Although the Northumberland village of Bamburgh is dominated by the fortress that has stood on its cliffs since the 7th Century, one figure who looms large in the area’s history is not a king or a warrior, but an ordinary woman whose act of bravery in 1838 made her internationally famous. Grace Horsley Darling’s role in the rescue of sailors from the wrecked vessel Forfarshire in September 1838 was widely covered by the media both in Britain and further afield, and led to an outpouring of donations, gifts and even offers of marriage. The veneration of Grace Darling was not unlike the cults that grew up around many medieval saints, with souvenirs featuring her likeness being sold, items belonging to her and her family put on display or up for sale, and songs and poems being written about Grace and her deeds. Despite her untimely death from tuberculosis at the age of 26, Grace remained a well-known figure, celebrated for her bravery and her Christian values. The fame of Grace Darling provides a fascinating insight into the way that the 19th Century media helped to create modern-day heroes, and how Grace’s character reflected the period’s idea of the virtuous woman.
If you walk along Redcross Way, a quiet street a stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of London Bridge Station and Borough High Street, a strange sight can be found. Hundreds of colourful ribbons, flowers, toys and other trinkets are tied to the railings that surround a small garden, some bright and fresh, others faded with time and exposure to the elements. This is Cross Bones, an old burial ground where thousands of Londoners, mostly the poorest members of society, were laid to rest. In recent years this place has been transformed from a bare piece of land to a colourful community garden dedicated to the memory of London’s outcast dead.
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
This week Flickering Lamps is taking a break from the hidden, not so well known sites that often grace this site to explore probably the most famous cemetery in the world: Paris’ Père Lachaise. Opened as the world’s first garden cemetery in 1804, Père Lachaise (or to give its original name, cimetière de l’Est – East Cemetery) was the inspiration for many other grand Victorian garden cemeteries, both in Europe and across the Atlantic in the Americas. Situated on the edge of the city, Père Lachaise was opened to provide a dignified burial space for all of Paris’ citizens. Around a million people have been laid to rest there since it opened in 1804, and today, around two million people visit the cemetery every year.
A few weeks ago, I went to Brompton Cemetery again. I was with my friend Sharon, a fellow graveyard explorer, and I also had a new camera lens to put through its paces. Since my last visit, a lot of the undergrowth that had swallowed up a good many gravestones had been cleared, and as a result we came across many graves that I’d never seen before. Last time I wrote about Brompton, I felt that I’d not been able to do the place justice in just one article, so it seems like a good time to revisit the cemetery and look at more of its rich heritage. Some of the graves featured this time around are grand and mysterious, others are modest and unassuming; yet all of them have their own fascinating stories to tell.
30 St Mary Axe – better known by its nickname “The Gherkin” – is one of the most distinctive skyscrapers in London. It stands on the site of the old Baltic Exchange, which was badly damaged by a Provisional IRA bomb in 1992 and subsequently demolished. It was during excavations taking place prior to the construction of the Gherkin that, in 1995, the skeleton of a Roman Londoner who had lain undisturbed for 1,600 years was discovered.
St Mary’s Church in Beverley, East Yorkshire, would probably be more well-known were it not for the famous and imposing Gothic Minster that also graces the town. Even when compared to that grand building – which houses the shrine of St John of Beverley – St Mary’s Church is still impressive: it is one of the largest parish churches in Britain, a Grade I listed building, and has been in existence since the 12th Century, although the main fabric of the church dates from later than that. It is a truly beautiful example of medieval Gothic architecture. It was while exploring the church’s beautiful exterior, taking in the many carvings and details in the stonework, that I came across an intriguing memorial.
If you’ve ever travelled east of Stratford on the London Underground’s Central Line, you’ve probably seen the vast graveyard of St Patrick as the train clatters between Leyton and Leytonstone. It is the final resting place of around 170,000 residents of East London. On a pleasant Saturday afternoon, I explored this fascinating cemetery with my friend and fellow graveyard enthusiast Sharon and we discovered so many stories about the people buried there – stories of war, of love, of immigration, of the faith that united all of those buried at St Patrick’s. Along with St Mary’s at Kensal Green, which Flickering Lamps visited earlier this year, St Patrick’s is one of only two cemeteries in London to cater exclusively to Catholics.
It’s a little known fact that more of the City of London’s churches were demolished during peacetime than were destroyed during the Blitz. As London expanded, the population of the Square Mile declined. Fifty one of the eighty-seven churches consumed by the Great Fire of 1666 had been rebuilt, but as the City’s population dwindled during the 19th and 20th Centuries, congregations fell and many churches became surplus to requirements.
However, as you make your way along the Chertsey Road in Twickenham, towards the famous rugby stadium, an unexpected sight looms into view: a baroque Christopher Wren church tower. This is one of the lost City churches, All Hallows Lombard Street, reborn as a suburban parish church.
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.