Number 2 on my agenda on this fine morning in June 2016 was a visit to Kensal Green (all Souls) Cemetery, although St Mary’s next door was my real priority. I had managed to snag most of the Victoria Cross graves in 2013, so this was a visit to see whether I could photograph the others that I am missing, and update any images that I had. The weather on my original trip had been grey and cloudy and while it was grey and cloudy on this day it did seem just a bit nicer and brighter.
However, the moment I walked down that path I was shocked. In places the grass was so high I could not see into the 3rd row of graves! It reminded me that the weather can affect the vegetation and it is a never ending task to keep a cemetery free of undergrowth, and that is true of South Africa as well as Britain.
I really just followed the path, heading towards the chapel, photographing as I walked; at least the weather was a wee bit lighter but I was scared that it would rain so I had to make sure there was a place to shelter. In the back of my mind was a grave I really wanted to find as I had not really done a decent job of it last time around, and it really intrigued me. The only clue I really had was that the gasometer was visible in the background so at least I knew which side of the path it was on.
The cemetery has a lot of mausoleums and statues. Some are in a derelict condition, some are not, and some are listed buildings and are to be restored. Most are sealed against the weather and intruders, and some are so tangled into the undergrowth they have almost disappeared.
The chapel is really more like a huge crumbling art gallery that is in dire need of restoration, and there is no real way to photograph the whole building in one image, it is just too wide. On the end bay of each wing are statues but the plaster in the bays is crumbling in places and the floors no longer seem all that certain. What did this building look like when it was built? It must have really been an impressive structure. Today it looked like it was about ready to give up.
I continued past the chapel, really looking for one mausoleum in particular….
This is the Andrew Ducrow Mausoleum, and it is really an exercise in Egyptian and Greek mythology. It must have been quite a spectacle way back when it was erected, because that is certainly true of it today.
It was VC hunting time, and I headed towards the areas where my map indicated. But, in all of the locations that I visited I was unable to find the graves (which were mostly flat slabs) due to the excessive grass and undergrowth. The one exception being when I stopped to look around and looked down to find I was standing next to a VC grave! I headed towards the “colonnades” which are situated along the one boundary of the cemetery. A block of flats backed onto the structure and a box came flying out of one of the windows to fall close to the top of the structure.
I still cannot quite fathom what this structure was for, and the Kensall Green website does provide an explanation: “… Along part of the northern boundary-wall a series of catacombs extends, which are at present calculated to contain about 2000 coffins. The line of these vaults is indicated, above ground, by a colonnade of Greek architecture, designed for the preservation of tablets and other monuments in memory of the persons whose bodies are deposited underneath”. (http://www.kensalgreencemetery.com/history/index1.html)” Where was the entrance to these catacombs? apparently there was a door on the west side, now hidden by undergrowth. However the colonnades are crumbling and most of the wall memorials are now blackened remnants, and in some case they have fallen off already and their remains scatter the floor. It is however a fascinating structure and makes for interesting photography. I did a photo essay on the structure with more images of the memorials in it.
With my VC search abandoned I now decided it was time to find my missing grave. In 2013 I had photographed a statue of a small girl leaning on a cross, but had not managed to photograph the inscription, and I wanted that inscription. However, she was intent on not being found and I waded through waist high wet grass looking for a small statue to no avail. I had more or less given up completely when my meanderings took me back to the area where the skeletons of the gasometers stand. It was almost as if this child was teasing me because I knew she was around, but did not know where. Then I spotted her out of the corner of my eye and was able to finally put a name to a statue.
Her name was Winnie Smith, and she died on 20 March 1904 and she was almost 6 years old when she passed on. She has stood her lonely vigil for over 100 years, and the odds are there is nobody alive from her immediate family that even remembers who she was. But, I had remembered and was glad that I could finally put a name to that small statue. Curiously it is very possible that this is a representation of what she looked like in real life as this is not an off the shelf statue.
Kensal Green does have a lot of angels in various states of repair, and I saw quite a few that I had missed in 2013.
The CWGC records that there are 536 burials in the cemetery although I did not see too many scattered graves. In 2013 I had not had the chance to photograph the small plot of graves close to the exit as it was undergoing restoration at the time. This time around I was fortunate enough to be able to visit it and photograph the graves of which 3 were of South Africans.
I also visited the Screen Wall where more casualties are listed as having graves that could no longer be individually marked.
And having completed that area it was time to head for home and the Thames to take my last images of the RMS St Helena. Kensal Green is an impressive cemetery that is best experienced twice. It is big, it can be very overgrown in parts, it can be overwhelming in others. There are areas where recent burials have occurred and you may end up bumping into grave diggers along the way (I did). It is hard to know what it looked like when it was founded, or how it looked over the years. However, there is one sobering memorial that must be shown.
My time was up, and I will leave you with more random images.
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