HERITAGE - 32: REST IN PEACE - A Quiet Walk Between Silent Memorials That Call Out Across The Years

Heroism, a rare quality of selflessness commemorated in ageless stone...

The Gallipoli campaign claimed many lives, army and navy. The inscription here tells without frills of a life lost in the pursuit of duty (detail of monument seen complete at the foot of the page)
The Gallipoli campaign claimed many lives, army and navy. The inscription here tells without frills of a life lost in the pursuit of duty (detail of monument seen complete at the foot of the page) | Source

"Sing hey for the moon and starry sky, the river, wood and sea,

For fish and birds and animals all around the grass so green on the lea,

But most of all for peace and the joy at our deep heart's core.

Sing hey for the god who fashions for us this beautiful splendour of earth.

Sing hey for courage and wisdom and love, for beauty and healing and mirth"


Verse on a Memorial stone in the City of London Cemetery

It's a sunny mid-February day this side of London, a chill is in the air but that's understandable...

Not the first you see from the main gate and by no means a new memorial, it has been cared for. No verdigris has grown on it. The memorial artist used imagination to portray a thoughtful pose, but the name is barely distinguishable after these years.
Not the first you see from the main gate and by no means a new memorial, it has been cared for. No verdigris has grown on it. The memorial artist used imagination to portray a thoughtful pose, but the name is barely distinguishable after these years. | Source
An easy, slightly undulating walk brings you along here from the scene above, what's left of the autumn leaves still provides nature's Axminster carpet.
An easy, slightly undulating walk brings you along here from the scene above, what's left of the autumn leaves still provides nature's Axminster carpet. | Source

The wife and I like to come to the cafe near the main gate with its friendly staff...

We have a few connections here as well. Her mother and father were cremated here, as was her aunt, my mother and our first son - died at seven months of viral pneumonia around this time of year in early 1984 - so there are memories.

This time we didn't come to visit. We've done that often enough, and we come across Wanstead Flats from where we live in nearby Forest Gate on his birthday. As we've looked around at some of the Victorian and later memorials, I thought I'd take a few pictures. Hadn't used the camera for a while, so I decided to give it an airing. So after visiting the cafe, coffee, biscuits and a chat with one of the staff - a proper Geordie from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, we talked about where the TV series 'The Likely Lads' was filmed - we set out down the main avenue past the new crematorium where all but Kath's Dad and Aunt Doris were given a respectful send-off (theirs was at the old chapel and crematorium).

The first noteworthy memorial is a family walk-in mausoleum in Victorian Gothic style for the Haywoods, a real Victorian masterpiece equal to Lutyen's Cenotaph on Whitehall. I'll put that at the end of this pictorial essay as a final statement. Meanwhile let's leave the main avenue where the roads meet in star-fashion. There are some pithy memorials down on the right...

Gone and forgotten, with no-one to bring flowers? More than a century's passed since these were interred. In that time relatives have passed on, descendants mov

There are a few graves that are almost overgrown, verdigris and ivy cover stones and monuments alike. The cemetery was opened in the 1840s. Some were interned almost as soon as the gates opened for 'business'. This, however, dates back only to 1922
There are a few graves that are almost overgrown, verdigris and ivy cover stones and monuments alike. The cemetery was opened in the 1840s. Some were interned almost as soon as the gates opened for 'business'. This, however, dates back only to 1922 | Source
Somewhat later, 1934, the grave is also almost lost under the vegetation... earth to earth... One corner of the stone has come to grief
Somewhat later, 1934, the grave is also almost lost under the vegetation... earth to earth... One corner of the stone has come to grief | Source
This one, between two newer graves, shows definite signs of wear and tear. Not only age but vandalism affects memorials here - disgruntled heirs, maybe?.Inscription illegible. Forgotten?..
This one, between two newer graves, shows definite signs of wear and tear. Not only age but vandalism affects memorials here - disgruntled heirs, maybe?.Inscription illegible. Forgotten?.. | Source

There are some memorials that inspire...

And there are some that might make the nervous perspire. Foxes and cats live around the lawns and avenues, but what leaves the more obvious traces is man. When we're all tucked up in bed or partying some of us have other things aforethought - like satanists or just plain vandals... even some looking for something to sell, precious metals, brass decorations etc. It takes all kinds.

There is security to keep aspiring miscreants out, but they can't be everywhere. Someone pulled the rails apart not long ago and broke into the cafe without success, but that sort of damage costs money to put right and it can't be done overnight.

Back to the memorials. The weird and the wonderful come to mind, and the graceful. From the time of Victoria to Elizabeth II monumental masons - as they call them - have been called on for artistic originality. And there's certainly no shortage of that on display, although much of it is with a five minute walk from the main gate along main avenues. This cemetery occupies an area the size of a large village or small town - I won't bore you with figures here - so there's an idea of the night-time security the staff are called on to perform.

Anyway, have a look at what's on show near the main avenue.

From the eerie to the noble... art forms in ornament, variations on the theme of gateways and scrolls

Here's a pair of mausoleums raised for the same family, set either side of a pathway not far from the main avenue... Across the way is its twin
Here's a pair of mausoleums raised for the same family, set either side of a pathway not far from the main avenue... Across the way is its twin | Source
It's not until you walk up to the door on this - north side - vault that you see what I meant about vandals or 'satanists' (below)
It's not until you walk up to the door on this - north side - vault that you see what I meant about vandals or 'satanists' (below) | Source
This is the result of attempted forced entry. There may have been a more secure lock within than it seems from the outside.
This is the result of attempted forced entry. There may have been a more secure lock within than it seems from the outside. | Source
Here's a less austere family grave to a family called Lusty in shady surroundings, well-kept and welcoming - dates back to 1947, a vintage year
Here's a less austere family grave to a family called Lusty in shady surroundings, well-kept and welcoming - dates back to 1947, a vintage year | Source
And then back to the neglected. This one to a family called Derby is over a century old - 1890 - what would we look like at that age?
And then back to the neglected. This one to a family called Derby is over a century old - 1890 - what would we look like at that age? | Source
Classic style on this dark stone with gold leaf lettering. The centre name was a casualty of the 1941 Burma campaign when the British Army was being pushed north to India and south to Singapore
Classic style on this dark stone with gold leaf lettering. The centre name was a casualty of the 1941 Burma campaign when the British Army was being pushed north to India and south to Singapore | Source
Artistic simplicity in this light stone with black lettering  - two more casualties of WWI who died of wounds sustained in action
Artistic simplicity in this light stone with black lettering - two more casualties of WWI who died of wounds sustained in action | Source
 Here's a restful view from the main avenue looking south-west to the backs of houses in Wanstead Park Avenue
Here's a restful view from the main avenue looking south-west to the backs of houses in Wanstead Park Avenue | Source

There are benches here and there...

Not necessarily for you to rest your weary bones (although the elderly, visiting loved ones might need them), but to sit and take in the atmosphere on a sunny afternoon - something we'd had precious little of lately - and look around at the variety of memorials, some very ordinary with headstones that you wouldn't look at twice.

Every so often you get marvels in stone set off against manicured gardens and trees. There are the quietly impressive and the attention-grabbing that we'll pass just along the way before we leave. There are names here of people who were contemporaries of Dickens and Gladstone (our PM who was assessed by Victoria as dull. She said he addressed her in the manner of a public meeting). There are judges and barristers, war heroes and those we might associate with them. The 50s actress Anna Neagle is also buried here.

There's a memorial to a Dowding family, (the name Arthur Dowding mean anything to you? He was the commander-in-chief of the RAF Fighter Command, a widower, said to have consulted a medium to get in touch with her. His many enemies cited his 'peculiarities' as reasons for sacking him. He was finally given 'the push' to the US after the Battle of Britain in late 1940. They let him finish the job first before elbowing him out of the way. A Mabel Dowding is commemorated here as having died in 1938, was she his wife maybe?).

Further east in the memorial garden are the ashes amongst others of the footballer Bobby Moore (West Ham, captain England team World Cup 1966) and of one of the Whitechapel Ripper's victims Mary Ann Nichols.

There's a 'Hindu temple' memorial beside a road that runs off the main avenue that leads down from the main gate, not far from the new crematorium on an almost empty broad green. I've added that to the page here, below.

Sometimes ethnic backgrounds are marked

A sunny broad green acre as yet almost unoccupied, but for...
A sunny broad green acre as yet almost unoccupied, but for... | Source
Step back a moment. The Hindu memorial shown above in close-up stands on its own so far in this area of the cemetery, facing the new crematorium
Step back a moment. The Hindu memorial shown above in close-up stands on its own so far in this area of the cemetery, facing the new crematorium | Source
This close-up shot shows the sitting god figure in all his glory, enthroned on a polished stone base.
This close-up shot shows the sitting god figure in all his glory, enthroned on a polished stone base. | Source

There are few memorials to members of faiths other than Christian - in its many gradations - although by request interment or cremation can be accommodated. There are Jewish, various Far Eastern and Muslim cemeteries scattered around the capital. The City of London Cemetery was initially reserved for those who either lived within the city boundary (EC1-4), worked there or - in the case of minors - whose parents worked in the area. The Hindu memorial above bears testament to the City's religious impartiality, and may herald more to follow.

And finally... Specialised architecture. The theme is religious motifs, Christian or Ancient Roman

A cross that looks as if it was broken off leans on a larger stone on this neat memorial. Fairly modern? The grave dates back to September, 1900
A cross that looks as if it was broken off leans on a larger stone on this neat memorial. Fairly modern? The grave dates back to September, 1900 | Source
Broken or leaning crosses were a fashion at one time in recent history as these two memorials show - anyone know the thinking behind them or was it just that, a trend?
Broken or leaning crosses were a fashion at one time in recent history as these two memorials show - anyone know the thinking behind them or was it just that, a trend? | Source
How about THIS for a memorial to one man? A WWI naval officer inspired this monument. Handsome.
How about THIS for a memorial to one man? A WWI naval officer inspired this monument. Handsome. | Source
This is the Haywood family mausoleum I mentioned earlier, sited on the west side of the main avenue that leads from the gate - at the front is a wrought iron gate, very solid.
This is the Haywood family mausoleum I mentioned earlier, sited on the west side of the main avenue that leads from the gate - at the front is a wrought iron gate, very solid. | Source
A  Gallipoli fatality (WWI) marked on this family memorial - for detail see top image.
A Gallipoli fatality (WWI) marked on this family memorial - for detail see top image. | Source
Another naval memorial to a man who died in 1919 of wounds from an explosion on HMS Canada.. Sold to Chilebefore WWI, the ship was requisitioned by the Royal Navy  The repaired ship was handed back in 1920 to the Chilean navy
Another naval memorial to a man who died in 1919 of wounds from an explosion on HMS Canada.. Sold to Chilebefore WWI, the ship was requisitioned by the Royal Navy The repaired ship was handed back in 1920 to the Chilean navy | Source

Did this walk leave you feeling a bit creepy?

Did this walk leave you feeling a bit creepy, or was it a restful meander amongst the memorials?

  • I did look over my shoulder (shudder)
  • I felt serene, if a little lonely
  • I thought it was a nice walk, a change from the usual
See results without voting

City of London Cemetery

A markerAldersbrook Road, Manor Park, Newham, London E12 5DQ -
Aldersbrook Rd, London, UK
[get directions]

The largest municipal cemetery in the UK, possibly Europe. Currently (Feb. 2016) encompasses 150,000 graves.

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7 comments

jgshorebird profile image

jgshorebird 9 months ago from Earth

Thanks.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 9 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello again jgs. Glad you could make it for this restful walk. Bit creepy in places, but that's how cemeteries are sometimes. Wouldn't want to be locked in by accident.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 9 months ago from Queensland Australia

Thanks for the restful photographic walk through the City of London Cemetery, Alan. The photos were good. I always feel a sense of melancholy when visiting a cemetery. The last time I visited my parents graves in the cemetery of my hometown, I decided to check out all the graves as I had moved away some 12 years before. I saw so many familiar names of people I had known..unaware that they had passed away. It was sad but necessary.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

My wife and I, quite often, stroll through the cemetery and look at the monuments...nothing creepy about it at all. It is a mini history lesson and really a lovely testimonial to the power of love and family. :) Hope you are well, my friend. Carry on!


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 9 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello John and Bill, good to see you even if you are half a world away in either direction.

I had a look around the small churchyard of St Mary behind Lambeth Palace once, and came across the grand family tomb of the Blighs, William's name being prominent. Although he was exonerated of blame for the mutiny he never rose to the dizzy heights of the Admiralty. He was governor of New South Wales for a whíle, though.


aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 9 months ago from American Southwest

To me, cemeteries containing people I've known are not fun to walk through because I remember them, and think that someday my remains will be in the ground too. Sorry to read about your son - we have never yet experienced anything remotely like that.

But cemeteries in England to me are fascinating; they feel more like a history book, because that is where I have learned family history about people I never knew of. What I learned there was not that someone died, but that they ever lived.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 9 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello Aethelthryth, as you say there's history in these cemeteries. Along the road from us is another at Manor Park. I pass a couple of poignant reminders on my way to the station through this smaller one - although still the size of a village - that includes a well maintained marble memorial with an anchor to the memory of John Travers Cornwell, a boy sailor who won a Victoria Cross for valour in the Battle of Jutland, 1916. Across the way from him is one for a boy who drowned saving a friend. (In the City of London cemetery are many reminders of men killed at Gallipoli in 1915-16).

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