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.
Continue reading “The Victorian splendour of Highgate’s Western Cemetery”
Over a doorway on one of the City of London’s many Wren churches is something really quite special. A large but intricate carving depicts the Last Day – the figure of Christ presides over the dead, who are rising up from their coffins in preparation for the final judgement.
Continue reading “Deciphering a spectacular resurrection stone at St Andrew, Holborn”
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.
Continue reading “Novo Beth Chaim: an old Jewish cemetery marooned on a university campus”
When visiting Lord’s, the Home of Cricket, one of the many famous sights for cricket fans is the Father Time weather vane. Its appearance – Father Time, complete with a Grim Reaper-esque scythe, removing the bails in the manner of an umpire at the close of play – seems oddly morbid, until one reads the Law of Cricket that it is inspired by: “After the call of Time, the bails shall be removed from both wickets.” Over the years, Father Time has had a few adventures, falling foul of the weather on more than one occasion and most notably, being the only casualty at Lord’s during the Second World War.
Continue reading “Father Time and the unfortunate incident with the barrage balloon”
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.
Continue reading “St Alban, Wood Street: an old library book and a lonely church tower”
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.
Continue reading “Tower Hamlets: a neglected cemetery reborn as a nature reserve”
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.
Continue reading “A walk among the stone saints and angels: St Mary’s Cemetery, Kensal Green”
Many people walking past the wall of St Bartholomew’s Hospital on West Smithfield, close to the memorial to William Wallace, stop to look at a series of craters and marks on the wall that look as though they were caused by an explosion of some sort. These scars are from a devastating V2 rocket attack on the area during the Second World War, but this wasn’t the first aerial attack to bring death and destruction to this part of London. Bartholomew Close, not far from the scarred walls, was hit during one of the very first air raids on London, a terrifying Zeppelin raid in 1915.
Continue reading “Airships over London – in war and peace”
When I mentioned to friends that I’d visited Ashby’s Mill, their universal response was “I had no idea there was a windmill in Brixton!” And it’s true enough that the south London district of Brixton isn’t somewhere that one immediately associates with windmills and rural life – it’s a built-up area that’s more likely to attract comments about crime or gentrification. But in a little park by an ordinary housing estate is an extraordinary survivor from the days when Brixton was just an open space a few miles from London. Today, the Brixton Windmill has been carefully restored and provides a wonderful opportunity for local people to get in touch with their area’s history.
Continue reading “Ashby’s Mill: bringing Brixton’s hidden past to life”
One of the things that has always appealed to me about the big Victorian cemeteries is their sense of drama, and their grand, elaborate memorials. Of course, there’s nothing new about the moneyed commissioning ostentatious memorials for themselves and their loved ones, but in the grand cemeteries of the big cities, like London, it’s possible to see lots of dramatic memorials clustered closely together, all vying for prominence in burial grounds that were designed to be visited by the living as well as being places for the dead to rest.
Kensal Green, one of London’s “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries, is home to many wonderfully dramatic monuments. Opened in 1833, it was inspired by the famous Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, and the burial of one of King George III’s sons, Prince Augustus Frederick (died 1843), made Kensal Green a fashionable place to be laid to rest.
Continue reading “A taste for the dramatic: the grand monuments of Kensal Green”