By the Shores of Loch Broom: Part 2

By Sheldon

We’d trekked up to Scotland to see what it was that lured Montague, his father and brothers to this remote part of the British Isles for nearly fifty years. Alas, the building they called home was long gone, replaced with a far less impressive modern building, yet the estate itself remained.

A bridge on the estate. Reminiscent of something else the same engineer designed...

A bridge on the estate. Reminiscent of something else the same engineer designed…

What we missed in the building was more than made up for with the discovery of a private, beautiful place that was so well hidden that we had a hard time trying to find out where it was. Ever since I’d written about it in a post during our World War One month, Ben and I had wanted to see if we could find the ‘private family burial ground’ that lay in the Braemore Estate.

This would be continued after we furiously stripped down to our pants by the roadside, almost mimicking Native Americans in attempting to do some sort of rain dance to bat the ticks off of our clothing. The insects up there have admirable persistence in trying to draw blood from your body – frankly we wanted the solace of a peaceful graveyard, where we would not be scared by the threat of having to receive a blood transfusion had we stayed there a moment longer!

After giving up on the Satnav and relying on good old fashioned ‘we’ll drive until we come across it’, I worked out it had to be down a very well hidden country lane that certainly tested the suspension of our rented Vauxhall Corsa to its maximum threshold. When we found it, we were struck by the eerie silence of the Glacial valley, Such unabounded nature is what ranks it as one of the best places I’ve ever visited for Cemetery Club.


We opened the new black gates and entered another world. Thick growth of bracken and grasses covered the ground to the point where I suspected a Velociraptor from Jurassic Park may come out and finish off where the midges had failed. A Knee high headstone to Alice Mitford was the first grave we came across, and then a celtic cross to Marjorie, followed by another cross to Alice, and then, at the top of the clearance, a massive cross to Captain John Fowler.


The memorial to Captain John’s younger brother Alan, whose body was never found.


Subsequent research shows that this was used by the wife, children and descendants of Monty’s eldest brother, John Arthur, who should have been buried here but died in London in 1899 whilst tying up Sir John’s estate, ending up in the grave of the illustrious engineer in Brompton instead.

The following day we spent in Ullapool, utilizing the fantastic Ullapool Museum. (Thankfully no blood sucking insects seemed to be in the town, so me and Ben rested easy for the first time in several days.) There was a wealth of information on the Fowler family, from the death of Captain Sir John and his younger brother Alan, to the sale catalogue of Braemore and the revelation that Monty tried to sell it in 1920: and that it was bulldozed in the 1960’s because of dry rot.


Lady Alice Fowler’s ashes lie beneath the cross

Image originally found at Am Baile

Image originally found at Am Baile

...she decided to ignore his instructions. Heartbreaking.

The grave today. We did try to get a photo from the same location to compare with the above photo, but it’s so overgrown with foliage it wasn’t possible.


Further research showed that Monty’s nieces and sister in law visited the same photographic studio as Lady Malcolm of Poltalloch – its nice to put a face to the memorials that commemorates them.

© Victorian and Albert Museum, London

Marjorie, Lady Alice Fowler and Mabel © Victorian and Albert Museum, London

We popped into a bookshop afterwards and began chatting with the bookseller behind the till, seeing if any books on the family or their contribution to the area was in print. A biography written in 1900 about the career of Sir John happened to be, missing a page which had to be folded in. “We get the odd Fowler fans in here from time to time – this page is from a copy held by  Sir John’s great-great granddaughter – she runs this place. Do you want to speak to her?”

We glanced at each other. For the second time, a living relative was about to communicate with us.

To be continued, obviously!

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By the Shores of Loch Broom: The Fowlers’ Retreat

by Sheldon

I despise insects. Pretty things like Ladybirds and Rosemary Beetles I don’t mind, because they make no attempt at trying to make me anemic. Mosquitoes, midges and ticks however, I would willingly blast of the face off this earth with a bazooka, were I properly equipped. I’m allergic to insect bites too, so it made perfect sense to be in the middle of a Forest in the Highlands being besieged by a selection of these creatures as me and Ben sought to visit a place of pilgrimage that was of great interest to us.

© Neil King 2012

© Neil King 2012

This is Braemore House near Ullapool, north-west Scotland. It’s constructed out of Gneiss (which is a blue coloured stone which is abundant in the north of Scotland) and edged with durable Sandstone from Glasgow. It looks more like a castle than holiday home, and it was built in the 1860’s for Sir John Fowler as country retreat.

Fowler. Hmm. Now where have we heard that name before?


Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 00.52.47

Ever since we’ve been researching Montague Fowler here at Cemetery Club, one word kept popping up. Braemore. Braemore this, Braemore that. When we found out that Sir John Fowler, one of the most eminent Victorian men of the age and the man who co-designed the Forth Bridge was actually Monty’s father, the scale of the building captivated us and we wanted to see if it was still standing. We found the above image on Google but nothing more contemporary. The hunt was on.

Whilst chief engineer for the Metropolitan Line, he purchases the estate of Braemore and over the next few decades entertains the great and the good there – the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edwin Landseer (painter and sculptor of the Lions of Trafalgar Square), John Everett Millais, the list goes on – many clattered nigh-on five hundred miles from London to witness and be party to the stunning views the house commanded of Loch Broom, nearly seven hundred feet above sea level.

We’d never been to Scotland before so decided to marry this little bit of rural exploring with a holiday, presumably in the same spirit that Sir John bought the estate as a place to get away from the grind of London. We mentioned this to the owners of the B&B we were staying at and the legacy of the family came to the fore. ‘Oh, John Fowler? Fascinating man. Do you know he built a bit of the Metropolitan Line behind his house up here to try out different tunnelling techniques?” Ben and I looked at each other and suddenly found ourselves in a car, hurtling towards the house.


The view of the estate looking down the valley

We parked in a quiet Car Park and vanished into the depths of a mature forest that held Spruces and Pines in a tight, insect-ridelled maze. What looked like a short walk on Google Maps had failed to reveal the topography of the Highlands, and when we saw a slope of about 50 degrees our task of finding the Fowler holiday home suddenly seemed to rival a mission led by George Mallory.

Ben marched on in his wellies like some sort of mountain goat, whilst I delicately stumbled over bracken, heather and grasses like a timid Heron. As we ascended, what we thought was the peak made way for another peak, and another peak, until we both found a picnic bench to collapse on, at which point I swore very loudly.


“We’ve come this far” Ben said. My legs were killing me and I was beginning to wonder if any blood transfusion services were nearby as the Midges and flies got bolder in every attempt to drink my haemoglobin. Resolving myself to his astute observation, we carried on until we reached the main gravel drive which Google Maps indicated was the main driveway. I’d run out of Irn-Bru by this point, and wondered what Monty would make of it all, resting peacefully beneath his granite cross in Brompton, probably wondering why two men in their late twenties would be doing this.


We followed the path for another twenty minutes and were confronted with a gate. ‘Braemore Estate. Keep out’. Up ahead, a driveway which led to a large turning circle, with a house directly behind it. This was it. Ben remained behind as the sign clearly indicated private property, but I was of a more forthright nature. Any questions asked – I’d say we were Fowler fans and that we wanted to see a place where genius was nurtured and executed.

I opened the gate and walked up the path. Flanked by sheds of tractors and cars on one side and a small lodge, the other, the house crept into view.



What’s this then? I was expecting a magnificent stone building. What must the Archbishop of Canterbury have thought if he saw one of the leading lights of British Engineering living in a Barratt home?

Part 2 on Thursday will look into a what happened to the Highland home of the Fowler clan and a rather surprising little feature of this Highland hideaway….

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The Crystal Palace

By Christina

On the night of 30th November 1936, thousands of people gathered around Upper Norwood in south London to watch an iron and plate glass building known as The Crystal Palace burn to the ground. Many came because they had seen a strange orange glow in the sky, and they brought their families and friends with them.  Flames licked the sky and the crowds were mesmerized. The ground underneath their feet disappeared under twisted, tangled lengths of fire hose. Over 400 fire fighters battled the blaze through the night, but it was no good. By morning, the giant glass beacon that had shaped the skyline for nearly 100 years was gone. It had stood on the site since 1854.

Watch a video of the Crystal Palace Fire. 

In 2014, Crystal Palace Park, which sits atop Sydenham Hill on the Norwood Ridge and stretches downwards all the way to Penge, is somewhere that people go for many reasons. They go there to exercise – they swim at the National Sports Centre or they run along the terraces, limbering up on the steps and then dashing off across the pebbles. It’s somewhere they go to walk their dogs or their children. It’s somewhere they go to eat ice cream and hunt for dinosaurs, to sit and read or to bask on the grass. For the enthusiastic musician, it is somewhere to go to practice the trombone or the bagpipes without disturbing the neighbours. The Italian terraces sprawl out in front of you as you stand at the top of the park, and on a clear day you can look across Kent all the way to the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at Dartford and the North Downs. If you cross the Parade and walk along Westow Hill, there’s a spot where you can gaze on all of London. It’s high up here, and it’s easy to feel like you own the world. It’s hard to imagine that a great iron and glass structure once stood here, reflecting the sky and housing a plethora of installations and displays, but it did, through almost the entire Victorian era and right up until very near the start of the Second World War.

High on the hill, the terraces of the Crystal Palace still stand

High on the hill, the terraces of the Crystal Palace still stand

The Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton, was plagued by crisis and ruin right from the word go. It was moved from Hyde Park in 1854 after being built for The Great Exhibition of 1851, an idea by Prince Albert – the exhibition would showcase the various industrial triumphs of the British Empire to the rest of the world. It found a new home on Penge Place, which was owned by a friend of Joseph Paxton. But it’s new life was not plain sailing by any means. Before it’s untimely demise, a fire in December 1866 broke out and destroyed the north end of the building. In 1892, one person died in a hot air balloon accident in the grounds, and 8 years after that, an elephant escaped and trampled a person to death. By 1911 the palace was declared bankrupt because it was impossible to maintain financially. After that, despite new management and a trust fund set up to save it, the palace and it’s grounds were never the same.

On a cloudy day in 2014 my brother and I are walking along the Crystal Palace terraces. I am trying to learn things about the site that I can later write here to impress you all with, and I want to take photographs but the day is so miserable that I do not feel I can do the park justice. We walk along the top terrace towards what was once the Grand Central Walk leading up to the palace entrance. We stare up at the now deactivated  transmitter mast and the green slopes that lead away from us to the left. Behind them is Crystal Palace Parade. My brother says ‘well here’s a fact about the palace, although I don’t know if it’s true. Apparently when it burnt down they couldn’t be bothered to remove all the rubble so they buried it under these slopes instead.’ An interesting idea, and looking at the slopes now, thick with foliage, it’s easy enough to imagine twisted metal and plate glass hidden underneath the mounds and long forgotten. But is it true?

The next day I go back with my Dad, who lives in Upper Norwood. He says he heard the same story (it’s likely he told it to my brother) but Google turns up no results on the matter, although I’d like to believe that the ground we are standing on is a cemetery to a long lost Victorian architectural wonder.

DSC00488The white tripod structure in this picture appears to be either the only remaining part of the actual Crystal Palace itself or a reconstruction to show where it would have stood. Below is a 1950’s photograph of the then-remaining south wing of the building, which was destroyed by vandals that decade. You can see the white arch-like structure, although bigger and more ornate.

1950s south wingI grew up in and around this park – it serves as the backdrop for so much of my life as child and adult. I remember playing on the swings in the playground and having picnics and barbeques with friends on the grass on the Sydenham side of the park. As a child, I ran races there as part of an inter-schools cross country championship. As an adult I have run the Race for Life there in aid of Cancer Research UK. I have been swimming at the National Sports Centre and also to Merlin Premier League Sticker swap shops there, queuing up for hours and swapping stickers with other kids on the grass outside in the mid 90’s.

In 2012, when the transmitter was deactivated and there was an odd light show put on for the people of London to enjoy, I went along and stood in the pouring rain underneath the thing to watch (it was disappointing). I have attended fireworks displays there and concerts (classical music at the concert bowl and pop music on the terraces). I walk through the park every time I visit the dentist. I don’t have to do that – it would be quicker to walk up Anerley Hill. But the park is nice. And recently, during an impressive series of summer thunder storms, I hiked up the hill from Penge with my friend Katie so we could sit atop the terraces as it got dark, watching lightning strike the hills and valleys that were spread out before us. Crystal Palace Park has been a large part of my life, something always there in the background. And I guess when something is that much of a backdrop, it does BECOME a backdrop, and you don’t think about the whys and wherefores.


Walking through the park on THIS day, having done a little bit of Google research beforehand, it occurs to me that I am walking through a boneyard. A relic from Victorian times with some interesting history. The remains of these days gone past are everywhere around, if only you open your eyes and look. In the top corner of the park, on the Anerley side, next to the museum, there’s the base of one of the old water towers that was used to feed the enormous fountains in the park. It’s nothing to look at now – only 10 feet high ramshackle and covered in ivy. But it used to stand 280ft tall, along with it’s twin on the opposite side of the park.

I found it, hooray! The base of the south water tower,

I found it, hooray! The base of the south water tower, designed and built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Different web pages have different accounts of why these towers were pulled down – they both survived the fire. Some state that they were taken down to avoid them being used as landmarks by German bombers during WW2. Other accounts report that this one at least was pulled down as it was structurally unsound and too close to the main road.

There are pairs of sphinxes flanking the steps at the ends of the terraces – I’ve been a fan of them for years, and now follow their spoof account on Twitter. They are damaged and graffiti covered but in tact, as are 3 statues from the original gardens that stand at intervals along the terraces.

Missing a head

Missing a head



And while a lot of the original features of the grounds are now lost, and replaced by the sports centre and it’s car park – Joseph Paxton’s giant head remains in the centre of it all.

The Head, looking foreboding on a questionable plinth.

The Head, looking foreboding on a questionable plinth.

The dinosaurs are still here too, although an air of neglect hangs around them also. The swamp in which they reside is one of my favourite features of the park. They were created in 1853 by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Paleontologist Sir Richard Owen and unveiled the following year. So large were they that a 20 person dinner party was held inside one of the models on New Years Eve 1853.


The collection was the first ever attempt of life-size sculptures of dinosaurs. Victoria and Albert apparently liked them a lot, and visited often. They are considered wildly inaccurate in their portrayal of actual dinosaurs but represent a brilliant insight into the Victorian era, and how they viewed dinosaurs at the time.


this one is craftily hiding behind a tree



The question is, why is this great example of Victorian ruin in the largest city in the UK so neglected? Various proposals for the regeneration of Crystal Palace Park have been made over the years – the current one being put forth by a Chinese company that hopes to rebuild it. But nothing has ever been done and the grand terraces and statues, which you suspect would be revered and preserved in many European countries – attracting thousands of visitors – have been left to slowly fall apart with no-one paying any attention. Noone has ever rebuilt the fountains. Joseph Paxton’s head (a grade II listed bust) lives in a car park. Walking around the park today (a sunny day this time, so I can take nice photographs – hooray!) I start to wonder why this site hasn’t been shown quite the respect it deserves. It’s been through a lot.



A Quick List of Attractions that Crystal Palace Park has Played Host To Since 1854

The Crystal Palace (now gone)

Italian Terraces (still mostly there, Grade II Listed)

A grand maze (still there but not grand)

Football ground which hosted the FA Cup between 1895 and 1914 (now gone)

London Country Cricket Club between 1900 and 1908 (on site of athletics stadium)

Home of Crystal Palace FC between 1905 and 1914 (now gone to Selhurst Park)

Dinosaurs (still there, Grade I Listed)

English Landscape Garden designed by Edward Milner (now gone)

Crystal Palace Railway Station – High Level (now gone, subway remains but is closed to the public)

Crystal Palace Railway Station – Low Level (still open, Grade II listed)

400 ft Long Marine Aquarium (built 1872, now gone, site of transmitter)

Crystal Palace Circuit between 1928 and 1972 (now gone – closed due to noise pollution)

National Sports Centre, built 1964 (still there, Grade II listed)

Sir Joseph Paxton bust, by William F. Woodington, 1873 (still there but moved from original location)

Concert Platform (still there)

Crystal Palace Museum, housed in a building built circa 1880 by the Crystal Palace Company (still there)

Crystal Palace Zoo (now gone – opened 1952)

Things proposed but never built included a drive-in cinema and a butterfly house.



All photographs by Christina Owen copyright 2014 unless stating otherwise



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A Working Man for Working People

by Sheldon

To say people mourned was an understatement. As the carriage passed through the gates of Bow Cemetery, thousands of mourners gazed upon the handsome horse-drawn carriage that contained the remains of a fighter. His coffin was barely visible beneath the floral tributes which only barely expressed the sentiment so many felt at his death. A fighter for social justice, the rights of workers and the personal nemesis of poverty. The year was 1921 and Will Crooks was dead.


© Andymag 2014

Crooks was born in Poplar in 1852, the third son of George Crooks, a Ship’s stoker who’d lost his arm when Will was aged 3. This left their mother with the responsibility of bringing money into the household, which was no easy feat for a woman in Victorian England. Consequently, five of the seven Crooks children ended up in the Workhouse – an experience which coloured Will’s outlook on inequality and poverty for the rest of his life, like another famous Londoner from the generation before.

There was no time to enjoy youth in such circumstances: aged 14 Crooks became an Errand boy, Blacksmith’s labourer and then an apprentice Cooper. A bright lad, his mind was ablaze with ideas after hearing of reformers such as Richard Cobden and John Bright, to the point where his passion for better workplace conditions led to the encouragement of his colleagues to speak up against his employers about their ridiculously long working hours. This he did with such tenacity that they fired him for being a ‘political agitator’.

His dismissal did not silence his voice. Working briefly in Liverpool and then on the London docks, his oratory skills soon had him holding ‘sermons’ to hundreds of dockers in what became known as ‘Crooks’ College’ which helped raise money for the 1889 London Docker’s strike. His oratory skills were superb – he mixed evangelism with humour on a variety of subjects, with good sense and refreshing honesty – which made people listen to him.

Crooks, caricature din Vanity Fair Magazine in 1905.  © The City College of New York 2014

Crooks, caricature din Vanity Fair Magazine in 1905. © The City College of New York 2014

Earlier that year he became the first Labour member for the London County Council. His career and empathy with the voters secured his ascension to more prominent political roles, such as overseeing changes in the operation of the Poplar Board of Guardians, which oversaw Workhouse operations from 1835 until 1930. A popular local politician, he ‘warmly endorsed’ a cap on immigration and opened Island Gardens on the Isle of Dogs. 

His career continued upwardly, First Labour Mayor of Poplar and then two years later became the MP for North Woolwich, defeating a previously Tory stronghold. Despite his rise to power, he never forgot his background and the needs of his fellow men. He supported plans for a workers’ Pension as well as limiting the powers of the House of Lords.


Crooks featured on my tour of Tower Hamlets Cemetery as part of the Shuffle Festival. As I gave the tour, I wondered why he wasn’t interred in somewhere more prestigious, such as Westminster Abbey – and this was indeed offered to his family, who declined the honour stating that he was born, married, lived and died in Poplar, and his death would not remove him from the area he loved so much. However, further research reveals that some of his opinions sat uncomfortably with his opinion on equality and prejudice – through modern eyes, at least. 

He supported the ‘Feeble Minds Act‘ which suggested putting those with mental illnesses into Labour Camps – an idea suggested by Winston Churchill in 1911 and supported Eugenics, seeing the disabled as ‘human vermin…who corrupt everything they touch’. A peculiar standpoint considering that his father was disabled – I wonder if their relationship informed his standpoint on the subject. At the outbreak of the First World War, he led the chamber in singing the National Anthem and supported the action of going to War, including being a member of a committee that included the Prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral which would break up pacifist meetings.

Upon his death, the East End shut for business. Cinemas and pubs were deserted. People lined the funerary route to say goodbye to a man who’d touched the lives of countless Eastenders. Floods of memorials came in, one claiming:

‘Listening to Will Crooks was like listening to the very soul of East London’

I wonder how many politicians today could get such a compliment.

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Zinkers, Graving and a Sarcophagus – Cemetery Facts, Customs and Trivia

by Christina

Abney Park Cemetery, London, November 2013

Abney Park Cemetery, London, November 2013

‘To the solemn graves, near a lonely cemetery,

my heart like a muffled drum is beating funeral marches’

- Charles Baudelaire

Sleeping Angel - Mary Nichols tomb in Highgate

Sleeping Angel – Mary Nichols tomb at Highgate

I found a Cemetery trivia quiz during a Google search for something else. It is called Cemeteries Can Be Fun. Sheldon – did we miss a trick? Should we have come up with a quiz ages ago? I took it (it turns out to have quite a sense of humour) and scored 80% which is quite respectable given that most of my answers were guesses. My favourite new facts are that Cemetery visiting is apparently called ‘graving’ (who knew? Sheldon, did you??) and that if you find a ‘Zinker’, you have found a gravestone made from zinc. The quiz is clearly American – it states that Zinkers were manufactured between 1873 and 1920, largely in Connecticut. They were designed to look like expensive granite and marble, but had a bluish colour.

Take the quiz! Let us know your score. 


Nunhead Cemetery, March 2013

Nunhead Cemetery, March 2013

There’s more things that are used to store a corpse in for interment than just coffins. While a coffin is a receptacle that is wider at the shoulders and narrower at the feet, a casket is completely rectangular and a sarcophagus is molded to the shape of the human body and often has a portrait of the deceased on the lid. Think: Ancient Egyptians. The word ‘sarcophagus’ comes from two Greek words: ‘sarx’ meaning flesh and ‘phagein’ meaning to eat. Yummy.

Sepia tinted Kensal Green Cemetery - January 2013

Sepia tinted Kensal Green Cemetery – January 2013


There was once a belief that ghosts and spirits could be weighed down. I never gave much thought to why tombstones are made out of heavy stone materials, assuming it was an endurance sort of thing. But actually, the idea that a spirit may rise up from the dead and follow you home is something that goes back a long way – mazes were sometimes constructed at the entrance to ancient tombs as it was believed that spirits could only travel in a straight line.

Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, August 2013

Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, August 2013

Victorians, led by Queen Victoria when she was grieving for Prince Albert, took the idea of mourning to a whole new, macabre level. The Victorians truly were the Kings and Queens of bizarre death customs. Here are a couple:

There were several stages of mourning, and each one called for a different fashion statement. During the first stage, a woman was to wear jewellery made only of jet, a fossilized form of coal. During the second stage she would progress to wearing lockets containing hair from the deceased, or sometimes jewellery MADE OUT OF hair from the deceased. Restrictive widow’s dress, known as ‘widows weeds’ would then be worn for 2 years in total. Some women never wore colour again once their husband had died.

West Norwood Cemetery in Spring, 2013

West Norwood Cemetery in Spring, 2013

Postmortem Portraits were a thing. Especially after 1839, and once the daguerreotype photograph had been invented, because it became more affordable, so every man and his dog could have a picture of his loved one, taken AFTER their death (or indeed a picture of their dog). Many were posed and sometimes open eyes were painted onto the faces of the deceased.

‘The fence around a cemetery is foolish, for those inside can’t get out and those inside don’t want to get in’ 

- Arthur Brisbane

Brompton Cemetery  June 2014

Brompton Cemetery June 2014


All photographs taken by Christina Owen, Copyright 2014


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Outrage! A Disturbing Find

by Sheldon

A month or two back I left the comfortable surroundings of London and ventured up north to Newcastle to. Newcastle is a place I knew very little about, and what I did know was largely influenced from Auf Weidersehen Pet, which my father watched as I was growing up from battered old VHS recordings. I’d also recently seen a moving documentary on Ian Nairn, where his pronunciation of it (‘NewCASSLE’) furthered my inquisitiveness. Accompanied by Steve, I made a bee-line to the nearest Cemetery to see what was what. That happened to be the churchyard of St Nicholas in Gosforth.


The Church is strikingly severe, built out of beautiful sandstone – which has partially blackened from all the years of soot from the coal-mining industry that once proliferated locally. It was built, like most of Newcastle, by an architect by the name of John Dobson: Dobson was a local man who had honed his flair for design in London. After qualifying as an architect, he soon returned to  Newcastle to build all manner of things, from Churches to municipal buildings. He later went on to build Newcastle Central Station which, had the scheme not been subjected to financial pressures, would have been the most impressive train station outside of London.


The headstones of Gosforth are gorgeous. I suspect that many a mason cut their teeth working these stones into suitable memorials, and it’s strange that many of the London ones we’ve seen don’t have the same kind of vitality and flourish. Steve was impressed with a table tomb which had now found use as a garden feature, surrounded by pots of various shrubs. It was also good to see the Daffodils this far north were still in bloom, representing new life in the shadow of those who’ve had theirs extinguished.

Gosforth4 GosforthDaffs

A number of those buried here died in accidents at the local colliery – this is recorded on their tombstones, from John Dees who was ‘killed in an explosion of Gas in Gosforth Colliery June 14 1849’ to John Ord who, at seventy-four years of age, was still working and met his end after being crushed by Coal Tubs. The danger these men must have faced seems alien to a resident from down south, where industrial accidents such as this never really receive much prominence on headstones.


As we walked around the Victorian section, admiring the gargantuan tomb of the Brandling Family (who were a wealthy land owning merchant dynasty who helped employ Dobson in the improvements of the Church), Steve noticed something. “What is that?”


I’ve seen this in old Churchyards before and it is to be expected in a place that claims to have been in existence since 650AD. Steve’s foot had scuffed the top part of a human hip bone. It had been cleanly cut just below the ball joint – presumably as a grave was being dug for another burial and had been dislodged. Stupidly, I exclaimed ‘Oh Jesus, who’s is this?’ almost expecting several hundred people to emerge out of the dirt in a Pythonesque manner saying ‘ooh that’s mine actually, chuck it over here would you?’ How old it was and how long it had been separated from its owner is anyone’s guess, and I gently nudged it towards a big granite obelisk so that it was no longer on the main pathway.

We had to leave shortly afterwards: I was having to be physically restrained from instigating my own Time Team expedition to see if I could find its owner. The beauty of this little corner of Newcastle shouldn’t be overlooked, and neither should the heritage that took the lives of many of its former occupants.

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Remembering Land and Sea on Tower Hill

by Christina

I decided that a month dedicated to World War One remembrance would not be complete without a trip to the Tower of London to view the incredible Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red progressive exhibit that’s down in the famous grassy moat until 11 November. By now I’m sure that you’ve seen it, or pictures of it, but if not then click this link. 

It’s an art installation created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, and aims to fill the moat gradually, between August 5th (100 years since the first full day of fighting) and 11 November with over 800,000 delicate ceramic poppies – each one representing a British and colonial military fatality during WW1.

You can buy a poppy for £25 – with part of the proceeds split between 6 different military charities. And every night at sunset the Last Post is played, and a roll call of 180 names of military troops is read out.

It’s a startling sight – a normally green and tranquil looking place in the middle of a bustling city suddenly spilling over with bright, violent red.

Tower of London


Tower Hill


Tower Hill is full of people stopping to take photographs, or just to stand and stare quietly at the vast display in front of them. It’s right in the heart of London, in the City and surrounded by tourist attractions (the bridge, the Tower, the river, that large building that looks like a walkie talkie) and yet somehow, the pace slows a little up here. It’s quieter and more respectful. It’s peaceful. A proper memorial – and people don’t just walk on by. They stop and pay attention.


Tower Hill


There are even little, more personal memorials left for family members long gone.

Tower of London


Across the road is something a little less iconic that you might not even realise is there. I certainly didn’t until I nearly walked right on past it.

Trinity Square Gardens sits quietly next to Tower Hill Tube station, a tranquil place where people meander, sit, eat their lunch. It used to play home to the infamous Scaffold where many took their last breath – the last in 1747. Now it is home to something much better and less murderous – although sadly also death themed. The Edwin Lutyens’ Tower Hill Memorial (1928) sits here, split into two parts – one for each World War. It is dedicated to the 24,000 merchant sailors who died in both world wars and have no known grave. The World War One part of the memorial sits alongside the road, unassuming yet hulking in the form of a sheltered passageway, the walls covered with names of lost seamen from 1914-1918. It is majestic yet also blends somehow into the background – which is how I nearly came to miss it altogether.

Merchant Navy Memorial Aug 2014



Trinity Square Gardens




An excerpt from the information board that’s found in the Gardens, next to the memorial:

‘More than 17,000 men lost their lives while serving with the mercantile marine during the First World War. After the Armistice, the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission was determined to find an appropriate way to commemorate merchant seamen who had lost their lives through enemy action and had no grave but the sea. In consultation with several organisations representing merchant mariners, the Commission decided that a memorial bearing the names of the lost should be constructed on the Embankment, near the heart of maritime Britain – the Thames and the Port of London. The First World War Monument, a vaulted corridor of Portland stone, was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens and unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Mary on 12 December 1928. The bronze panels commemorate over 11,900 merchant navel personnel of the First World War. ‘

This memorial is by no means the only thing to see at Trinity Square Gardens. The World War Two memorial to merchant seamen takes the form of a sunken garden with a large compass in the centre. At the other end of the gardens, near the exit for the Tube station, there’s an anchor statue that serves as memorial to those lost in the Falklands War.


There’s a stretch of medieval wall also on that side of the gardens, built on Roman foundations. On the far side, at the end furthest from the embankment, there’s the towering white presence of the old Port of London Authority building (1922) with Father Thames gazing down on all his London subjects. Next to that, you can find Trinity House (1795) which houses the General Lighthouse Authority for England and Wales. The gardens themselves are green and full of flowers. There’s a lot to see here. And it’s the perfect place for a memorial. Much like the poppy installation across the road, this place is quiet and respectful and peaceful and beautiful in it’s remembrance.


Unlike the poppy installation across the road, people do walk on by or through without stopping to take a look around. I get the feeling it’s firmly filed under the heading Things in London You’ll Miss Through Not Paying Attention. In fact, the gardens were ranked #1531 of 2018 things to do in London by Lonely Planet travelers in 2013. Meaning – it’s pretty far down the list. Especially because it’s so near so many much more famous tourist attractions that screech out for your attention. But go and have a look -at the gardens themselves and at the beautiful, underrated war memorials that it holds.



All photographs Copyright Christina Owen (2014)




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