19th Century · 20th Century · 21st Century · Battersea

Battersea Arts Centre: a Victorian gem rising from the ashes

When stepping into the grand entrance hall of Battersea Arts Centre, it’s not obvious that only a few months ago a terrible disaster struck the building.  On a Saturday afternoon in October, the place is bustling.  Families have gathered in one of the rooms for a child’s birthday party; half a dozen buggies are parked on one side of the marble staircase.  Other people sip coffee and tuck into snacks at the centre’s cafe bar.  It all seems like a normal day – business as usual – except for the group of people donning high-visibility jackets and hard hats.  They have come to the centre to see for themselves the devastation left by a fire in the centre’s Grand Hall in March 2015, and to hear about the plans to rebuild the venue that has been at the heart of social and cultural life in Battersea for over a century.

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19th Century · Highgate

The Victorian splendour of Highgate’s Western Cemetery

Highgate is London’s famous cemetery – it’s the one that most people think of first when Victorian cemeteries are mentioned and it’s the most well known of the “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries that date from the early Victorian period.  Its location on a hillside overlooking the towers of central London draws thousands of visitors, and the overgrown western cemetery has inspired quite a few chilling tales over the years.  Although it retains the glamour and prestige it commanded in its heyday, Highgate looks quite different now compared to its Victorian beginnings.  Despite the many years of neglect (now being remedied by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery), this wonderful burial ground is still one of the finest locations of Victorian funerary architecture in Britain.

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13th Century · 19th Century · Hornby

The historian and the baron: tales from two churches in a Lancashire village

I visited the Lune Valley again recently, that picturesque corner of Lancashire that I’ve found to be rich in history and fascinating old churches.  This visit was no different – driving into the village of Hornby, a striking octagonal church tower caught my attention.  Stopping to explore this church and the church situated opposite uncovered the stories of two men with strong links to Hornby who both made their mark on history.

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19th Century · 20th Century · Mile End

Novo Beth Chaim: an old Jewish cemetery marooned on a university campus

It’s one of the last places you expect to stumble across an old graveyard, but in the middle of the Mile End campus of Queen Mary, University of London, is a remnant of an old burial ground with many stories to tell about the history of East London and the people who settled there.

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19th Century · 20th Century · City of London

St Alban, Wood Street: an old library book and a lonely church tower

I recently bought a copy of Mrs Basil Holmes’ 1896 book The London Burial Grounds.   Isabella Holmes was a remarkable woman who took it upon herself to explore what had happened to the many burial grounds in inner London that had been closed in the 1850s.  Her book records her findings, something which you can imagine will be a really useful resource for me when researching London’s old and forgotten burial grounds.  However, what I wasn’t expecting was that the book itself would tell more stories than simply the ones contained within its pages.

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17th Century · 19th Century · 20th Century · Chilworth

Chilworth Gunpowder Mills: three centuries of industry in the Surrey Hills

The Surrey Hills – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – isn’t the first place that you’d associate with heavy industry.   Today, thousands of people are drawn to the picturesque hills and the lush green countryside.  However, hidden away in the valley close to the village of Chilworth, near Guildford, are the ruins of an industry that dominated the area for almost 300 years – the manufacturing of gunpowder.

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19th Century · 20th Century · Bow

Tower Hamlets: a neglected cemetery reborn as a nature reserve

Many of London’s big Victorian Cemeteries have suffered over the years.  Originally set up and run by private companies, many of these companies ran into financial difficulties after the Second World War, effectively abandoning cemeteries or selling them cheaply to local authorities.  As a result, these cemeteries became overgrown and vandalised.  Tower Hamlets, one of London’s “Magnificent Seven” Victorian cemeteries, was one of places that found itself derelict and unloved in the late 20th Century.  Thankfully, today all of that has changed.

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18th Century · 19th Century · 6th Century · 7th Century · Bronze Age · Greenwich

An ancient cemetery in the heart of Greenwich Park

Not far from the famous Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park is a field that was once a large cemetery.  Today, all that remains are a few modest mounds that mark where the burials took place, and it’s unlikely that most people who walk past them, or sit on them, have any idea what they are.  This is perhaps not surprising, as this old burial ground is over 1,000 years old.

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19th Century · 20th Century · Stepney

The little mortuary at St George in the East and its reincarnation as a museum

St George’s Gardens, the park on the site of the former churchyard of St George in the East in Stepney, is a neat, peaceful place – when I visited, the play area was full of children, and other people were relaxing on benches or looking at the old monuments near the church.  In the midst of all of this is a derelict building that looks terribly sad and out of place.  However, this forlorn little building has a fascinating history that includes that most infamous of East End criminals, Jack the Ripper, and later became a pioneering centre for the education of local children.

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19th Century · 20th Century · Kensal Green

A walk among the stone saints and angels: St Mary’s Cemetery, Kensal Green

Next door to the well-known Kensal Green, one of London’s “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries, is another vast necropolis.  The two cemeteries are separated only by a tall brick wall, and although they are similar in age, and include many similar memorials, there are differences between the two cemeteries – some subtle, others less so.  St Mary’s Cemetery at Kensal Green is one of only two burial grounds in London that caters exclusively for Roman Catholics, and around the cemetery the visitor can see many symbols that reflect the faith of those buried there.

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