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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.....


  1. Hey Maggie! Cool pix of the cemetery! I really like them, might try n pay the cemetery a visit when I come to London in may. :o)

  2. Thanks NBS! I hope you enjoy your visit. This blog features several London cemeteries but I think the best one is Highgate West.