Nunhead is arguably the least well known of London’s “Magnificent Seven” Victorian cemeteries. Like many of South East London’s interesting old sites, it often gets overlooked due to its lack of a nearby Tube station, although it’s actually a short walk from Nunhead Rail station, which is three stops from London Victoria.
One of the best things about living in London is the great potential for discovering wonderful places completely by accident. In this instance, I was required to go to Mortlake to pick up a parcel from the sorting office that had been too big to fit through my letterbox. Whilst walking up Mortlake High Street my eye was caught by some worn old gravestones peeping out through bushes and shrubs.
In the shadows of the international terminal at St Pancras Station, close enough for platform announcements to be heard, is a tiny old church which has a history that supposedly stretches back almost as far as St Pancras himself. St Pancras was a Roman martyr who was beheaded in about 304AD for his Christian beliefs, and the church claims that the site has been a place of Christian worship since the 4th Century. Until the 19th Century, Old St Pancras was a rural church, close to the River Fleet, but today it is nestled in amongst the railway infrastructure of St Pancras and the houses and flats of Somers Town. When approaching the church, the first thing that struck me was how high the ground level of the churchyard is compared to its surroundings.
Hammersmith, with its riverside factories and wharves, was badly bombed during the Second World War – but that’s a story for another blog post. Amongst the postwar concrete of the immediate area around Hammersmith tube station, a few older buildings and facades remain: a Georgian building that now houses a Chinese restaurant, rows of 19th Century villas leading down towards the river, and the splendid Gothic church of St Paul, built from a distinctive pinkish stone.
Like many of the sites and objects detailed in this blog, it’s quite possible to walk past the London Stone and never realise that it is there. It’s easy to miss the grate pictured below, which is situated at street level on the front of a nondescript modern building on Cannon Street in the City of London.
The London Stone has a long and singularly odd history, with its origins shrouded in legends, fairytales and hearsay. Similar to the superstition surrounding the ravens of the Tower of London, a saying goes that “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so will London flourish.” However, like the ravens, it is likely that this romantic myth dates from the Victorian period, although both superstitions still persist today.
This beautiful carved headstone caught my eye from across the road when I was walking along Bow Road in east London. Bow Church – or to give it its proper name, St Mary and Holy Trinity, Stratford Bow – is today marooned on an island in the middle of a busy road and the churchyard is railed off. There are a number of old tomb stones in the churchyard, which has been a designated public garden since 1894. The church, founded as a chapel of ease in 1311, is the only surviving medieval building in Bow.
The headstone is quite worn and mossy so I was unable to read the inscription on it, but the carving depicts what appears to be an angel taking the hand of a dying person, who is being comforted by a woman. I’ve never seen an image like it on a gravestone before – it’s beautiful and poignant. The quality of the carving is very fine – the folds in the fabrics worn by the figures are realistic and a great deal of detail, such as the angel’s hand, still survives today. Whoever commissioned the headstone must have paid a lot of money for it.
Considering the damage inflicted on Bow Church during the Second World War, this lovely old headstone is a stunning survivor.