- Books, Literature, and Writing
HERITAGE - 32: REST IN PEACE - Silent Memorials Call Out Across The Years
Heroism, a rare quality of selflessness commemorated in ageless stone...
"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...
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 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
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
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
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?
City of London Cemetery
The largest municipal cemetery in the UK, possibly Europe. Currently (Feb. 2016) encompasses 150,000 graves.