St George’s Gardens, Bloomsbury: two 18th Century burial grounds

Although the 19th Century is the most notorious period for desperate overcrowding in the churchyards and burial grounds of London, the problem of finding enough space to bury the city’s dead was not a new one.  As London grew both in population and size during the 18th Century, little room was set aside for cemeteries and the garden we are visiting today is the first example of Anglican churches being forced to locate their burial grounds in far away from the churches themselves.  Today, St George’s Gardens in Bloomsbury is very much a part of central London, but when the two burial grounds that were later landscaped into this pleasant park were first opened, they were surrounded by fields.

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Carved skeletons, Elizabethan theatre giants, and a cat: St Leonard’s, Shoreditch

There are so many fascinating old churches in London – however, St Leonard’s in Shoreditch is the first church where I’ve been greeted by a cat.  Schrödinger, who was featured in an article on Spitalfields Life earlier this year, is a former stray who now lives at the church.  The handsome black and white fellow seemed to spot me as soon as I arrived with my camera, and trotted into the church to wait for me to open the door to let him in.

Schrödinger the cat waits outside the church doors
Schrödinger the cat waits outside the church doors

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Winged skulls and hot air balloons: the grave of Étienne-Gaspard Robert, pioneer of phantasmagoria

Not too far from where musician Jim Morrison is buried in Paris’ Père Lachaise cemetery stands an imposing monument that often gets overlooked by those set on finding Morrison’s memorial.  It stands much taller than the graves around it, and on each corner winged skulls leer down at passers-by.  It’s a superb monument, full of interesting details and rich imagery, and the man it commemorates lived a fascinating life.

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Ely Place: a street in central London that used to be part of Cambridgeshire

The heart of London is full of strange old places with unusual names and odd stories, but there is one place that for a very long time was not a true part of London at all.  Ely Place, just to the north of Holborn Circus, was until relatively recently considered to be a part of Cambridgeshire.  For centuries, it was an enclave – an area of land physically located in the City of London but not under its jurisdiction.  Instead, it was privately owned by the Bishops of Ely, and even today the street has its own gatehouse and beadles.

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Graves with a view: exploring the Isle of Mull’s picturesque burial grounds

The beautiful landscape of the Isle of Mull is dotted with tiny burial grounds, each of them with their own stories to tell.  We’ve already visited Pennygown, with its ruined chapel and graves ranging from the medieval period to the present day.  Some of these cemeteries are close to settlements, others seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  They are all in stunningly beautiful locations.  The words and symbols preserved on the gravestones offer us a glimpse into the history of the island, and of the lives of the people who have lived and died there over the centuries.

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The lonesome grave of a travelling labourer

As a native of Lancashire, I always return to my hometown of Preston to visit my family at Christmas, and one bright Sunday morning I visited the nearby village of Ribchester, probably best known as an old Roman fort. I often visited this place as a child, as there was (and still is) an excellent children’s playground there. We would also inevitably visit the ruins of the Roman bath house, which were not fenced off and to a small child presented an exciting labyrinth of tumbled stones and low walls to clamber over. In Roman times, Ribchester was called Bremetenacum Veteranorum – a possible translation of this is “the hilltop settlement of the veterans.” Some ruins of the fort, including the bath house and granaries, can still be seen today, and many buildings in the village are built with reused Roman stones and columns.

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Ruins of Ribchester’s Roman granaries

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Duart Castle: the turbulent history of the ancestral home of Clan MacLean

It’s impossible to miss Duart Castle.  It stands proudly on a spur of land reaching out into the Sound of Mull, and it’s a familiar sight to people who travel through those waters.  The powerful MacLean clan have controlled Duart Castle for much of its history, using the castle’s prominent location as a symbol of the clan’s power and prestige.  In common with other Scottish castles, Duart has a fascinating, turbulent and sometimes bloody history, from medieval clan wars to the Jacobite uprisings of the 18th Century.  Today, the Chief of Clan MacLean welcomes visitors from all over the world to his family seat, so that they can learn about the history of the castle and the clan that made it their home.

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