Tower Hamlets, a quick look

During the month I was in London in 2013, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit 5 out of the “magnificent seven” cemeteries in that city (Highgate, Kensal Green, Abney Park, Brompton, and Nunhead). Each was different, and each had its own attraction. Two of them eluded me though, and at the last moment I decided to try for Tower Hamlets during my trip to London on 15 August 2014. It was either that or Bunhill Fields (finally saw it in 2016), but the attraction of getting another of those famous cems under my belt was too great to ignore.  I hit the tube early, bailing at Miles End on the Central Line. The cemetery is a short walk from the station and easily found. 


Unfortunately though it was a bit of a gloomy overcast morning and the clouds kept on coming and going. There was a lodge, but no visitors center to pop into, or toilets for that matter.  My first find was a good one, I have been looking to photograph one of these headstones for ages and this was my first and she was one of the closest graves to the entrance gates.  

And having seen it I am not too sure whether I really like the headstone after all, it seems slightly over melodramatic. My handy cemetery book says that the cemetery is 29 acres of greenery, and the greenery was obvious almost immediately. In fact I was reminded of Abney Park although the paths seemed a bit wider here.  

Like many of these cemeteries it is a series of meandering paths that seemingly ends up somewhere. You literally take a path and follow it until you end up back where you started, (or keeping going in circles until you get tired). The first detour I made was to the War Memorial,  tower_hamlets009

There are no CWGC headstones in the cemetery and there are 283 casualties listed as being buried here. And while it is more about bulb planting, this map gives a rough indication of the layout of the cemetery. My aiming point was a memorial which was close to Holly Walk on the map. 


As I walked along the path I stopped and spotted one interesting memorial which I made a detour to photograph, on reflection this was probably the most ornate of them all that I saw.   

Continuing further I spotted a path and stopped, because coming up the path was what I thought was a fox. We stood and looked at each other and I started taking pics, but he was a bit far and I could not be 100% sure. It did not look like a dog, but the bushy tail was not there, and I will be honest I do not really know whether it was one or not. I like to think it was.  

Eventually I came to the memorial I was looking for.

The cemetery was bombed during the war, and a number of memorials and buildings were damaged by bombs, it is also probable that a number of graves were damaged too, and of course the dead are buried in this cemetery. The Docklands area is not too far away and that was a prime target for the bombers overhead. 

I continued my meander, pausing occasionally to photograph a headstone or a group of headstones.  

The designs are all very similar and virtually indistinguishable in the undergrowth.  Again the similarity with Abney Park is very prominent, although the paths here were well tended and overall the cemetery was wild, but not madly unkempt. There is a a Friends Group that looks after the cemetery, and they do seem to be doing a reasonable job considering that they are probably all volunteers.  Eventually I came to what was nice grouping of memorials, and it was actually quite odd to see this group together.   

The grouping on the left have two different surnames, while the grouping on the right have the same, but why the similar headstones? I have no idea. Still, the two crosses were really stunning, although both of the angel figurines are looking somewhat worn.  Various areas of the cemetery are named as woods, dales and glades, and given the nature of the place it is well suited to what I was seeing around me.   

One thing I did feel was that there wasn’t that heaviness that I experienced in Highgate and Nunhead, and it was actually a nice cemetery to walk through. It was obviously very popular with the locals as I kept on encountering people walking or jogging through it. That  is one thing I do like about these glorious old cemeteries, they have become parks in their own right, in the Victorian Era they were seen as places to visit and promenade, today they are green spaces to use at leisure.   

Then it was time to head off to my next destination, the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red commemoration at the Tower of London. I was planning to go from Miles End to Liverpool Street and then onwards to Tower Hill Station. I hadn’t spent as much time as I had planned here, so had a bit of leeway to play with.  I had not been able to find the ruins of the Anglican Chapel that were somewhere in the cemetery, but had seen pretty much what I wanted to so as to get a feel for the place. The last thing I photographed was the slightly derelict lodge, which really needed some TLC. 

In many of the cemeteries I had been in the lodges were in private hands, and I think that they could make for interesting living spaces, after all, you are at the doorway of one of London’s Magnificent Seven, and a very pretty place it is too.  

Tower Hamlets is not a great cem, it will never be on the scale of Highgate or Brompton, but it does feel like a lot of the normal people of London are buried here as opposed to the “upper crust” buried in the more better known cemeteries, but at the end of the day, when the money ran out they all faced the same issues with all of these garden cemeteries (with the exception of Brompton), a cemetery that became an urban forest, and is now a tourist attraction for those who like rooting amongst the long forgotten dead. 

DRW ©  2014-2022. Created 15/08/2014, images recreated 19/04/2016

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