19 September, 2011

The Magnificent Seven

I'm not talking about cowboys, I'm talking about cemeteries.  Yes, this is another installment of What I did This Weekend.  My intent is to suggest interesting and free things to do, and hopefully not bore you (this has to be more interesting than furniture shopping.  Though that's also fun, this is much less expensive).  So, without further ado, I present Nunhead Cemetery.

In the 1830's and 40's London created 7 cemeteries that were meant to take some of the burden off the consecrated ground of London's parish churches.  Highgate Cemetery is perhaps the most famous, containing such persons as Karl Marx and George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans).  Nunhead is in south London on a hill looking out towards Westminster.  Entry is free and it is open during daylight hours.  It is both kept up and a bit wild, giving it an air of mystery without the attached creepiness that can sometimes come with old cemeteries.  Though still in use, most of its 52 acres are full, 4 bodies deep in places and bodies only a few feet from the topsoil.  As my guide, Bob, aptly put it, you may not think you're standing on top of a body, but you are.  It's a strange thought.  Nevertheless, it is a beautiful place and well worth a visit.  The other 6 cemeteries that were opened for the same purpose around the same time were Kensal Green, West Norwood, Highgate, Abney Park, Brompton and Tower Hamlets.  Bill does one of his walks in Highgate, and sometimes Abney Park for special occasions.
The sides of the paths are lined with burials.  The growth has been pushed back from the paths, but it also hides the majority of the graves.  The Friends of Nunhead Cemetery offer tree tours looking at the wildlife, as well as their cemetery tours.
Not much stands up straight in the cemetery.  I'm not sure which decade it was, but for 10 years no one was looking after Nunhead, so many graves have become broken or overrun.  The care that is shown to it now preserves some of the ruin, while maintaining the grounds.  It's as if it's in a suspended state of entropy.
Some of the tomb architecture is beautiful.  This is one of the most complete angels I saw.
The urn with the cloth draped over it was a big motif in the 19th century.  I'm sure it means something... (?)
It's always strange recognizing names on tombstones.  This is the tomb of Maggie, beloved wife of Robert Palmer?  His first wife that Wikipedia forgot to mention?  Possibly not the same Robert Palmer, Claire.
A bit of old and a bit of new.  Both tombs are of the same design- a long bed for flowers and plants and a book on the headstone.  It's amazing the difference a century can make.
As south London is not known for its techtonic plate activity, I'm struggling to attribute a reason for two diagonal graves to have settled to the right and the other two to have settled to the left.


  1. Claire, you're my kind of ghoul...er, I mean girl...er, make that young woman! Fun post!

  2. I'm liking the photo commentary, Claire.. Very witty. Bravo