end.....

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Postman's Park.

Postman's Park is unique. There is nowhere else quite like it. It's one of London's little gems and worth seeking out. It's located in Little Britain, which is a short walk from St Paul's cathedral.
It's called Postman's Park because it was a favourite place for the postmen to have their breaks from their work at the nearby sorting office. It is not very large, only about 40 feet wide and about 200 feet in length.
The park is alongside St Botolph's Aldersgate church. It is a former burial ground and has been used as such since about 1050. There are so many bodies buried here that the ground is elevated a couple of feet above the surrounding street levels.
The reason that Postman's Park is so unique is because of a simple but moving small memorial wall built at its western end. This is not a memorial to the great and good, or the famous or kings and queens or military heroes. It is a memorial to the most ordinary of people of all ages who did the most selfless of acts. They died while attempting to save the lives of others. Every memorial tablet is to an ordinary person and describes their act of heroism.

The park is also know as the "Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice" and the memorial was the idea of the artist George Frederic Watts. The first memorial tablet was placed on the wall in the late 19th century in retrospective case of 1863. This photo shows Sarah Smith's demise.

She was a pantomime artiste who "died of terrible injuries" while trying to save her companion who was on fire and she attempted to douse the flames with her dress which then caught fire.
The lower plaque shows the story of Arthur Regelous. When I posted this to flickr a descendent of Mr Regelous got in touch with me!

This photo is a general shot of all the plaques in the shelter.

The tiles were first made by De Morgan and then later ones were made by Doulton's in Lambeth.
The following photo mentions Frederick Croft (lower tile) who "saved a lunatic woman from suicide...but himself was run over by the train" in 1878 at Woolwich.
There is in the centre of the wall a small carving as a tribute to GF Watts. Watts was born in 1817 and died in 1904. Interestingly if you look at Watt's page on Wikipaedia there is no mention of Postman's Park.

 Recently (2009) a small plaque to Watts has been restored and erected near the wall and gives an overview of his beliefs about human behaviour.

The first new plaque for 80 years was added in 2009 in memory of Leigh Pitt aged 30 who saved a boy from drowning in 2007. The Times newspaper reported the story.

The park continues to be enjoyed and used, as it has been since 1900. Here's an old photo from1933 that I came across. If you visited the park today you would no doubt see the same view.

There's a very good book about the park written by John Price - Postman's Park: G.F. Watt's Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. Published in 2008 and available at

Friday, 26 March 2010

Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

I'm blogging adventures that I've done in the past. This trip to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry took place in August 2008. It's an extremely popular place to visit and the waiting list is a long one. If you book expect to wait several months to see it.
The foundry was founded in 1570 and is Britain's oldest manufacturer. It is in the East End of London in Whitechapel. It is believed that is was originally on a site across the road and that was founded early in the fifteenth century.

The tour starts in the front of the shop and we are taken through to the back of the building where the guide tells us that the back wall we are looking at is the oldest part of the building and dates from the 17th century.
I immediately got a sense of the history once we had got to the yard and there were bells littering the floor. We were shown around by Mike, the man standing in the door, he has worked here for donkey's years.

Big Ben and the Liberty Bell were cast here. 

These shapes on the wall were used for Big Ben and the Bow Bells.

The shelves where all the tools are kept. One of the things that really pleased me was the total disregard for "Health and Safety" rules. It really is like walking around in another age when common sense still ruled supreme.
This is a side view of the foundry. After the tour you get a chance to buy goodies in the shop and I bought a little bell that makes the most wonderful tinkling sound.

 There are loads more photo's on my page at flickr, here's the link
If you have nothing better to do then make the effort to email them and book a visit here
But be warned, tours for 2010 are fully booked so plan ahead!

Friday, 19 March 2010

A 1950's purveyor of coffee in Camden, North London.

I took the tube to Camden to see the refurbished Jewish Museum and on the way back to the tube station found this little shop, and I was pleased to see it was open. It's always been closed when I've walked past before and it's always intrigued me. So at last I got the chance to have a nose around.

It's a tiny little shop, only about 8 feet square but what strikes you first is the aroma, pure delicious high class coffee.

The shop sells coffee beans and nothing else. It's been in business since 1950 here in the same premises at 11 Delancey Street, Camden. The original owner bought his coffee wholesale from a company that is still in business and is Europe's largest coffee wholesaler. In fact that first owner of this coffee shop was the  wholesale company's first customer!

That's George in the photo above, the current owner of the shop. He's from Cyprus and has worked here for 35 years. He says that when he retires there is no one to follow him.

The coffee grinders are all the original ones from 1950. George will grind the coffee for you if you so wish. I bought some coffee beans from Costa Rica, a medium to strong coffee and enjoyed a delicious cup of it when I got home later that day.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

In the footsteps of the Kray's. London's East End, April 2009.

I, and a few friends with a small book for a self guided walk about the Kray's set off one day to explore the world of the notorious twins.
This is Pellicci's cafe at 332 Bethnal Green Road E2.
The twins used to frequent this cafe as teenagers.
It's been run by the same family since 1900.
We went inside for dinner and had a really good meal.
 The family are lovely and very friendly. One of the family members told us that Charlie Kray sent a teddy bear to one of the family's new baby girl when she was born.

We also went to the Repton boys boxing club where the twins trained. As we were chatting outside who should walk out of the doors but no other than Mad Frankie Fraser!
Frankie Fraser was described by two Home Secretaries as the most dangerous man in Britain.
In this photo he is 85 years old.
The 'mad' nickname comes from his spell in Pentonville prison where he was declared insane.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Well I've decided after a four year absence to start a blog again.
I do not expect to be particularly good as this is my third post so please don't hold your breath for the next post because if you do you will be dead.

Anyway as the weather forecast said it would be wet on Friday and dry on Saturday, I stayed in on Friday and went out on Saturday. There was rain on and off all day. Which was a bit annoying as I'd decided to go out for a change and photograph London.

For no particular reason I chose Paddington. Paddington is the first place I would arrive at when I first used to come to London as a child. So it's always got a soft spot in my heart. Despite the fact that it is a popular trawling ground for ladies of the dusk, this minor fact did not spoil it for me.

I can remember sitting on the train in the 1960's and 70's and looking at the approach to Paddington. It was unbelievably depressing. There were great big, dirty blocks of flats. With little dark and grubby windows dimly lit. Occasionally I'd see a face peering out only a couple of feet from the train I was on. I can remember thinking that I could never live here. It was as if these buildings were deliberately designed and placed so close to the trains to suck out the soul of the poor sods who lived in them.


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.