Temporary Brit

My three months of adventures in London!

Cemeterial Success October 26, 2011

Today I finished visiting all of London’s “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries.  I don’t know if that’s something to be proud of or not; who goes sightseeing in a GRAVEYARD, never mind seven of them????  Still, I had to do it, and I think I can sping my visits into a fairly interesting chapter in my book, once I get around to writing it!

 

This past Sunday, I went to Tower Hamlets Cemetery.  It was pretty nondescript.  It wasn’t artistic or pretty, and it just wasn’t as interesting as some of the others.  That’s all I have to say about that! 😛

 

Yesterday, I went to Kensal Green Cemetery and West Brompton Cemetery.  Kensal Green just didn’t sit right with me, for some reason; I just felt icky when I was there.  There are plenty of old monuments and things, but it’s not woodsy at all.   Plus, a good percentage of the place is more modern than historic.  Remember…it’s only the OLD cemeteries I like. 🙂  Kensal Green did feature this grave, however:

No disrespect to the dead, but I SO wish the husband’s name had been Donald! 😛

 

West Brompton was next, as I said.  It’s the most well-laid out of all the Magnificent Seven; it’s shaped like a perfect rectangle, with straight paths running the length and width of it.  Like Kensal Green, it’s not THAT wooded, but it feels a bit older and wilder (it’s actually not older). West Brompton is also the cemetery that feels the most like a park; there were plenty of people out walking themselves and their dogs.  This isn’t surprising; it’s actually a pretty place:

 

I visited the last two cemeteries today.  They were a bit more of a challenge; neither one is accessible by Tube.  That meant taking actual trains that are NOT part of the Underground network.  The good news?  Most rail services that fall within the TFL zones are covered by my Oyster Card.  🙂 All of the stations that I had to use today were within the first four zones, which are covered by my monthly pass, which means no extra money out of my pocket!  Nunhead Cemetery (south of London) was my first stop.  It’s definitely the most overgrown of the seven, and is now a nature reserve.  The only graves and monuments visible were the ones that lined the paths.  It felt like I was taking a walk in the woods more than a graveyard, which I didn’t hate.  The woods are my favorite natural environment. 🙂  There was also a ruined chapel in the middle, but unlike the one from Abney Park, it was well kept and therefore did NOT give me the creeps:

The paths were pleaseant and winding, and I basically had the place to myself.  That was due in large part to the fact that it was POURING rain.  I even heard thunder at one point.  So basically…I was wandering around alone in a graveyard during a storm.  The only thing that could have made it more awesome was if it had also been a full moon on Halloween. 😀

 

My last and final stop was West Norwood.  The rain had stopped, and the sun had come out, making it a fraction less cold.  This one felt the most modern to me, which is funny because it’s the second oldest.   I think that’s because it seemed to have more modern, lawn-style graves rather than the old-fashioned monuments that I like.  Plus, it’s very well-kept.  There were hardly any overgrown spaces and gravestones that had been swallowed up by nature.

 

I got several reminders during my visits that these places aren’t just there for nice walks and history.  They’re still working cemeteries; Kensal Green, West Brompton, and West Norwood were all playing host to some sort of funeral or memorial service while I was there.  The one at West Brompton was a particularly big deal.   The departed was….ummm…delivered to the site in a carriage drawn by matching black horses.  Now THAT is a classy way to go out! 😀

 

Today marks the beginning of my final week in London.  It still looks like I won’t be getting into St. Paul’s; they’re talking about opening it up again by Friday, by the dome will still be closed.  Since that’s a big part of the reason why I wanted to do the tourist thing in there, I think I’ll probably have to skip it.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to sneak in one last service, though; their boys’ choir is the best I’ve heard at ANY evensong service anywhere. 🙂

 

A Very “Grave” Day in London…. October 21, 2011

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I have a confession to make, and it’s a little bit creepy: I really like old cemeteries.  Don’tworry; I don’t have some weird obsession with death, and I’m not turning goth or anything. 🙂  I don’t like NEW cemeteries, and recently dead people freak me out big time.  When a cemetery has been around for long enough, though, it stops being creepy.  I love looking at the old tombstones and monuments, and thinking about the history that those people lived through.  Plus, some of the statuary can be really beautiful!

 

London has quite a few old cemeteries, as does England as a whole.  Almost any old church is going to have one.  There’s an informal network of cemeteries in London, though, called the “Magnificant Seven.”  I decided on the spur of the moment to try and visit all of them before I leave.  In fact, I was originally going to try and visit all of them in one day.  Once I started planning out my transportation routes, I realized that this probably wasn’t going to work.  Connections between some of the cemetaries aren’t exactly direct, and there are only so many hours in the day.  So, I decided instead to do three today, and the other four one day next week.  At least, that WAS the plan….

 

Highgate Cemetery is the best known of the Magnificent Seven, and was the only one I was originally planning to visit.  It’s split into two sections: Highgate East and Highgate West.  Highgate West is only accessible through the guided tours which happen once every weekday, and slightly more often on weekends.  They recommend booking by phone a week in advance, and cost 7 pounds.  I didn’t think all that trouble and all that money were particularly worth it, so I stuck with Highgate East.  There’s still a small admission charge to that one (3 pounds), and while I STILL find it odd to pay to visit dead people, I forked over the money and went in.  Highgate didn’t disappoint; lots of pretty, old-fashioned monuments and stonework, and pretty plant life as well. Highgate is also home to some pretty famous residents.  If you’re a Karl Marx fan, you can see him here:

 

 

One thing I’ve noticed in a lot of old cemeteries is that hardly any of the people in them died.  They all “fell asleep” or “went away.”  All, that is, except Patrick Caulfield:

 

 

As I said, my plan was to visit three of the Magnificent Seven today, but I almost didn’t make it to any.  I got off the Tube at Highgate, assuming that there would be signage pointing the way to the cemetery (there usually IS signage pointing to major sights).  There wasn’t, and I hadn’t printed a map ahead of time.  So, I wandered around Highgate for hours, trying to find the place.  There were maps at bus stops, but I kid you not; EVERY SINGLE TIME I would use one of those, there would end up being a huge block of houses where the cemetery was supposed to be.  It was early afternoon before I actually got in.  I normally take snags in my plans in stride, but I don’t really have the luxury of time anymore.  Getting lost for hours isn’t an option!  On the upside, I made a new friend as I was leaving Highgate:

 

 

I had time to squeeze in one more of the Seven, so I headed to Abney Park.  It was a ridiculously long walk from the nearest Tube station; so much so that I probably should have taken the bus.  At any rate, I didn’t, and I found the place without too much trouble.  Abney Park isn’t nearly as well maintained as Highgate.  The paths are clear, and many are paved, but most of the graves are overgrown with ivy, weeds, and trees.  I would be willing to bet that there are more graves that aren’t visible anymore than there are graves which are visible.  It was like taking a walk in the woods more than anything:

 

 

The only time that I got creeped out all day actually happened in Abney Park.  There’s this old, ruined shell of a church on the cemetery grounds, and for some reason, it gave me the heebie jeebies just LOOKING at it.  Here’s a picture of the interior:

 

 

I’m not sure I believe in ghosts, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few hanging out in this place!

 

In other news, I’m not sure how much coverage the protests around St. Paul’s have been getting.  Basically, a bunch of people have set up a tent city in front of the cathedral to protest capitalism or something.  It’s been totally peaceful, and the church has been fine with having them there for over a week.  I’m not politically active, so I have kind of a live and let live attitude towards protests.  Today, though, I found out that they had to close St. Paul’s, for visiting AND for services.  That just makes me angry.  It’s disrespectful enough to choose a place of worship for your activism, but when you keep that place of worship from conducting its daily business, then you’ve gone too far.  It’s true that I’m mostly upset about this because I haven’t had a chance to tour the cathedral yet, and I’ve been looking forward to ending my visit with a climb to the top of the dome.  I’m absolutely mad and disappointed that I won’t be able to do that.  Maybe that makes me just as selfish as the protestors are now being, but I KNOW I’m not the only one who feels this way.  As per a poll in the newspaper today, the majority of their readers no longer have sympathy with the protestors.  The Dean has politely asked them to leave (read the letter from him to the protestors here: http://www.stpauls.co.uk/News-Press/Latest-News/Open-Letter-from-the-Dean-of-St-Pauls-Cathedral  ). That sounds reasonable to me, but the church is already taking flack for being “hypocritical” and asking the protestors to leave.  Ridiculous.  Keep your fingers crossed that they can get the cathedral open again soon.  I don’t think my book about London wold be complete without a chapter on the Cathedral that includes a dome climb!