London’s Cemeteries by Darren Beach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Despite its pocket size, this is more of an armchair travel book than a take-along guide to cemeteries. It only includes maps to the largest graveyards and most cemeteries rate only a page or two to cover their history, architecture, and celebrity graves. That being said, it is still a worthy addition to your cemetery library.
It’s great fun. The author describes the “tree that killed Marc Bolan” outside Barnes Common Cemetery. He encourages that respects be paid at the most tenuous celebrities. He points out bomb damage from World War II and even, at one point, from a bomb dropped by a zeppelin. He gushes when a cemetery is particularly beautiful and snipes when one isn’t up to standard. He seems to have actually visited each of the 50 cemeteries listed herein. He is honest in his assessments: some cemeteries “could have been beautiful,” some deserve visits only by completists, others suffer from “anodyne” (a word he uses repeatedly) chapels or crematory rose gardens.
Of course, the book could have more photographs. Not every cemetery gets one, but some of those includes are spectacular. My favorite is of the statue of an aviator killed in 1938 and buried in Eltham Cemetery. As the author points out, he looks he’s wearing a “post-apocalyptic anti-radioactivity suit.” I wouldn’t have known about him without this book.
I did find a few errors, which of course call into question all the stuff I don’t know cold. For instance, in the entry on Old Mortlake Cemetery, the author states in an aside that Charles Dickens is buried in Highgate West. Dickens is buried at Westminster Abbey, against his wishes. His family lies at Highgate. Later, in the entry on Greenwich Cemetery, Beach compares its views of London to the views of Paris from Montmartre’s Pere Lachaise. I’m not even sure which Parisian cemetery he means here (it might be Montmartre itself or St. Denis), but Pere Lachaise is in the east of Paris and Montmartre is in the north. He’s mixing metaphors.
Even so, I give this book four stars. It’s added a bunch of cemeteries to my must-see list. I will just be careful to cross-reference the author’s enthusiasm with other books on London cemeteries before I take what he writes as gospel.
Hopefully, its errors have been corrected in the 2019 edition, which you can pick up at Amazon: London’s Cemeteries.
London cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:
Cemetery of the Week #2: Highgate Cemetery in London, England
Cemetery of the Week #63: Westminster Abbey, London, England
Cemetery of the Week #70: Kensal Green Cemetery, London, England
Cemetery of the Week #71: Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury, England
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