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Heritage - 49: In Memoriam, Another Visit to the City of London Cemetery

Updated on February 10, 2019

How do you move a church without stirring a single stone?

The late parish church of St Antholin, Watling Street that was situated near Queen Victoria Street. In 1875 the church was demolished to make way for social housing. This obelisk was erected in the City of London Cemetery to commemorate its 'passing'
The late parish church of St Antholin, Watling Street that was situated near Queen Victoria Street. In 1875 the church was demolished to make way for social housing. This obelisk was erected in the City of London Cemetery to commemorate its 'passing' | Source

Watling Street - what remains of it is marked by street names in the City of London - was the Roman road that linked Rochester with Chester by way of London...

There is a short section that runs north-south to the east of St Paul's Cathedral, and there is another section towards the river near where Lower and Upper Thames Street meet. This was where the fire of 1666 raged for days, destroying businesses, dwellings, manses and churches alike. In "HERITAGE - 48..." I've shown several Wren churches and St Paul's cathedral, some partly destroyed by the 'Blitz' - German saturation bombing - in 1940. Churches too badly destroyed to restore were reduced to leaving the tower only, and human remains from the church yards were moved to be interred here in the City of London Cemetery. Some churches were demolished in order to make way for urban improvement, as in the case of two churches near Holborn Circus that had to make way for the building of Holborn Viaduct over Farringdon Street (sic), linking the cities of Westminster and London over what was once a river that had become an open sewer (ever seen 'Oliver'? The backdrop of the film is a 'reconstruction' of the old River Fleet environs that now runs underground to the Thames beneath the wheels of buses, trucks and taxis. It rises at Hampstead Heath and makes its way through the northern suburbs). The churches of St Andrew and St Sepulchre were considered surplus to requirement anyway, due to depopulation in the City of London. Road widening either side of the viaduct approach road meant something had to go. The decision fell to Lord Mayor, the Right Honourable Thomas Dakin to authorise work to go ahead, and so in 1871 a memorial obelisk was raised in the recently opened cemetery to mark the passing of these two churches. On a sunny day the obelisk looks handsome, you'd have to agree.

The building of Holborn Viaduct (near the Old Bailey) also created its own 'victims...

Sr Andrew and St Sepulchre at Holborn were demolished to make way for building Holborn Viaduct and street improvements. The move was authorised by Parliament, 1864 and 1867. Monument erected 1871, authorised by Lord Mayot, the Right Hon. Thomas Dakin
Sr Andrew and St Sepulchre at Holborn were demolished to make way for building Holborn Viaduct and street improvements. The move was authorised by Parliament, 1864 and 1867. Monument erected 1871, authorised by Lord Mayot, the Right Hon. Thomas Dakin | Source

Below is a sort of Gothic Revival church design for a memorial to record the removal of interred remains...

The churches of St Mary Somerset and St Mary Mounthaw near Upper Thames Street, (London EC4) themselves were so severely damaged in December,1940, that restoration was not considered to be feasible. The interred remains - some dating back to before Wren's commission to rebuild 1666 fire-gutted churches - were re-interred at the newer City of London Cemetery. There is most likely a vault beneath the monument that goes down deep to store the remains - in effect it is an ossiery, or store for human bones.

...And the dead went 'on the move' too...

A memorial to the reinterred remains of the buried from the church yard of St Mary Somerset and St Mary Mounthaw (pron. 'mount-haw') close to Upper Thames Street, London EC4, not far from Blackfriars Station.
A memorial to the reinterred remains of the buried from the church yard of St Mary Somerset and St Mary Mounthaw (pron. 'mount-haw') close to Upper Thames Street, London EC4, not far from Blackfriars Station. | Source

In some parts of the cemetery there are graves marked for 're-use', where the ground is needed for interments.

Many opt for cremation, but a large percentage of the population - through personal or religious conviction - still prefers the burial of their 'departed'. In other parts there isn't the urgency for re-use. Here graves are overtaken by ivy and holly bushes of varying size, the.descendants or distant relatives either don't know of the whereabouts of the cemetery's location, let alone these graves. Some may have emigrated or moved too far away to visit the graves. So they become overgrown, forlorn, sometimes broken. Iron railings rust away, the surroundings become havens for wildlife and people like me (not a lot) wander round to take pictures for posterity, for articles or blogs about the state of some of our cemeteries. On the whole the City of London Cemetery is well run. there is a small group of people that call themselves 'Friends of the City of London Cemetery', and wander round to investigate how (maybe) work might be done to improve some areas. It is a very large area, the size of a village or small town. Budget cuts mean less staff are taken on to maintain the facility, but the main areas are kept immaculate. Now and then grass cutters are driven between the grave divisions, to keep the place looking tidy.

Overtaken by the march of nature on mankind's monuments...

Is it neglect when Mother Nature chooses to colonise man's forgotten memorials?
Is it neglect when Mother Nature chooses to colonise man's forgotten memorials? | Source
Strange how ivy will grow on one monument and not on its neighbour, although these two have been given a 'neighbourly' touch. Descendants might have forgotten them,  Mother Nature hasn't
Strange how ivy will grow on one monument and not on its neighbour, although these two have been given a 'neighbourly' touch. Descendants might have forgotten them, Mother Nature hasn't | Source

Manicured lawns spread broadly between plots, and rougher grass to the south-east of the cemetery alongside Rabbits Road, Manor Park

These are more interesting. Why? Tidiness is all very well to create a favourable impression for the better-off bereaved. They take away an image of their loved ones in serene surroundings, acres of closely cut grass and ornamented memorials. Come away from the 'nice bits' with me and go on a journey of discovery. It's almost like looking for lost treasure. There's a dearth of Smiths, Joneses and Evans amongst the late Victorian stones. Names that conjure up the hinterland, some that reflect the migration of Central Europeans to England, some of educated barristers who defended or prosecuted the famous - or infamous - in the late 19th Century. Somewhere there is a memorial to one of the senior police officers who pursued the Ripper Case - two of his victims are marked on the edge of the well-trimmed memorial gardens - and there are the great unremarked, or unremarkable, whose gravestones lean awkwardly on or toward one another. "Fell asleep" was once the favourite. As one wag put it - Jeremy Clarkson - "they'd be pretty miffed when they woke up, in a box six foot underground" (paraphrased, this is a family site).

Some of the oldest stones were laid flat on the ground above the grave. Names, dates and any other particulars have been lost to countless winters. Frosts, driving rain, biting wind have taken their toll, soil and grass encroach over the aged stone. Some better quality stone memorials have weathered better, and serve to remind descendants and distant relatives of where their inheritances went. In some cases it looks as if the bereaved had turned belligerent, with smashed stones and headless angels marking the miscreants' trail of destruction. In some instances belligerents and so-called cult worshippers have gained access. Some graves and tombs have proved indestructible, others less lucky. Those 'asleep' will slumber on... . .

A green glade punctuated by cut stone...

Spring has sprung, leaves adorn the trees, the grass seems greener... and peace has descended after the hard winter. Green is the theme for this shot, taken from near the roadside looking south
Spring has sprung, leaves adorn the trees, the grass seems greener... and peace has descended after the hard winter. Green is the theme for this shot, taken from near the roadside looking south | Source
In the shade, memorial stones nestle as if in a 'crowd' scene. It's easy to imagine a horror story unfolding here after dark...
In the shade, memorial stones nestle as if in a 'crowd' scene. It's easy to imagine a horror story unfolding here after dark... | Source
Our roots reach your branches... Forgotten memorials are taken over by attractive, if unwanted, flora that know no bounds
Our roots reach your branches... Forgotten memorials are taken over by attractive, if unwanted, flora that know no bounds | Source

I hope this and the first page on the City of London Cemetery and its earlier companion, HERITAGE - 32: REST IN PEACE, Silent Memorials..." has given some kind

Wandering around with my camera has proved fruitful to some degree. A certain amount of composition, juxtaposition of features helps prevent the need for 'messing about' in the picture file to bring an image up to scratch. A good pair of shoes or boots is a prerequisite for exploration in the older parts... Oh, and er... watch out for newly dug graves. You wouldn't be the first to land in a grave prematurely - and you won't be the last..

Families no longer visit, nor do they even seem to know their ancestors' or relatives' last resting places

"Every picture tells a story", a number performed several decades ago by Rod Stewart. What could you read in this image? Grievance? Malevolence? Ignorance? A relative cut our of a will, or wreckers randomly descending on a harmless piece of worn ston
"Every picture tells a story", a number performed several decades ago by Rod Stewart. What could you read in this image? Grievance? Malevolence? Ignorance? A relative cut our of a will, or wreckers randomly descending on a harmless piece of worn ston | Source
The story of a family, laid out for the casual observer. We don't speak ill of the dead, who knows what tale could be told here?
The story of a family, laid out for the casual observer. We don't speak ill of the dead, who knows what tale could be told here? | Source
Our lives are as open books. Which poet referred to the correlation between the pages of a book and a life passed by? He might say, "Oi, get these weeds seen to!"
Our lives are as open books. Which poet referred to the correlation between the pages of a book and a life passed by? He might say, "Oi, get these weeds seen to!" | Source

Don't get lost. There are map boards everywhere in the cemetery, and foldaway maps are available

One of the map boards in reproduced here. There is a regular pick-up minibus service for those without their own transport who are unable to get about freely
One of the map boards in reproduced here. There is a regular pick-up minibus service for those without their own transport who are unable to get about freely | Source

... And the last word belongs to...

If you could read what had been chiselled into the stone maybe there would be a tale worth listening to. An early resident laid long ago to rest almost invisible under encroaching earth and grass.
If you could read what had been chiselled into the stone maybe there would be a tale worth listening to. An early resident laid long ago to rest almost invisible under encroaching earth and grass. | Source

© 2018 Alan R Lancaster

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    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

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

      Welcome Dora, to the 'HERITAGE' series (one of several in historical series I 'penned' here. Had a look at the previous one on the City of London Cemy.? (HERITAGE 32). Near where I live in the Manor Park Cemetery is the memorial to John Travers Cornwell, a sixteen year old lad who was struck down in the 1916 naval Battle of Jutland. His grave is well kept, attended by several bodies (military and school associations) and the centre of focus on his birthday and annually on the nearest Sunday to November 11th.

      I may do a page on Highgate Cemetery, a 'two-parter', like a TV mini-series, in North London where Karl Marx's grave is marked by an enormous granite bust in the 'new' cemetery and the old cemetery where horror movies have been made. It's a creepy place at the best of times and only opened a few times a year. 'Goth's like to visit Highgate Old Cemy. in their black outfits with dark make-up (including the lads).

      Which part of the Caribbean are in in, by the way? Looks a nice place. I did a short story here based on a small island. Take a look down my profile page - it's not too far to scroll down - in the STORYLINE series. Nice to see a new face here.

    • CaribTales profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      14 months ago from The Caribbean

      Quite an original and interesting topic. I like the idea of remembering the church by erecting a memorial. Graves that are neglected emphasizes sadness.

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

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

      Liz, Mary, welcome to the east side of London (not the East End, that stops at Mile End, about five miles west of here. This is the City of London cemetery, another one nearby is at Manor Park (five minutes walk south behind housing between the road I live in E7 and Whitta Road, E!2). The criteria for burials or cremations at the City of London was having worked or lived there, in the 'Square Mile', or what was once the Roman city plus outlying are to the north west.

      Unlike some cultures, Mary, ancestor worship lost its importance in the UK a long time ago. there are ossieries (bone collections) in some City churches where graveyards have made way for office blocks.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      14 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I love cemetreis as they are places of peace and quiet. It is sad that many now forget their ancestors.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      14 months ago from UK

      A very interesting article. At least we didn't go in for the practice of building chapels out of bones and skulls, as the Portuguese did. My husband finds wandering around graveyards interesting. There are definitely some interesting inscriptions, but also some very sad ones.

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