I love the Culbertson and Randall “Permanent” series books because they don’t strive to be comprehensive. Other cemetery guides become tedious lists of all the famous people jammed into a cemetery, but these books go for depth instead, collecting up biographies of a few choice permanent residents. It’s arguable you take more away from this series than the others, where either you recognize the famous names or you don’t.
While Permanent Londoners spends a fair amount of time on the Magnificent Seven cemeteries (Brompton, Highgate, Kensal Green, etc.), it really shines for poking around inside landmarks that make up in history what they lack in acreage. Four chapters explore Westminster Abbey; one covers the Poets’ Corner alone. Other chapters look into the Tower of London and St. Paul’s crypt. That’s worth the price of the book right there, as far as I’m concerned.
I also like that the book wanders as far as Windsor Castle, discussing the monarchs who chose to be buried at home, rather than in town.
My copy was published in 1996, but I see a more recent version came out in 2000. I hope someone allows them to update it for the current decade.
While the title doesn’t offer a clue, this is a book about the “famous” dead buried in the United Kingdom. The famous include Lord Tweedmore, Dame Clara Butt, Sir Anthony Eden, among many more, whose names were unfamiliar even after I read about them.
Even when the names are familiar, the book offers very little information about them. Roald Dahl is summed up as “the unrivaled master of the grotesque and ghoulish in children’s fiction,” without identifying him as the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It continues to confide that he’s buried in the churchyard of St. Peter and Paul in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, but without any description of the grave or where it lies or how it’s marked, I’m not sure what good the listing does you.
The book is organized into sections for England, London, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, then subdivided by county. The counties are broken into towns, then further minced into specific churches or graveyards. I might like this book more if I had more familiarity with the nooks and crannies of the United Kingdom. As it is, I don’t know my Avon from my Yorkshire West and there’s no map in these pages to help me. There’s an index of people mentioned in the book, but not of the cemeteries covered.
The descriptions are too brief. The book reports that, “In the choir (reviewer’s note: not quire, as Salisbury Cathedral calls it) lies Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke” who died in 1621. She was an author and translator, as the book notes, but more importantly, she was the first English woman recognized as a poet in her own right. Her name numbers among those floated to be the true author of Shakespeare’s plays. Who Lies Where quotes a biographer who claims she “was very salacious” and liked to watch her stallions mount her mares, then sport with the stallions herself. Talk about TMI.
The book ignores everyone else buried in the cathedral, including a crusader who was half-brother to Richard the Lionhearted and the man responsible for distributing copies of the Magna Carta around England. It condenses Highgate Cemetery in fewer than 4 pages. The listing for Kensal Green spans 4-1/2 pages and ends with the cremation of Freddie Mercury, whose ashes were scattered at Lake Geneva, although you wouldn’t know that from reading this book.
I was hoping to find a graveyard book that would guide me beyond London’s reasonably well-documented cemeteries. This one is no help at all.
Hugh Meller was the Historic Buildings Representative for the National Trust, so he grasps the intersection of architecture and British history. The book does descend into jargon from time to time, but it is the most comprehensive and complete guide to the graveyards of London I’ve read yet. As you may guess, I have a pretty good collection on the topic.
Opening with a lovely hand-drawn map, my edition of the book is the third. (I see a fifth edition was published in 2011, which expands the list of cemeteries covered from 103 to 126.) In addition to the Victorian-era Magnificent Seven cemeteries (Highgate, Kensal Green, Brompton, Abney Park, Nunhead, Norwood, and Tower Hamlets), Meller pokes around the Jewish cemeteries, the Dissenters’ cemeteries, and pretty much any cemetery that still exists and is not affiliated with a single parish or church.
Back to the matter at hand: Meller begins with a history of burial reform in England. London lagged not only behind Pere Lachaise, but also behind Glasgow and Liverpool in closing down the noxious churchyards and switching instead to “garden” or “rural” cemeteries where nature and beauty were celebrated in the face of grim death. Meller describes fashions in grave monuments and architecture, illustrated beautifully with crisp black-and-white photography. He includes a quick glossary of tombstone symbols, again fully illustrated with photographs. Some brief thoughts on epitaphs are followed by a chapter on the flora and fauna of the cemeteries, and then we’re off to visit the graveyards themselves.
Each listing has a summary of the cemetery’s history, its decline and redemption (if appropriate), photos, architectural and monument descriptions, and a smattering of familiar or historically important personnages in the graveyard under discussion. These names total more than 1000. They are helpfully indexed at the back of the book.
While the book is scholarly, it isn’t dry. I would recommend it both to the novice visiting London’s cemeteries for the first time and to the repeat visitor looking for more depth to her explorations. You can order your copy of the most recent edition from Amazon: London Cemeteries: An Illustrated Guide and Gazetteer.
Photo collage of Jeane by Les Trend and Jeane Trend-Hill.
Jeane Trend-Hill is an author, photographer, actress, and artist from London. She photographs cemeteries and writes about places of eternal rest for national newspapers and magazines and advises on grave symbolism. In 2006, she started the Silent Cities Project: taking photographs of many amazing memorials and becoming involved in restoration in order to help preserve some of our heritage so future generations can see what a Victorian cemetery looked like. Jeane has published 25 books, including the Silent Cities series about cemetery monuments, as well as The Lost Language of Cemeteries on grave symbolism. Visit her website here.
Cemetery Travel: How did you get interested in cemeteries in the first place?
Jeane Trend-Hill: One Sunday every month, my parents would visit family buried in the local cemetery. Whilst the adults chatted and arranged flowers, I wandered around and looked at the angels, crosses, etc. I found them so beautiful. As I got older, I began taking photos of them, purely for my own enjoyment. Someone suggested I do a book and it went on from there. I have grown up in cemeteries and always felt at home. I never thought of them as creepy places.
General view of Kensal Green Cemetery, including the headless angel. Photograph by Jeane Trend-Hill.
Cemetery Travel: You’ve been exploring Kensal Green and the other Magnificent Seven cemeteries for years. What’s your connection to them?
Jeane Trend-Hill: To alleviate the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in churchyards, seven cemeteries were built in a ring around London: Kensal Green (1832); West Norwood (1837); Highgate (1839); Brompton (1840); Abney Park (1840), Nunhead (1840), and Tower Hamlets (1841.) Unlike churchyards, these cemeteries were independent of a parish church and were privately run. They became known as the “Magnificent Seven.” They are some of the most beautiful cemeteries in London and I never tire of visiting them. I always seem to discover something new and interesting each time I go to one.
Cemetery Travel: Do you lead cemetery tours?
Jeane Trend-Hill: I don’t live in London now, so no. Occasionally I take friends or an overseas visitor around a cemetery or two.
Cemetery Travel: You’ve photographed cemeteries hundreds of times. What sorts of things draw your camera?
Monument for Mary Gibson at Kensal Green. The angels originally held a wreath. Photograph by Jeane Trend-Hill.
Jeane Trend-Hill: I love over-the-top monuments, unusual things, plain and simple graves, animals in churchyards, angels, famous graves, doves, anything weird and wonderful: you name it, I probably like it! I always have a camera (or two) with me, in case I spot something. I have been known to take detours when I’ve been going somewhere else and spotted a cemetery!
Cemetery Travel: You’ve published a bunch of Silent Cities books, collecting your cemetery photographs. Where’s the best place for a new reader to begin?
Jeane Trend-Hill: Each Silent Cities book is a collection of photographs from cemeteries of the UK and Europe. I deliberately don’t name where they are as it’s purely about the impact the image has. I have also produced a Best of Silent Cities, which includes my most popular photos and a little information about each one, so that is a good book with which to start.
I have a series of three children’s books called Magic, two of which are based on stories of birds and animals living in a cemetery, a book on hearses called Dispatches, plus an A-Z photo book on grave symbolism and its meaning called The Lost Language of Cemeteries. I think the children’s books and Lost Language are my favorites, as I had the most fun producing them.
Egyptian revival at Kensal Green. Photograph by Jeane Trend-Hill.
Cemetery Travel: Now you have a 2013 calendar for sale. How did you choose the images for it?
Jeane Trend-Hill: I compile them throughout the year, but it’s never easy to whittle that down to 12 plus a cover! I sell the calendar via my bookstore at the link above.
Cemetery Travel: Do you have other projects in the works?
Jeane Trend-Hill: I am currently working on Silent Cities volume 11, plus I have several magazine and newspaper articles/interviews in the pipeline. I’ve just finished photographing all the recent cemetery open days and will be starting to compile the photos for the 2014 calendar. I have an ongoing project, which is the restoration of the grave of architect Arthur Beresford Pite in West Norwood Cemetery London. I’m also photographing a catacomb that is not open to the public (one of the perks of the job!) and I will be off to Paris again soon to do some photography in several cemeteries there.
Cemetery Travel: Do you have a favorite tombstone?
Jeane Trend-Hill: It’s hard to pick just one, so in no particular order: The Kiss of Death in Pouble Nou in Barcelona, Spain; Mary, the sleeping angel in Highgate, London; and the monument for Mary Gibson at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.
Cemetery Travel: Why should people care about cemeteries?
Jeane Trend-Hill: They are an important part of our history and heritage. It’s imperative that we try to help preserve them so that future generations can see what they looked like.
I always think it’s important to be respectful in cemeteries. I try not to step on anyone. I take only photos and always tidy up a little if I can, even if it’s just putting a vase or toy upright.
Cemetery Travel: Thanks for answering my questions, Jeane!
Tomb of William Mulready, from a postcard photo by Robert Stephenson
Kensal Green Cemetery
Harrow Road between Scrubs Lane and Ladbroke Grove
London, W10 4RA, England
Telephone: +44 020 8969 0152
Email: email@example.com (Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery) Founded: 1832 Size: 72 acres (not 77 acres, as some sources state) Number of interments: 250,000 Open: April 1 to September 30: Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Bank Holidays: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. October 1 to March 31: Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bank Holidays: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
This week, in honor of the 2012 Olympics, I’m going to look at what is the most important Victorian graveyard in London. Founded in 1832, Kensal Green Cemetery was the first commercial cemetery in the metropolis, supported by an act of parliament.
Because London’s population exploded during the 19th century, its 150 parish churchyards were completely unable to cope with the influx of fresh dead. George Frederick Carden visited Paris’s Pere Lachaise and was struck by the cemetery’s park-like aspect. He came home to England determined to create a similar graveyard in England’s capitol. London’s first cholera epidemic in 1832 tipped the balance and Parliament approved removing burial from church controls. Of course, the cemetery had to pay a fee to any clergy who lost money on parishioners’ final disposition.
Kensal Green’s first burial was Margaret Gregory in January 31, 1833. Famous and Curious Cemeteries says, “The directors were so happy to have her that, at their own expense, they erected a tablet to her memory.”
The sarcophagus of Princess Sophia, in front of the Anglican Chapel, from a postcard photo taken by Robert Stephenson
Kensal Green has more mausoleums than any other cemetery in England, as well as separate Greek Revival chapels for Anglicans (Doric) and Dissenters (Ionic). Near the Anglican chapel stand the upraised sarcophagus monument to Princess Sophia, one of the daughters of King George III, who was king during the American Revolution as well as the Napoleonic Wars. Sophia was forbidden to marry and was kept apart from the world against her will, but managed to bear an illegitimate child she was unable to keep. Her burial at Kensal Green – along with her brother Augustus Frederick, who predeceased her – added to the new cemetery’s cachet. Two of Napoleon’s cousins, who’d lived in exile in London, rest here as well.
Author of the novel Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray is buried there, along with novelist Anthony Trollope, who was famous in his day for his understanding of the difficulties faced by Victorian women, and Woman in White author Wilkie Collins, who also wrote The Moonstone, considered the first full-length mystery.
Several showmen made their permanent bows at Kensal Green. Andrew Ducrow, “Colossus of equestrians,” lies in an Egyptian tomb guarded by sphinxes. Emile (or Charles) Blondin, who paced a tightrope over Niagara Falls in 1859, is watched over by a statue of Hope with her anchor. Joseph Richardson, a mason who created a “Rock Harmonicon” which struck pieces of mica schist to make music. You can hear one here.
Perhaps the most remarkable person buried there is Dr. James Barry. Only upon Barry’s death — after 46 years of active army service, some of it as Inspector General of Hospitals – was it discovered that she had concealed her gender. James Barry was the first female doctor.
Darren Beach in London’s Cemeteries (reviewed yesterday) calls Kensal Green “vast, gloriously ramshackle fields of eerie catacombs and Victorian monuments.” Famous and Curious Cemeteries calls it “a marvelous relic of the Victorian age.” Hugh Meller, in London Cemeteries: An Illustrated Guide and Gazetteer goes as far as to state Kensal Green is “one of London’s most important 19th century monuments.” Perhaps Olympic visitors can tear themselves away from the games long enough to explore.
Click here to sign up for my monthly mailing list, which will keep you up to date on my speaking schedule and upcoming projects. As a thank you, you'll receive "4Elements," a short ebook that showcases one of my favorite cemetery essays, a travel essay, and two short stories, spanning from urban fantasy to science fiction.