musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: Victorian

Revisiting Brompton.

When I first went to Brompton Cemetery on 25 March I had returned unimpressed. So much so that I kept trying to work out why. I do expect the weather had something to do with because the cemetery was not really memorable at all. There was only one thing to do and that was return, this time on a day that theoretically could have a hint of sunlight. I also had the opportunity to try to find some of the VC recipient graves I had not found before. Don’t get me wrong though, the 6th of April was not as warm as it promised. 
The nice thing about Brompton though is that it is reasonably linear, so finding things isn’t all that impossible, however the legibility of the headstones is problematic.  There are quite a few mausoleums and impressive statues too, so they are always first in my mind. In spite of two visits to this cemetery I was not able to find the reported statue of two children in their Sunday best. A myth? or me not looking properly? (Apparently it does exist, but I just didn’t find it)
The Chapel is an impressive structure, one that would not look out of place in London’s business district. Leading off of the chapel are the two pillared structures that don’t really seem to serve any function, except for being the roof of the crypt. They are really magnificent structures, and in a remarkably good condition, unlike the similar structure that I saw in Kensal Green.
There seem to be 3 gates per side leading into the crypt underneath, and through the doors I could see coffins in shelves. I was surprised because I would have thought that the Victorians would have been somewhat more circumspect about having coffins in view through a door. However,  I was looking at something that was over 100 years old, and circumstances may have changed. 
There are a number of “celebrities” and famous people buried here, including Samuel Cunard, Emmeline Pankhurst, Richard Tauber and a few that are “before my time”. It was probably a very fashionable cemetery to be buried in during its heyday. Considering that it opened in 1840, it really has a wide selection of everybody in English Society. 
Military monument wise, apart from the 12 VC graves, there is also a Chelsea Pensioners plot and Memorial.
And an extensive Brigade of Guards Memorial which has been used since 1854.
What I did like was that the cemetery was obviously a much appreciated recreation space for the local community, and on the day I was there a large number of families were taking a walk through this Royal Park and enjoying the atmosphere of it. It is really quite a nice tidy cemetery, although parts of it are reminiscent of the vegetative chaos of Nunhead.
Brompton had redeemed itself considerably, and I was about ready to head off home. A last look around before I left and my whole outlook had changed. The weather had definitely contributed to my second opinion, but I also expect I was able to view it with a different eye. There are over 200.000 burials registered here, some being relatively recent too, and yet it doesn’t feel too cluttered or chaotic.  
And, there are some really nice angels and headstones too, even the pigeons and squirrels seem quite content to mooch off passing visitors. And, there is the obligatory sleepy lion. 
Strange, it is the third lion I have seen in the “magnificent seven” garden cemeteries of London.
The catacombs are to be found underneath the collonades and they have wonderful steel gates on them that can show a glimpse of what lies within.
It is a strange thing to see, however we must not look at a place like Brompton, or any of those vast Victorian cemeteries through the eye of a 2016 viewer, but rather through the eyes of the Victorians, and then we may understand.
Brompton is the only public cemetery to remain under government control and is now managed by the Royal Parks Agency.
There  are a number of Victoria Cross holders buried inside it’s walls,  the most famous being that of Sub-Lieut Reginald Alexander Warneford VC.
And that concluded my second Brompton visit, and I was glad that I took the trip out there with so few days left in London.  

 Random Images from my 2nd visit.


DRW © 2013-2018. Images redone 29/02/2016. Additional images added 01/01/2017
Updated: 28/12/2017 — 07:19

London Highgate (West) Cemetery

Having seen Highgate East Cemetery it was inevitable that I would want to see the West Cemetery. Unfortunately you may only see it as part of an official tour; still, it is better than not seeing it. On the day of my tour the sun was battling to stick out its head so light conditions varied all the time. I was also suffering from battery problems so had to use my cellphone as a camera while I passed the time at Highgate East.
Entrance is through the ornate chapel/lodge/gate house and once through the gates up a flight of stairs to the cemetery. The cemetery is built on a hill so it is a upward climb for part of the way. There are quite a few similarities between the two Highgates, although the formal pathways here seemed much better than in the East cemetery. However, the same ornate memorials abounded, and again I was left thinking about what it must have looked like when it was open and funerals were happening here. 
The one thing that West has that East hasn’t are the crypts and mausoleums on a grand scale. The most famous being the Egyptian Avenue which was clever way to cash in on the Victorian mania for things Egyptian. Today it is more reminiscent of a casino gone wrong. The open topped avenue is lined with vaults and built on a slope leading into an even more grand area. 
 One of the ideas at Highgate was to create a central vault lined pathway topped by a tree. This ideal still exists, although now it is somewhat of a faded representation of what it was supposed to be. Apparently the vaults did not really sell very well and many stood empty for years. 
From here a set of stairs took you up another levels where you could look down on this circular area and see the 300 year old cedar tree that served as a centerpiece.
Once finished at the Egyptian Avenue we were on another level that led up to the crypt as well as another of the curved pathways that runs inside the cemetery. The crypt area is interesting because it is quite a large hallway with glassed in panels in the roof to let light in. It is a dark and gloomy place and were were not allowed to take photographs inside of it. Some of the chambers were open and we could see the coffins inside.
The cemetery has its own ecosystem and the guide said that a colony of bats made this their home too. Given the atmosphere in the crypt all it would have taken would be one bat to make us all run for cover. The roof and chapel above was supposedly a popular place in the Victorian era and people would come here for a Sunday stroll and picnic. We were not able to see this “promenade” above because of safety issues, but it once afforded amazing views of London.
Highgate is also famous for some of its beautiful headstones, and I am sure we missed some of them, but a few that we did see was “Nero the Lion”, headstone of  George Wombwell.
 The grave of George Sayer with its famous resting dog.
The famous “Sleeping Angel”
 And probably many more that I never saw or that are not on the official tour. 
There are many considerations to be made when it comes to a cemetery like this. For starters safety is a major concern, many of the monuments are at drunken angles already, and the way underfoot is muddy in many areas. However, the question I ask is “who is really responsible for these memorials?” the cemetery is now run by “The Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust” and by the looks of it they are now the custodians of those memorials and the bodies in the crypts. Burials still happen here, although it does not come cheap, and I expect more people get buried in the East Cemetery than the West.
Part of me feels that I missed a lot during the tour which lasts just over an hour, but then I expect they can only show the areas that are safe. But I do hope that one day they will open up more of the cemetery so that we can see more of this Victorian “folly”, because if you look at it rationally, it is a folly, the people who created it never looked as far as 100 years down the line when it would be full, demographics would change and people no longer believed in having an edifice for a tomb.
 Maybe somewhere down the line, in another 100 years time people will be doing tours of our 20th century grid pattern cemteries and trying to to understand why we did things the way we did.


Random images 

DRW © 2013-2018. Recreated images 28/02/2016, more images added 01/01/2017
Updated: 28/12/2017 — 07:23

Nunhead Cemetery.

The deciding factor about visiting Nunhead Cemetery was weather. We had had a light dusting of snow through the night and while a return to Highgate East was a possibility, Nunhead was theoretically closer. My information said catch a 78 bus in Peckham, which I did; and I ended up at Tower Bridge instead! I should have caught it in the other direction! So it was back to Peckham I went. Nunhead is situated at co-ordinates  51.464171°,  -0.053068°

My cemetery guide considers Nunhead to be one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries in London, although it does seem to be somewhat overlooked in favour of Highgate and Kensal Green. It was consecrated in 1840 and became a popular place for many eminent citizens in the area. Sadly though it too suffered from a lack of maintenance and changes of ownership and the result today is more like a woodland than a cemetery. In fact, it is now considered to be a nature reserve.



The first thing you see as you walk through the gates are the remains of the Anglican Chapel, with the paths heading left or right from there. Realistically this is not so much a cemetery of individual graves, rather it is about graves in the woods because there are graves literally scattered amongst the thick foliage.

nunhead 163
Following the path is made more difficult by the large ponds of water and mud that is the result of the weather, and possibly high water table. 
The remnants of snow made everything look different to what I was used to. And it was really pretty. As usual I was looking for statues and Angels, but there did not seem to be too many of them, although how many were lurking in the trees? 
The cemetery is also a very popular place for people taking their weekend stroll and the many dog walkers testified to how popular the cemetery was with the local dog population. That is what I love about these old cemeteries, they are seen as parks, rather than cities of the dead.  
I was also hoping to spot lots of mausoleums, but was disappointed, although there was one that really stood out. This is the mausoleum of John Allan, sculpted by Matthew Noble. And while it may have been the most expensive, it is certainly the most complicated that I saw here.  
The young lady below, seemingly all alone in the corner was locked up in the chapel, a waste of a really pretty statue as far as I am concerned.
The question arises, how do you deal with a place like this? if you remove all the foliage and trees you may uncover many more graves, but then what? there are many signs warning of the instability of some of the memorials and I was not really willing to be brained by an angel who decided to fall off her pedestal.  These places can be dangerous, but then so is crossing the road.

There are 580 Commonwealth War Graves from the First World War, with the majority being in 3 war grave plots. But to be honest I missed seeing most of them. I only saw a small plot of about 40 graves of which a number were South Africans, and I am glad I didn’t have to hunt down the CWGC graves in the bush. 
The graves in the United Kingdom plot and the remaining war graves scattered throughout the cemetery could not be marked individually; the casualties buried in these graves are therefore commemorated by name on a screen wall inside the main entrance gate to the cemetery.  A second Screen Wall commemorates the 110 burials of the 1939-1945 war in a further war graves plot in Square 5 and elsewhere in the cemetery whose graves could not be marked by headstones.  With hindsight I am sorry that I did not photograph the plaques on it.


I really liked the snow effect because it lent some colour to what was a drab and gray day.  I would have liked to see the cemetery in the sunlight and without those huge mud puddles. 

Then it was time to consider heading home. I was cold and damp and time was marching. I was still thinking about going to Camberwell Old Cemetery which was close by, but at that point had not made a final decision as yet.  

This beautiful mausoleum has two similar duplicates in West Norwood, although they are in a much better condition. They were built by the architect Harold Peto, using terracotta, this particular example was built for Mrs Laura Stearns. 


And like most cemeteries there are stories to be told.  This snow covered plaque made for interesting reading.  


I investigated this story and discovered part of its history on the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery website.  It seems as if 1912 was not a very good year in which to go on ships or boats.



That path was tantalising, it could lead anywhere, I could even end up going in circles. Its true, navigation in a place like this is difficult. You realistically need a map (or two)

At ground level however, things look very similar, and I know I ended up taking the same path at least 3 times.  Ideally a gps would help, but they are not really geared for walking navigation the way I do it, and the gps on the phone can be extremely irritating. I need to think about alternatives though.

Random Pics

I had walked the cemetery flat, and I doubt whether I saw all of it. I was cold, damp and slightly happy with myself. I bid this faded lady a fond farewell, she was my first Cemetery in The Snow and she did not disappoint. The cemetery is run by Friends of Nunhead Cemetery and it is well worth the trip. Do not expect too many individual headstones though, unless you have lots of patience, wellington boots and all the time in the world.

 DRW © 2013-2018. Recreated images and added 4 new images 02/03/2016
Updated: 22/06/2018 — 12:54

London Highgate (East) Cemetery

I suppose we all have places we want to see before we die. Some of us have places we want to see before we die and then get buried in them! Highgate Cemetery is definitely on my list. Situated in walking distance from Archway underground station on the Northern Line, it is well worth taking a trip to. The cemetery is divided into an East Side and West Side, although on this occasion my trip only covered the East Side. Google Earth co-ordinates are:  51.566900°,  -0.146533° 


Once past the gates there are just graves, tangled undergrowth, trees and more graves. It seems to be as if somebody randomly buried people, but I do believe there is some sort of sense to what is going on there. The first grave, is that of Mary Ann Webster,  who was buried here on 12 June 1860. 26 years before Johannesburg was founded!

Bear in mind that way back in 1860 people still used horse drawn hearses and the Victorians were doing their best at mourning. I don’t know how quickly it filled, but it soon became THE place to be seen when you died. I did expect a lot of artistic statuary, but strangely enough there wasn’t too much, instead I did see a lot of similar headstones, and some had incredibly long inscriptions too. 
In parts the undergrowth has completely covered the graves, and moss and lichens abound. In fact the cemetery seems to be its own ecosystem. Given the amount of rain and fertile soil the dominant colour is green. 

And there is abundant birdlife and I even saw squirrels going about their business amongst the dead. The cemetery has seen the Boer War, and both World Wars, and I saw graves from all three of these conflicts. There is even the grave of a Victoria Cross Holder, Sergeant Robert Grant, (1837-1867), who won his VC during the Indian Rebellion. 
There are supposedly 316 identified Casualties listed by the Commonwealth War Graves in the cemetery . Most that I saw were easily identified by the familiar white headstone, 
A Cross of Sacrifice is situated in the West Side of the Cemetery, but I could not access it and ended up photographing it through the fence. 
The rich and famous have also found their repose here, amongst others are Karl Marx, Sir Ralph Richardson, Douglas Adams, and Dr Yusuf Dadoo from South Africa. Karl Marx seems to garner the most attention, but I was much happier to see the grave of Douglas Adams. “Don’t Panic” was all I could say to him. 
Of course the weather was variable during my visit, and I experienced rain and sunshine, but I can just imagine what it must look like during a snow storm. This is not a cemetery that is easy to visit. While there are tarred main roads inside it, there are also very treacherous paths between the graves that are really like a series of connected mud patches. The moss and lichen is also growing on everything, and what interested me was how it would often grow in the shape of the inscriptions on the headstones.
The cemetery is still in use and is operated by Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust.  Tours of the West Side are run from Monday to Sunday and I am definitely going to do one before I leave London. In fact, I will probably redo the East Side again just because it is so beautiful. 

London Fire Brigade Memorial

 This is Joyce, she is one of my favourite children’s statues. It seems as if she was 5 years old when she died, but even though I have many photographs of her I do not have a picture of her plinth. She is pretty though, in a battered and weathered fashion, and that is true for many of the statues and angels in this cemetery.

Except it may not be true for this fellow, I had missed seeing him the first time I was here, but spotted him the second time around.


A lot of the artwork just overflows with emotion and beauty, and there are another two pieces I am very fond of in this cemetery:


I have never really understood art for arts sake, but some of these works that I see in cemeteries are all about emotion and devotion. They can be very powerful.


Highgate, as the first of the “Magnificent Seven” would unfairly become the yardstick by which I would measure the other six of these famous cemeteries in London. In all fairness though, it should be the Magnificent Eight because Highgate West is really a cemetery in it’s own right. With retrospect these two places are very different, even though they are across the road from each other.


In all likelihood, the next time I go to Highgate I will see different headstones to what I saw in March 2013, and hopefully by then I will have all 7 (or 8) of the Magnificent Seven under my belt, and I will see it once again through new eyes.  And because there is so much to see at Highgate East I have created a whole page dedicated to photographs of Highgate East. This can be accessed by turning the page. 

© DRW 2013-2018. Reviewed 21/01/2015, recreated images 28/02/2016
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 15:51
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