Before I head off to Southampton I really wanted to squeeze in one more of the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries in London, at first I was going try for West Norwood, as it theoretically wasn’t too far from where I live, but then decided at the last minute to try for Kensal Green.
The wonderful weather I had had in Abney Park
was not going to continue and even snow was forecast! This visit meant I had to change to the Bakerloo Line at Elephant and Castle and climb off at Kensal Green. In 2016 I revisited Kensal Green
and I have replaced 2 of the photographs in this post.
A bit of an odd train change at the station before really confused me, but fortunately I arrived more or less intact. I did not use the main gate, but rather the gate next to St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery which was next door.
Kensal Green was the first commercial London cemetery to open in 1833 and was designed by George Frederick Carden. My first impression was of mausoleums all along the paths, and fortunately that did change as I went along, but they just kept getting grander and grander all the time.
I do suspect that I hit paydirt when I came across this particular one with it’s Sphinx guardians, and extra ornamentation.
While hunting VC graves I returned to this mausoleum and discovered a very nice sculpt of a drovers hat with gloves in front of it. The tomb belongs to Andrew Ducrow, a British Circus Performer. What does something like this cost? £3000 apparently (and that was in 1837).
Spirit of Ecstasy. (Thea Cannonero Altieri, born 21/06/1910, 29/10/2000)
In the meantime I continued on my way until I reached a large building which is the Anglican Chapel, and from what I have read the crypt is underneath this building.
On either wing of the building were magnificent statues, the one pictured being for Georgina Clementson. Apparently she was the daughter of John Graham Lough, who sculpted this memorial.
The other is the really magnificent Robert William Sievier (1794-1865) Memorial. It is a magnificent piece, much more suited to a museum than faded chapel in a cemetery.
Continuing my exploration I finally arrived at the main gate, (which I had not used), it is an impressive building on its own, but it does pale into insignificance when compared to some of the mausoleums inside the cemetery.
I also came across the Dissenters Chapel which was also very impressive, and it is the first Nonconformist Chapel to be built in a public cemetery.
Then it was time to turn around and start searching for the Victoria Cross recipient graves, of which there are 15 in Kensal Green. The problem here is that the graves are not always that legible, and the weather was really starting to become a problem, as soft sleet was occasionally falling. My route took me back along the road I had come, pausing every now and then to check a section off on my list. The selection of graves beyond the pathway was less impressive memorialwise, and some were really beautiful.
Image from 2016
The image of the horse and rider is in a very poor condition, and it is now scheduled for restoration. The records show that Alfred Cooke was interred in the tomb in 1854, and it is a grade II listed monument. Walking through a cemetery like this is always difficult because of the variety of ornamentation and headstones that may be all around, and every now and then there is a splash of colour.
Of course there are the angels and cherubs and strange statues, my personal favourite in any cemetery. Kensal Green has a lot that I had not seen before, but again there are just so many…
The child statue on the right I just had to find again, and I did in 2016, and she was just as I remembered her.
The VC search was not going well either, there were just so many distractions all around me, and at some point I considered giving up the search altogether. One of the graves took me to what must have been some sort of gallery/collonades where they had wall memorials on display. It was not in a good condition and signs warned of unstable structures.
The plaques that lined the walls before are now mostly broken off, and the interior of this pillared building has an apocalyptic feel about it.
Generally I do not hunt down celebrity graves unless they are of interest to me, and I was fortunate to encounter two graves of famous people. The first was one of Britains finest engineers. He was responsible for so many feats of engineering and shipbuilding that he is legendary. I have seen quite a few odds and ends that Isambard Kingdom Brunel created, and this grave really is special to me.
Image from 2016
Surprise number two was the grave of Jean Francois Cravelet Blondin (aka Charles Blondin)
, the man who crossed Niagara Gorge on a tightrope. In fact the list of “rich and famous” for this cemetery is a formidable one, but I did not have access to the list so may or may not have photographed some of the graves on the list. The Victoria Cross graves mean more to me than some of the graves of the rich and famous (and titled), and many of these are simple headstones, often missed amongst the ostentation of some of these creations.
There is a microcosm of British Victorian Society buried in Kensal Green, and it must have really been something to see the elaborate Victorian funerals that must have taken place. Make no mistake, the Victorians had death down to a fine art, and woe betide those who did not adhere to those unwritten rules.
And in death you had to show the world a public face (or effigy, or something equally grandiose). Today many of these memorials are “listed buildings”. Yet the cemetery is not only mausoleums and grand headstones, there are also section where the only ornamentation is a simple gravestone.
Time was marching though, and the weather was still not on my side, If anything it was becoming increasingly more unpleasant. My VC tally stood at 6 and I was not getting anywhere. I had to start preparing to go home. First, I had to pause at the Commonwealth War Graves Memorial to pay my respects. Strangely enough I had not seen too many CWGC headstones in the cemetery, and I found the Cross of Sacrifice purely by accident,
And with that I had to close off Kensal Green, I still had to stop next door at St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, but given how the sleet was turning to snow I expected that I would not be able to spend much time there at all. Use the arrow below to access the St Mary’s page
© DRW 2013-2020. Images recreated and links repaired 29/03/2016, St Mary’s
split off 01/02/2017