The Ghosts of Hammersmith Palais

by Caroline

Still visible from the platforms of the Hammersmith & City line terminus at Hammersmith is the last, sad remnant of what was once one of West London’s most popular entertainment venues.

20140808_082425First opened in 1919, the Hammersmith Palais was for most of its life primarily a dance venue.  The building was actually a tram shed when it was first built, but in the early 20th Century trams were becoming less popular as motor cars and buses became more widely used.  After it stopped being used as a tram shed, the site was home to a roller skating rink for a few years before it was converted into a dance hall.  Roller skating was hugely popular on both sides of the Atlantic in the early years of the 20th Century, with many indoor and outdoor skating rinks being set up – it’s estimated that by 1909 around 500 rinks had been set up in Britain.  The old tram shed in Hammersmith would have made an ideal site for skating due to its size and the fact that it was sheltered from the elements.

French advertisement for roller skates, 1908 (image via Wikimedia Commons)

French advertisement for roller skates, 1908 (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Like so many other crazes, roller skating’s popularity declined after a few years and the rink in the old tram shed at Hammersmith was closed and converted into a dance venue.  The newly-opened Hammersmith Palais played host to ballroom dancing and also went on to be a pioneering supporter of early jazz bands, with its first resident band being the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1919, and the Jazz Kings, featuring Sidney Bechet, played regularly at the venue between 1920 and 1922.

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

(image via Wikimedia Commons)


From New Orleans to Hammersmith with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band 1919

1919 newspaper cutting about the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (Source: Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University)

The Palais returned to its skating roots for a spell between 1929 and 1934, with the worn floor of the venue being replaced and transformed into an ice rink.  Ice skating had become popular at the end of the 19th Century and the first indoor artificial ice rinks began to appear in the 1870s.  At Hammersmith, the new ice rink was used for ice dancing as well as conventional skating and ice hockey.  The London Lions ice hockey team were based at the Palais until 1934, when the venue was once again converted into a dance hall and the Lions found a new base in Wembley.  The Hammersmith Palais once again became a popular dance hall, accommodating up to 5,000 dancers at a time.

(Creative Commons image from [] on Flickr)

(Creative Commons image from STML on Flickr)

During the Second World War, and in spite of the Blitz, the Palais continued to play host to jazz bands and dances.  It was popular with servicemen on leave and women working in London. Glenn Miller, one of the iconic artists of the period, was among the performers here.  The BBC also broadcast Services Spotlight from the venue, featuring the popular artists of the time.

A dance event at the Hammersmith Palais, 1941 (image via Wikimedia Commons)

A dance event at the Hammersmith Palais, 1941 (image via Wikimedia Commons)

After the war, the Palais continued to be a popular jazz and ballroom dancing venue.  After the Second World War, London was home to a “Modern Jazz” movement that included famous names such as Ronnie Scott.  Jazz nights at the Palais continued to be incredibly popular.  An article about the Palais in 1951 commented that “Jazz as they play it at the Hammersmith Palais, is a serious matter. Youth goes mad about it – one way or the other. It’s the music of an unsafe, unsure, age.”

As trends in music changed, the Hammersmith Palais played host to some of the biggest and most popular bands of the day.  Legendary acts such as the Beatles, the Who, David Bowie, and the Rolling Stones all played at the Palais, and it also became a popular venue for reggae and punk acts.  The Palais was immortalised by The Clash, in their 1978 release “White Man (in Hammersmith Palais)”, a song inspired by Joe Strummer’s visit to a reggae night at the Palais.

The Clash (image by Helge Øverås on Wikimedia Commons)

The Clash (image by Helge Øverås on Wikimedia Commons)

In the 1990s, the Palais began to fall into decline, increasingly hosting discos and club nights rather than live music and the venue began to be associated with drugs and violent crime.  The venue changed hands a number of times, and was even named Po Po Na for a while before an outcry caused its name to be changed back to the Hammersmith Palais.  However, even in its final months the Palais was still able to attract big-name acts and news of its closure was met with dismay by fans.  The Fall was the last band to play at the Palais, in a rather controversial last evening which had been scheduled before the venue’s closure was announced.  Mark E. Smith, lead singer of The Fall, didn’t reference the venue’s closure during the show and an angry fan invaded the stage to show his displeasure.

After its closure, the Palais stood derelict for a number of years, looking increasingly shabby and forlorn.  As the venue had been refitted so many times over the years, none of the original features had been left intact and therefore getting the building listed was not an option.

Hammersmith Palais looking in a sorry state in 2008 (image by Philip Perry, sourced via Wikimedia Commons)

Hammersmith Palais looking in a sorry state in 2008 (image by Philip Perry, sourced via Wikimedia Commons)

In 2013, demolition work finally commenced on the site and within a matter of months the Palais was gone, replaced by a block of smart (and eye-wateringly expensive) student flats.  No trace of Hammersmith Palais is now visible from Shepherd’s Bush Road.  Today the Palais lives on only in the ghost sign that overlooks the tube platforms, and in the memories of those who danced, drank, and performed there.


Further reading:

Farewell and RIP to the Hammersmith Palais – Ghost Signs, 11th May 2012 http://www.ghostsigns.co.uk/2012/05/farewell-and-rip-to-the-hammersmith-palais-2.html

Exclusive Photos of the Hammersmith Palais being demolished – The Clash Blog, 23rd May 2012 http://www.theclashblog.com/exclusive-photos-of-the-hammersmith-palais-being-demolished/

The 1951 Hammersmith Palais Jazz Ball (Jiving is forbidden!) – Independent R’s Review, 9th June 2014 http://www.indyrs.co.uk/2014/06/the-1951-hammersmith-palais-jazz-band-ball-jiving-is-forbidden/

Hammersmith Palais Theatre – Guerilla Exploring, 27th March 2011 http://www.guerrillaexploring.com/gesite/public_html/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=98:ges019-hammersmith-p-theatre&catid=4:industry&Itemid=5

A look back, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, February 2007, http://www.lbhf.gov.uk/Images/A_look_back_tcm21-76037.pdf

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William Hogarth and his neighbours in a Chiswick churchyard

by Caroline

One suspects that William Hogarth would chuckle bitterly at the irony – his home in Chiswick, once his peaceful country retreat, now backs onto a hellishly busy road and a concrete road junction named the “Hogarth Roundabout”.  It’s an incongruous backdrop to the quiet elegance of Hogarth’s house, which today is home to a lovely museum about the great artist’s life.  Skilled as he was at portraying the vices, double standards and corruption of Georgian London, Hogarth would undoubtedly have found something to lampoon about the concrete hell of the modern, traffic-choked city.  (Incidentally, cartoonist Martin Rowson did produce a homage to Hogarth using the roundabout as a centrepiece.)

The Hogarth Roundabout, by Patche99z on Wikimedia Commons

The Hogarth Roundabout, by Patche99z on Wikimedia Commons

However, just south of the Hogarth Roundabout the scene changes dramatically.  The concrete gives way to a cluster of pretty Georgian houses, and the historic brewery of Fuller, Smith and Turner.  It is against this rather quaint backdrop that you’ll find Hogarth’s eternal resting place, in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Chiswick.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time of his death in 1764, Hogarth was a well-respected artist – a satirist, painter, printmaker, engraver and cartoonist – and patron of many charities.  Although he and his wife Jane never had any children, they fostered foundling children and were patrons of the Foundling Hospital in London.  Starting life in Clerkenwell, Hogarth had a tough childhood.  His father was imprisoned for debt.  After beginning an apprenticeship as an engraver, Hogarth also turned his hand to painting and book illustrations.  He produced many satirical images, most famously Gin Lane and Beer Street, and the “moral works” such as The Rake’s Progress and Marriage a-la-mode.  His sharp eye for the ridiculous, the grotesque and the cruel made him famous and his images are those which we associate most closely with Georgian London even today.

William Hogarth, "Gin Lane", 1750 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

William Hogarth, “Gin Lane”, 1750 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

 

William Hogarth, "The Painter and his Pug", 1745 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

William Hogarth, “The Painter and his Pug”, 1745 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

But enough of his life, I hear you say.  This is Cemetery Club, after all.  So we will return to Hogarth’s final resting place, beneath a handsome memorial that befits a famous artist.  Look a little closer at the tombstone, and you’ll find symbols relating to Hogarth’s life – the artist’s palette and paintbrushes, the oak leaves which often symbolise endurance and long life (Hogarth lived to be 66, not a bad innings at the time), the book which can be interpreted as showing someone’s accomplishments in life, and the mask which symbolises drama.  The laurel wreath represents the “evergreen” memory of the deceased.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHogarth’s friend, the actor David Garrick, provided an eloquent inscription for his tomb:

Farewell great Painter of Mankind
Who reach’d the noblest point of Art
Whose pictur’d Morals charm the Mind
And through the Eye correct the Heart.
If Genius fire thee, Reader, stay,
If Nature touch thee, drop a Tear:
If neither move thee, turn away,
For Hogarth’s honour’d dust lies here.

View from Hogarth's tomb in 1823 (source)

View from Hogarth’s tomb in 1823 (source)

Hogarth’s tomb was restored in 2010.  The stone was cleaned and the worn inscriptions were renewed, allowing visitors to the grave to once again be able to read Garrick’s tribute to his illustrious friend.  An information panel was also installed nearby with details of Hogarth’s life and work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHogarth’s tomb isn’t the only one in St Nicholas’ churchyard that’s grand enough to warrant being fenced off with railings.  An intricately-carved chest tomb stands nearby, remarkably well-preserved despite being over two hundred years old.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARichard Wright, the man commemorated by this superb memorial, was a bricklayer.  Not any old brickie, though – he was the bricklayer to Lord Burlington, owner of the nearby Chiswick House.  Chiswick House, designed by William Kent and completed in 1729, was an early example of Palladian architecture in Britain.  William Hogarth was a scathing critic of the Palladian style, seeing it as unpatriotic.

Wright’s tomb showcases some symbols commonly seen on 18th Century tombstones.  Cherubs were an extremely popular motif in this period, and can be seen in a great deal of art and decoration as well as gravestones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then there’s the skull and crossbones.  The hollow eyes of the twin skulls, one on each side of the monument, still stare out from the tomb in a sinister manner.  To our modern sensibilities, it seems dreadfully morbid to feature skulls on the grave of a loved one, but in the 17th and 18th Centuries memento mori images were very popular.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother common memento mori symbol found on Georgian graves is the hourglass – a symbol of the inevitability of passing time.  Again, rather an ominous choice, which reflects the gloom and austerity often present in Protestant thought at the time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou’ll notice that none of these symbols are really the kind of symbols one associates with Christianity.  Crosses and crucifixes are a common sight in Victorian cemeteries, but not on older graves.  In the 17th and 18th Centuries, when anti-Catholic sentiment was still widespread, symbols such as crosses, crucifixes and images of Christ were seen as popish, so the symbolism we see on Anglican and Nonconformist graves in this period tends to be more secular, associated more closely with death than it is with Christianity.

The 19th Century, on the other hand, saw the legal emancipation of Catholics, and the emergence of the Oxford Movement within the Anglican Church, which embraced many ideas inspired by Catholic symbolism and rites.  The Gothic revival was also inspired by this resurgence in Catholic imagery and ideas, and many Victorian graves reflect this with angels, pinnacles, and crosses, as well as depictions of Christ and the Lamb of God.

DSC_1709Beyond the churchyard is another burial ground, Chiswick Old Cemetery, which was opened in 1871, after the churchyard was closed to new burials.  To walk through the churchyard and then the cemetery really is to take a walk through time – you begin with the Georgian tombs close to the church, with their skulls and cherubs, through the Victorian angels and Gothic pinnacles, to the black marble and colourful windmills of modern gravestones.

St Nicholas’ Churchyard and Chiswick Old Cemetery are open to visitors every day during daylight hours.

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Keep your wits about you: Looking for Dracula in Whitby

  
by Christina

I stole the title from the Whatsapp message Sheldon sent me when he found out where I’d been.

‘I hope you kept your wits about you in Whitby.’

 QuickDraw Shelly they call him – always ready with a pun.

In fact, you do need to keep your wits about you when you visit this coastal town in Yorkshire – or at least a sharp eye on the weather and a strong hold on your footing – otherwise you may just get blown off the cliff top…or pushed off by a naughty ghost.

I have been staying in Teeside this past week for work – and I had always wanted to go to Whitby, ever since I read the children’s classic Room 13 by Robert Swindells as a pre-teen. It tells the story of a young girl on a class trip, who becomes possessed by Dracula. Pretty creepy. I was confused. I thought Dracula lived in Transylvania? Maybe you did too. 

  
Those of you up on your literature will know that part of Bram Stoker’s famous novel was set in Whitby – Dracula came ashore there when the London-bound ship he was on – The Dementer – ran aground off the North Yorkshire coast. He set about terrorising the locals. Bram Stoker himself came to Whitby in 1890, looking for a holiday home. He was inspired by the atmosphere of the cliff side town – the spooky Abbey ruins steeped in religious history, bats flapping round church belfries and the red roofs of the little houses that looked out on an angry North Sea. He created Dracula, and many tourists today forget he isn’t real. They are sometimes even heard to ask the locals where Dracula is buried…

  
… And so on a sunny but VERY windy day in June, Dan and I ascended the cliff top to search the Abbey ruins and the churchyard next door, to find the anti-hero of this tale.

There was a certain amount of Messing About.

  
We had read on t’Internet that if you come across a grave marked with a skull and cross bones in the churchyard next to the Abbey – you may have found Dracula.

In practice, it’s pretty difficult to find anything in said churchyard because of the interesting effects coastal weathering has had on the centuries old residents of this cliff top resting place.

 
It’s almost as if the stones were made of plastic and someone had gone at them with a blowtorch. Many are unreadable.

  Some have been literally blown to pieces.

 

  
 The ones that are  readable demonstrate that these graves are EXTREMELY old. I’d seen old graves before, but only usually ever one or two in isolation. And given that the first of the Magnificent 7 (Kensal Green) didn’t open until 1832, and that we’ve been focusing mainly on those cemeteries and their peers, I was fascinated to see gravestones that were THIS old. And so many together! Some of the dates on the stones were in the 1700s. And the fashion for headstones during this time period seemed to include a penchant for disembodied cherub heads looking grief-stricken. The passing of time and the effects of being exposed to angry northern winds has resulted in many of the cherubs sporting something of a menacing death-metal style glow (of darkness).   If it hadn’t been such a sunny day and if I wasn’t being kept company by approximately two dozen Japanese tourists and their selfie sticks, I would have been rather freaked out.
 

  
In fact, this particular churchyard (St Mary’s) was closed for burials in 1858. Amazing when you consider the last of the Magnificent 7 (Tower Hamlets) was opened only 17 years previously. These old graves have been sitting up here, gaining no new friends, for a LONG old time. 

Whitby is an old whaling town, and a lot of graves here remember sailors. I was struck by the amount of headstones that read ‘in memory of’ rather than ‘here lies…’ The list of people remembered here who were lost at sea must be sizeable.

  
The legend goes that Count Dracula fled Whitby by ascending the 199 stairs to the churchyard and the Abbey on the East cliff and hid in a suicide victim’s grave after drinking the blood of a young girl. The story then goes on to say that you can find the graves of both the girl and the suicide victim in the churchyard to this day – they are very simply marked with a skull & crossbones.

 
We found this gravestone after a lot of searching. Is it related to Dracula?! More likely it’s the tomb of a pirate. In any case, we only found one. It was getting too windy to carry on looking and we wanted to climb back down to Earth & eat lunch with the holidaying mortals. 
So we did. We made sure to take some myths and legends away with us too. Stay tuned for more ghostly cliff top tales another time…

  

All photos by Christina Owen Copyright June 2015 

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Murder & Forbidden Love in Lewisham

by Sheldon

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The people in what is now the present day London Borough of Lewisham must have breathed a sigh of relief in 1858. Much like the two for one deals that proliferate modern supermarkets today, the local people were treated to not one, but two cemeteries opening –  within months of each other. Originally called Deptford and Lewisham Cemeteries, their gates creaked open amidst the backdrop of the Great Stink, where the polluted Thames was killing the living with its foul, untreated water.

Googling revealed that these cemeteries had a notable influence on a popular music artist. It was a location that Florence and the Machine knew well: ‘I actually spent quite a large bit of time here at one point, ’cause I was having music lessons here and I used to hang out in the graveyard. And actually, strangely a small bit of inspiration came from that graveyard…if anyone knows the lyrics to Only If For a Night – a small portion of it comes from Brockley Cemetery.’

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It was through the entrance of Brockley Cemetery that I trod the path of so many people before me. I was immeduately struck by the atmosphere that greeted me: the air pollution was a bit bad and the air had a very strange white haze to it, hinting the premature arrival of night and giving everything an almost strange and surreal feeling. It was here that I was greeted by Bob, a friend of the cemetery who was tending to an area of greenery. ‘It’s listed as a wildlife cemetery. Locals complain of the unkempt nature of some areas of it. They take great pride in here and don’t like how some areas have become overgrown for the benefit of the flora and fauna. They think the people here should be respected.’

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Bob showed me the stretch where the great and the good chose to have their plots. “There are some great names here: Hepsibar, Eugenia, Augustus. I went around one day looking at all the names related to nature, like Bird or Hedge –  and then the vulgar ones” (the most obvious being a particularly unfortunate female name which shall not be repeated here). He bid me farewell shortly afterwards.

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Straddling the brick and earth mound I then crossed into Ladywell Cemetery. My, it’s a different beast. In fact most guide books I’ve read say that it is the more interesting of the two, which does hold some truth if not for the peculiar grid system that abuts the Brockley Cemetery. A very eerie system of roads, its tarmac being covered by a strange algae-like grass, its layout reminding me of the Old Crocks Rally at Chessington World of Adventures.

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The scars of the Second World War are still evident, even seventy years on from its conclusion. A granite memorial, a usually robust and extremely hard wearing stone has had seven shades knocked out of it and what remains is a beautiful and terrifying reminder of how even the dead weren’t safe from Hitler’s ruthless drive to conquer.

One of the country’s greatest decadent poets also lays here. Ernest Downson, who died aged 32, is credited with coining the term ‘soccer’ and the phrase ‘gone with the wind’ -which later led to the film everyone knows. His memorial (and….’interesting’ love life when looked at through the standards of today) was largely forgotten until 2010, when it was refurbished to commemorate the 110 years since his passing.

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DSC_0031On a green mound is the monument to Jane Clousen in the Ladywell half: the housemaid to a wealthy Greenwich Printer who ended up falling in love with his son Edmund. Such a relationship between a servant and the son of a successful businessman was not tolerated and Jane was promptly dismissed. Their love continued, allegedly, but began to falter when he refused to marry her as his brother had recently ‘married below his station’ and their were rumours that Jane was carrying his child. It culminated in 1871 with Jane being found down Kidbrooke Road with the innards of her head exposed to the air, begging ‘oh, let me die’.

Hurriedly realising I was supposed to be in a pub down Minories in forty-five minutes, I left the twin cemeteries of Ladywell and Brockley with the lyrics of Florence and the Machine reverberating through my head: It was all so strange/And so surreal/That a ghost should be so practical/Only if for a night…

All photography © Sheldon K Goodman 2015

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‘A Quiet, Beautiful Slope About a Mile On The Southern Side of Crystal Palace’ – Beckenham Crematorium and Cemetery

by Christina

On a sunny day in May, I went for a walk and photo outing. Beckenham Crematorium and Cemetery, located in the London Borough of Bromley, was an intrinsic part of my childhood, and is probably the reason that I found Sheldon’s original proposal for trips to all 7 of the Magnificent London cemeteries so intriguing back in 2011. I had grown up with this one.

Beckenham

My Dad used to take my brother and I to collect conkers from underneath the giant horse chestnut trees there on autumn days, and we would enjoy walking around the maze of walkways and ‘off the beaten track’ style muddy paths, between graves and monuments. It was like a country walk, with added dead people. I would worry about getting lost and would find my way using special ‘landmarks’ that I had identified. There was the big white war memorial in a clearing, and just down the lane from there was a poor unfortunate stone angel who had lost a hand, and looked permanently sad about it. If I could find her, I could always find my way back to the main path and thus, find my way out.

She's still there...

She’s still there…

As an adult I have attended several funerals in the crematorium chapel at the centre of the cemetery. More recently, I began running through the cemetery during my marathon training. During these runs I started to fully appreciate just how big this place is (41 acres). I began to identify the really old areas of the cemetery and the much newer parts. On my visit last week, the sun was shining and the clouds were lazily puffing across the sky looking springlike, and the cemetery came to life among the flora and fauna.

Beckenham

Beckenham Crematorium and Cemetery opened in 1876 and was originally known as the Crystal Palace District Cemetery. It contained two gothic style chapels designed by the architect Alexander Hennell. One of these chapels was badly damaged during WW2 bombing raids, and was demolished in the 1960’s. The second chapel survives, and is now sits majestically in the centre of the cemetery, covered with ivy. It is still used as the crematoriums chapel for funeral services and has a modern extension built onto it.

Beckenham Crematorium

Beckenham Crematorium opened on the site during the 1950’s. The oldest parts of the cemetery are located towards the front, with the very oldest graves I found being off to the right as you walk in from the main road. These older parts of the cemetery have fallen into extreme disrepair over the years and the old graves have been left to shift,  fall over and become overgrown.

Graves leaning on one another for support. Beckenham Cemetery and Crematorium, May 2015

Graves leaning on one another for support. Beckenham Cemetery and Crematorium, May 2015

Away from this chaos, there’s a path that winds from the main entrance around to the left, and then back on itself to a memorial garden, water feature, rock garden and then the chapel. These parts are more modern and you can see the shift in trend from very old, fading gravestones with traditional writings and archaic fonts on them to shiny bright lettering, colloquial language, funny quotes and sometimes football team names and logos etched into the stone or marble.

Beckenham

Nature bursts through at every turn. Daisies spring up everywhere under your feet and the new green of the trees at this time of year makes everything look alive.

Daisies at Beckenham

There are some famous names here too. Thomas Crapper is one of my favourites – his grave recognizes him as ‘inventor and sanitary pioneer’. He is often thought of as the inventor of the modern flushing toilet. This isn’t true – but he did do much to popularize the W.C and developed many important toilet-related inventions.

Thomas Crapper

Thomas Crapper

I hadn’t been to see W. G. Grace for years, but on this day I did. His grave recognizes him as a ‘doctor and cricketer’ and I have memories of going with my Dad and Grandpa to the crematorium one day when I was 8 or 9, to find W. G. Grace and take a photo with his grave – my Grandpa was a huge fan of cricket. I wasn’t sure where to look, and had to conduct a Google image search (thank heavens for modern technology), but I arrived in the right spot in the end.

On the right as you enter the cemetery, with his back to the main road.

On the right as you enter the cemetery, with his back to the main road.

On the way to see one of the greatest cricketers of all time, I stumbled past Frederick Wolseley, inventor of the first commercially successful sheep-shearing machine. He’s also linked to early motor cars and their production, but the sheep-shearing thing somehow captures my imagination more. He was born in Ireland, lived in Australia and died in Norwood, south London. There’s a monument to him in New South Wales, Australia – but he’s buried here in Beckenham.

Beckenham

There are also hundreds of burials from both world wars, including a Victoria Cross recipient to be found if you look carefully.

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This place may not be high up on your list of places to visit – but it’s a peaceful walk that’s especially pleasant on a sunny day, it’s free and there’s a lot of history to be found. So, cemetery enthusiasts, I do recommend you go. It’s no Highgate cemetery. It’s not even Nunhead – but it has a lot of charm, it’s only 35 years younger than the youngest of the Magnificent 7 (so pretty old, then) and in the autumn, there are conkers.

Photographs by Christina Owen, Copyright 2015

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Your Digital Legacy

by Sheldon

  • Although a third of British adults (32%) think about dying and death at least once a week, 72% of the public believe that people in Britain are uncomfortable discussing dying, death and bereavement.

Questions

Hopefully, this statistic will be challenged with the exciting announcement that I will be speaking as part of the 1st Annual Digital Legacy Conference! The conference will take place at University College London Partners (UCLP) on Saturday 23rd May 2015. It will bring together a range of academics and business professionals to help address areas relating to death and dying in today’s ever increasingly digitised world.

Here at Cemetery Club we’ve often written about lives long lost and even touched upon the subject when someone we know passes away; leaving behind a rich resource of social media that is far more accessible as a place of remembrance than a grave in a traditional cemetery. With this in mind, are ‘dead’ social media profiles becoming the new cemeteries? My talk aims to examine this shift in focus and explore whether the traditional cemeteries days are numbered.

Kemnal

The Digital Legacy Conference is being organised by the end of life and digital legacy resource hub, DeadSocial. Confirmed speakers range from practicing experts in law and end of life care to technologists and PHD students. Topics addressed include:

  • The world ‘before the birth of Facebook’ (before Facebook/ BFB)
  • Digital legacy
  • Digital grief
  • Utilising technology to deal with death
  • Digital memory loss
  • Death in today’s digital world
  • MND, communication and digital legacy
  • Funeral streaming
  • UK Laws around digital assets and digital legacy
  • Preparing for our own digital death

The Digital Legacy Conference is one of the events happening as part of this year’s Dying Matters Awareness Week. Dying Matters is a national coalition with a strong focus on people talking about dying, death, bereavement and making plans for their end of life.

Tickets to the conference are free and can be attained at www.digitallegacyconference.com/free-tickets.

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Cimetière du Père Lachaise Part Deux

by Christina

A few weeks ago, I reminisced here about a trip to Père Lachaise Cemetery I made in early 2011, to visit Jim Morrison. This was before Sheldon and I founded Cemetery Club and my interest in cemeteries had not yet been ignited by Sheldon’s wonderful and inspiring love of this section of world history. Basically what I’m trying to say here is – I went there but I didn’t pay it much attention. All I had to share with you were a few dingy Polaroids I had saved from that day all that time ago. I didn’t even have many solid memories of the place, beyond a vague knowledge that it had been grand and I had got a bit lost.

Last month, on a sunny and very warm day in early April 2015, one that was far too summer-like for the time of year, and one that was so far removed from the conditions during my last visit, I went back for round 2 at the big French forerunner to our own Magnificent 7 Cemeteries.

Pere Lachaise

I took my boyfriend Dan with me – his first ever Cemetery Club visit – and his reaction to the place when we arrived there was so wonderful that I wish I could have filmed it and put it here. ‘It’s a city of the dead!’ he exclaimed, and I couldn’t think of a more fitting description for it.

A city of the dead.

A city of the dead.

Mausoleums and monuments rose up in rows from the front of the cemetery, moving back and back but also up and up, for Père Lachaise is a cemetery laid out in levels, so that on entering, there is a great sense of being in the middle of a vast city, with generations of Parisian ghosts staring down at you from their towering residences.

Pere Lachaise

It is grand here to the extreme – the only Magnificent 7 cemetery that could really ever hope to hold a candle to it is Highgate West, and even that withers and dies in comparison. There really is no comparison. The millions of people who have been interred here since the cemetery opening in 1804 have made one-upping each other in death into an art.

Pere Lachaise

And I wished Sheldon could have been there to see it. I’ve watched his reaction on entering many a cemetery and seeing many a tomb but he would have been beside himself here – to the cemetery lover, Père Lachaise is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Pere Lachaise

There hasn’t been a single Cemetery Club visit where I didn’t a take a photo of Sheldon peering into a Mausoleum. He wasn’t here and so Dan and I took turns attempting to fill his shoes.

Dan peers in

 

It was a hot day and the sun was beating down on us as we ventured further and further into the maze of paths and side paths and got more and more tangled up and lost in this great Land of the Dead. We found Jim Morrison again – because I wanted to go back and see if he was as I had remembered. We knew we were getting close to the right spot when each tombstone and mausoleum we passed appeared to have lyrics by The Doors etched clumsily into them, and then we found him, fenced off and hidden behind other, grander looking gravestones in a corner. Just as I had remembered.

Jim Morrison

We decided to go looking for other notables – Oscar Wilde was our next stop, but he turned out to be hiding so far up and back in the cemetery, and we got so sidetracked looking at other things, and then totally lost, that we gave in. I had a marathon to run in 3 days time and walking on cobbles was not a good idea for a long period of time. I decided to save my legs, and save my visit to Wilde, to Edith Piaf, to Molière and all the others for a third visit – and I resolved to bring Sheldon back with me.

Despite our lack of famous faces, it turned out to be a beautiful walk on a beautiful day – for Père Lachaise is also a grand park, and chock full of beautiful trees, flowers and other wildlife. There are also interesting graves galore, and I think it would be perfectly possible to tour the cemetery every day for a month and notice a new thing on every single day.

Interesting grave

 

We meandered around Père Lachaise for a good long time that day, but probably didn’t even cover a 10th of it’s sprawling, climbing and winding 105 acres (43 hectares). It’s the largest cemetery in Paris and on this day, we completely understood how that could be so. I will return. Stay tuned for Part 3 of this adventure.

Pere Lachaise

Père Lachaise facts:-

The estate was acquired in the 17th century by the Jesuits, who built a hospice there and called it Mont-Louis.

Father La Chaise – Louis XIV’s confessor, retired there – and it is named for him, although when it was first opened as a Cemetery it was known as the Cimitiere de L’Est (Cemetery of the East).

As the graveyards of the city filled and then over-spilled, large garden cemeteries sprung up around the edges of the city – Montmartre Cemetery in the north, Père Lachaise in the east and Montparnasse Cemetery in the south. Several years after the opening of Père Lachaise in 1804, London would borrow this idea to solve it’s own overpopulated graveyard crisis – beginning with the opening of Kensal Green Cemetery in 1833.

All photographs by Christina Owen Copyright 2015

 

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