Part of the A212 road runs along one side of Crystal Palace Park, carrying traffic between the suburbs of south east London. However, beneath a section of the road – unbeknownst to those passing above – is a quite astonishing structure, usually hidden from the public. This is a subway, but not of the concrete, graffiti-ed, dubious-smelling variety more commonly seen beneath Britain’s roads: it is something else altogether.
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.
The period between the two World Wars was one of massive expansion for London. The city’s population grew and grew, peaking at 8.6 million in 1939 (a total not surpassed until very recently), and new housing was built at a rate never seen before to accommodate this growth. These new homes, council houses and private houses alike, contained modern facilities such as indoor toilets, making them attractive to those living in older, less well-equipped homes. But a new housing development in East Sheen, in south west London, had yet another desirable feature for potential buyers: as the fear of war grew in the 1930s, St Leonard’s Court came with its own purpose-built air raid shelter.
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.
What better thing to do on a chilly Sunday afternoon than explore a beautiful old cemetery? Abney Park in Stoke Newington is one of London’s gems – as well as being one of the city’s “Magnificent Seven” Victorian cemeteries, it’s a peaceful space that members of the local community have worked hard to make into a welcoming place for visitors. It was founded in 1840 as the first completely non-denominational burial ground in England and is the final resting place of many well-known nonconformists. Bunhill Fields, which for nearly two centuries had been the main site for nonconformist burials in London, closed in 1854, and Abney Park took over as the most prominent burial place of nonconformists. Probably the most famous people to be buried at Abney Park are William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army.
Hidden behind high walls, the Charterhouse in Clerkenwell exudes an air of mystery – at least to those who, like me, spend their lunchbreaks wandering around the interesting old places close to their place of work. The Charterhouse is only open to the public for pre-booked guided tours, but a few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the Charterhouse to attend a wonderful lecture about the history of the site by the Charterhouse’s head archivist, Dr Stephen Porter.
It’s quite easy to get lost in the maze of highwalks in London’s Barbican Estate, and to some it may be disorientating to discover a medieval church in the middle of the Barbican’s brutalist sprawl. St Giles without Cripplegate is a rare survivor of the Great Fire – even if it didn’t fare too well during the Blitz – and its name is one of the last remaining references to this ancient corner of the Square Mile.