The beautiful landscape of the Isle of Mull is dotted with tiny burial grounds, each of them with their own stories to tell. We’ve already visited Pennygown, with its ruined chapel and graves ranging from the medieval period to the present day. Some of these cemeteries are close to settlements, others seemingly in the middle of nowhere. They are all in stunningly beautiful locations. The words and symbols preserved on the gravestones offer us a glimpse into the history of the island, and of the lives of the people who have lived and died there over the centuries.
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.
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.
I first came across the ruined chapel whilst on a wildlife trek – we had stopped near the little town of Salen to watch harbour porpoises in the Sound of Mull. Intrigued as I was by the ruined chapel and its surrounding burial ground, there wasn’t time to stop and explore and I had to return a few days later to get a good look around the site. My stay on the beautiful Scottish island of Mull had been blessed with warm sunshine, but on the final day of my trip – when I finally had time to visit the chapel and the burial ground surrounding it – the clouds had arrived.
This is Pennygown burial ground, and it is still used by the people of the Mull today.
A couple of weekends ago, I was invited to attend an event being held as part of the London Month of the Dead at Brompton Cemetery in west London. The main cemetery entrance is on Old Brompton Road, not far from Earl’s Court station, in that slightly ragged edge of town where Chelsea, Fulham and Kensington meet, and where genteel houses make way for seedy hotels and dreary bedsits with grimy windows. Behind high railings, and through an imposing gateway, is one of London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries.
Barnes Old Cemetery is elusive. There’s not much information about it to be found online, and it hides amongst the trees close to the tennis courts on Rocks Lane – most people using the courts or passing in the car or on the bus probably have no idea that it’s there.