musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: Southwark

Camberwell Cemeteries in Danger

When I first arrived in London in 2013, one of the first cemeteries I visited was Camberwell Old Cemetery and at the time I did not really take too much notice of it. It is an old cemetery and there is a small chance that I may have family buried there, but I cannot confirm it.

I visited the cemetery twice, and on both occasions the weather was grey and chilly and the remnants of snow may still be seen on some of my pics. I had no real reason to visit it though, and it was by sheer luck that I picked up one of the two Victoria Cross burials in the cemetery during my first visit (Albert McKenzie VC).

The cemetery was really divided in two, the first part being a normal maintained cemetery, while the other being a heavily wooded area, probably much older and reminiscent of Nunhead Cemetery. Given the weather I did not explore very long in this area because the mud and undergrowth really precluded doing very much. I was actually quite puzzled by the state of this area, but I did not know the history at the time. 

The cemetery is located on Forest Hill Road, and covers approximately 30 acres (0.12 km2).  The site was purchased in 1855 and it was originally meadow land.  The first interment took place in  July 1856 and over 30,000 burials took place in the subsequent 30 years. In 1874 the cemetery was further expanded by seven more acres and by 1984, there were 300,000 interments. (

Map courtesy of Kevin Brazier

There are 291 First World War burials, and war graves plot is in the north-east corner of the cemetery and contains two screen walls. One commemorates almost 160 casualties buried in the plot, the other bears the names of those buried in the remaining war graves scattered throughout the cemetery that could not be individually marked. Those remaining graves are much important than we realise in the light of what is happening at Camberwell Old Cemetery.

The war graves plot also contains a group of special memorials to the 14 casualties of the Second World War buried in the cemetery. 


So what is going on at Camberwell Old Cemetery?

From what  I can  read in short it is “Southwark Council is cutting down acres of inner city woods to mound over graves and next to dig up thousands of people’s remains to sell their graves as ‘new’ burial plots” (  That will include the unknown burial plots of the war graves scattered that are throughout the cemetery that could not be individually marked. The cemetery is more than a mere burial place, it is a green lung in a busy city, it provides homes for woodland and small creatures, it is a valuable recreational space and it is a historic cemetery. It is difficult to know the whole story because there are two sides to each story, but my gut instinct says that what they want to do is fundamentally wrong, although the rational part of me says that come hell or high water they are going to do it irrespective.  The part that really gets to me is that “the Church of England has said the Commonwealth War Graves Commission do not need to mark the poor soldiers’ graves – to avoid making them seem special and for ‘practical purposes’, that is, to allow cemeteries to bury on top of them”. It would be interesting to know why these graves have been “lost” in the first place and why they were not accorded a CWGC headstone at the time. I do suspect that there may be private memorials involved, and as such CWGC has no real jurisdiction over those graves.   

Camberwell New Cemetery

Before I made my second trip  I first visited Camberwell New Cemetery which is not too far away. It contains 198 Second World War burials, almost 80 of them forming a war graves plot and the rest are scattered throughout the cemetery. A screen wall commemorates almost 120 of these casualties (including those buried in the plot) whose graves could not be marked with individual headstones, together with a further 56 Second World War casualties whose remains were cremated in Camberwell (Honor Oak) Crematorium.  

I will be honest and say that the cemetery was not really memorable, in fact I took very few photographs of the place.

In 1926 the first part of the land was laid out as a cemetery and was consecrated by the Right Reverend William Woodcock Hough, Bishop of Woolwich, and the first interment took place on 23 May 1927. The Crematorium was built in 1939 to meet a growing demand for cremations and it is situated in the cemetery grounds, ten acres of which were landscaped as memorial gardens. 

What did interest me at this cemetery was the Civilian Casualties Memorial that was seemingly under restoration.

This was the first one that I had seen since arriving in London, and I have seen a number of others since then. 

I did not spend too long at this cemetery and set off for Camberwell Old Cemetery to photograph the grave of William Stanlake VC, and I recall at the time thinking that finding it in that mass of vegetation was going to be very difficult, but fortunately the plot was easily found.

Path to the grave of William Stanlake VC.

And then I headed off for home. I seem to recall visiting Motherwell and Brockley cemetery on this trip too. No wonder I was so tired all of the time. 

The destruction that is happening at these two cemeteries is very sad, and while I do not live in London I do have an interest in these happening because I have seen it so often before. I do not think that the destruction and re-use of these two cemeteries can be halted, but I do hope that the damage can be minimised or stopped before these two spaces are irreversibly changed.

It is worth visiting the  Friend of Camberwell Cemeteries website to read for yourself what is going on. Let us hope that sanity prevails. 

© DRW 2013-2018. Retrospectively created 11/03/2017

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:53

Southwark Cathedral

Southwark Cathedral was the first cathedral in the UK that I saw the interior of, and it does have a special significance to me because my grandmother grew up very close to the building and may even have attended there are one time.
Unfortunately it has become hemmed in and tends to blend with the surroundings, making you forget that there is a cathedral right under your nose.
This was also the first cathedral that I photographed and back then did not know too much about the structure of such a building and what to my pics are really a hodge podge. 
Parts of it were also out of bounds so I did not get to see everything, and the little old ladies at the door were very insistent that flash photography was not allowed, and that a permit was needed to photograph within the cathedral.
It was also in this cathedral that I saw my first effigy, I had seen wall memorials in a local parish church, although that had just piqued my curiosity more.
As mentioned before, trying to fathom the complete building is quite difficult, and of course a map is always a handy thing to be able to refer to.
and a model helps a bit as well.
I am not sure whether my grandmother or her siblings were baptised in the cathedral, although she was born in the late 1890’s and by then it was still a parish church. If she had been baptised here then as a baby she may have seen the font cover depicted below.
Of course there are many aspects to a cathedral that are merely decorative and some are decorative and functional too.
Yet, a cathedral is also a place where you attended church on a Sunday (or whenever you could or had to), and the pulpit was the place where the sermon was delivered from.  Many of these pulpits are ornately carved creations and very old. Could my grandmother have listen to the parish priest preaching from this pulpit?

What I did find strange was that there were no real pews as I know them, instead there are loose chairs. It must have been quite noisy when everybody stood up to sing a hymn and pushed their chairs backwards.

And yes, there is a war memorial, but instead of showing that I would like to show two other memorials that are in the cathedral.
And of course there is the Marchioness Disaster Memorial. This happened on the 20th of August 1989 near Canon Street Railway Station Bridge. 51 People lost their lives and the event is commemorated at the cathedral.
Southwark Cathedral has been around for a long time, and the history within it is not always pleasant. It is in the nature of buildings like this that they become a beacon of hope for those around them, and centres for the community to engage with their “Maker”. The hopes and dreams of people are within these walls too, and for many it was the place where they were laid to rest. The churchyard here has been swallowed up a long time ago and I really had to look to find evidence that it even existed at all.
There are enough clues to be able to say that part of the graveyard is outside these windows, but there are no visible headstones to confirm anything. One of the information signs does mention a churchyard, but was not too specific about the location, or extent of it. Within the walls of the Cathedral are excavated areas that are on display, and there is a stone coffin amongst those excavations.
If buildings could talk, just what would Southwark Cathedral have to say to us?

The facts remain:

A church has stood on this site for over 1400 years
A convent was founded in 606AD
A monastery established by St Swithun in the 9th Century became and Augustinian Priory under the Normans in 1106AD, and Norman stonework can still be seen. After the dissolution of the monastery in 1539 the Priory Church became the Parish Church of St Saviour in the diocese of Winchester.
It is the first Gothic church to be built in London (1212)
It was consecrated as a cathedral in 1905

© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 26/03/2016 

Updated: 26/12/2017 — 15:54

Finding Crossbones Graveyard

I first heard about Crossbones while talking to somebody at Southwark Cathedral, but got my lines crossed and ended up at  St Mary Magdalen in Bermondsey instead.   This time around my information was provided by a helpful attendant at The Clink Prison Museum.  He gave me a handy map and off I went. The site wasn’t too far away either and I would have missed it had I not known where to look.
The area is mostly fenced closed except for a single gate that is adorned by tributes from locals. A plaque confirmed that I was at the right place.
The history of Crossbones is one of those complex histories that probably is best left to those who know more about it that I do. But as far as graveyards and cemeteries go, it is an old one, and a very full one too. With estimates of up to 15000 people buried there. 
Described as a “non-place” it was inevitable that somebody would decide to erect some glitzy chrome and glass monolith there, however, as is the case with most cemeteries, there are things you can do, and things you can’t. And excavations at Crossbones were conducted in the 1990’s. Local opposition also prevented any development and Crossbones was able to sustain its tenuous existence.
The site is really an overgrown plot of land, with no headstones or visible signs that it is a graveyard, however there is a sense of aura about it. I was drawn to the site and part of me wanted to scale that fence and just absorb what there was. I haven’t felt that strange feeling in years, and that’s probably why I am writing this at the moment.
My internet reading did provide an video that satisfied some of my curiosity though. The People of Crossbones Graveyard just made me more curious to see and experience this place.
The conditions that the people lived under all those years ago are not really the sort of thing we can imagine so many years down the line. The question I have is: what was the extent of this graveyard? it seems to be very small for 15000 burials, even given the haphazardness of these burials all those years ago. How much documentation is there about it? and just who were they?
Crossbones may be found on Google Earth at  51.503973°  -0.093477°. I had hoped to return again when there was sunshine and take more photographs, and I definitely felt that my sojourn here had not come the full circle. The next vigil was scheduled for the 23rd of March, and I hoped to be there.
Unfortunately I came down with a chest infection and ended up in bed instead. I relocated from London early in April and never did get to return, so the images I have are all that I have to remember of this strange place.
Update 2017.
I believe Crossbones is now available as a tourist destination and is “open” to the public, however you probably need to double check on which days tours are done.
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 26/03/2016 
Updated: 22/06/2018 — 12:55

A quick stroll up the road

I had decided that one of the places I wanted to visit in London was the Imperial War Museum. This  repository of all things military has a fearsome reputation of being an awesome place, amongst military historians caps are removed and it is spoke of in hushed tones. I decided that seeing as it was a mere 2 tube stops away I would tackle it on my first day in London. However, as I came to the exit of the Elephant and Castle Tube Station a sign informed me that it was closed till July!!!
I was seriously disappointed, but was still determined to see the place so boldly went walkies, Naturally having to turn around almost immediately because I was going in the wrong direction! Eventually I got my bearings and soon found the glorious building with those vintage naval guns dominating everything. 
I always was under the impression that the guns originated from HMS Rodney, but the information sheet informs that they originate from other ships; the left from HMS Ramillies, while the gun on the right is from HMS Resolution. Both are 15 inch guns with a range of about 29 kilometres. Their shells are no toys either, weighing in at about 876 kg. I was very overwhelmed by these guns though, they were still not the largest guns ever mounted on a battleship.
Lip dragging in the floor, I left those guns and headed in what I thought was the way home, only to end up in the maze of side streets that are in the Borough of Southwark. Unfortunately that was where I made a slight mistake and I ended up meandering around, being very overwhelmed by all I was seeing around me. 
The nice thing is that in the midst of this city there is both old and new side by side. Their age and condition varying from street to street. The traffic is fast moving, but disciplined; cars stop at pedestrian crossings, cyclists use hand signals and the robots actually work. It is also a very multicultural society and the area where I am staying has a real mix of European, Africa, Asian and everything in between. Sadly though I keep on bumping into South Africans!
That concluded my abortive trip to the Imperial War Museum. I am not amused!!! However, I will probably be around in July anyway, so may still get to see it. I look forward to that a lot.
I finally did get to the IWM in August 2014, and I was disappointed. It is not easy to explain, but I did do a blog post about my experience. The guns however are still magnificent!
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 26/03/2016
Updated: 02/02/2018 — 07:47

UK Trip August 2008: London

Continuing where we left off….

Having arrived in London safely, we caught a black cab to our hotel which was situated next to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. 

I was impressed! although I was not as impressed with the hotel inspite of its location.  Our itinerary was not really tied to anything, although the company had provided us with a voucher to go on the Thames River cruise as well as an open top bus ride. My itinerary really boiled down to HMS Belfast, Southwark and that was it! But, I had to make allowances for my work colleague, so we hopped a boat to take us down to where we needed to get a boat to bring us back to where we started from. 
I was also interested in things that float on the Thames, and there are quite a few apart from HMS Belfast. For starters there was the Queen Mary (no longer in London)


HMS President

and of course Wellington.

We took a stroll along the embankment too, and I found quite a few interesting memorials along the way, including the RAF and Battle of Britain Monument and the National Submarine War Memorial
We also saw Cleopatra’s Needle which was being refurbished. 
And of course the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
These were places that I had read about when I was young and now they were slap bang in front of me. It was a very strange feeling indeed. In 2013 I revisited most of these sites and saw them in a whole new light. (I have also used the original images in this blogpost rather than 2013 images).
The London Eye was tempting though, and I went to find out how you got a ticket, but there was a queue to get into the queue to buy a ticket so I gave it a miss! 
This part of the touristy thang completed we made our way back to the hotel. The weather so far had been lousy for photography, but it slowly started to improve once we started threading our way back. We walked along the river and crossed each bridge as we encountered them. It added more miles but gave us a great view along the way. 
My end destination was Southwark. I really wanted to see the area where my grandmother had grown up and much to my surprise the street still existed, and the address was still current, although the house was long gone. 
We also detoured past Southwark Cathedral, and I regretted not having a better look at it at the time, I did a blogpost about my 2013 visit to the Cathedral though, and saw what I wanted to. 
And then I was at HMS Belfast, and a ship I was hell bent on seeing! 
I did a complete blogpost on her and there are a lot of images taken on board during this trip and on my 2013 visit. By the time I was finished with her I was finished and I headed back to the hotel via Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
Pausing to have a look at the machinery used to raise the bridge. 
And while the Tower of London was amazing to see from a historical aspect I think I will always remember it from the Blood Swept lands and Seas of Red display that I saw in Nov 2014.
At some point my partner and I also saw a structure that we could not quite identify, but I would solve that in 2013 too.
The next day we hit the open bus tour, although I had already been out before breakfast taking a look at St Katherine’s Dock and the Merchant Navy Memorial at Tower Hill.
We bailed out at Trafalgar Square and walked around admiring this very historic place where so much has happened over the years.
and of course finding South Africa House was a nice surprise for my companion who had no idea it existed.  
and we just had to go through Picadilly Circus too
 and bailed out close by and spent some time browsing a music shop.  
Then it was time to return to our hotel and make preparations to get to our next destination which was High Wycombe. 
We bid London a sad farewell and I personally knew that I had to return here one day. In fact there were tentative plans for a return in 2012, but the collapse of our jobs flushed those plans down the loo. Fortunately I spent a month in London in 2013, so was able to experience much more of the capital, but that is another story altogether.
High Wycombe was tiring, I really wanted to get back to South Africa, and we were situated in an industrial area, away from anything worth seeing. The only thing that I did do is photograph my first cemetery in the UK, and even that one was disappointing. 
Then it was time for Spinach for breakfast as we boarded “Tinker Belle” for our flight back to South Africa.  
It actually felt good to be home, I was bushed. 
It had been a fascinating trip, mainly because of the short period in London. As for what I learnt? strangely enough quite a lot, although it was really wasted when the company chose to flush all the knowledge down the toilet. I would return to the UK in 2013, and that is where the majority of the blogposts now originate from.  This was just a very short glimpse at an experience that I never really forgot. Thanks Ryan and Gayle for the opportunity. 
Random Images: London and High Wycombe

© DRW 2008-2018. Images recreated 06/03/2016

Updated: 24/12/2017 — 10:18
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