The Artists of Chiswick Old Cemetery

by Sheldon

It’s long been an ambition of mine to go to the grave of William Hogarth. One of our greatest artists and political commentators: a man who more it less invented Have I Got News For You centuries before the medium that transmits it was created.


There’s a print that shows his tomb, newly constructed, give or take, with a view of the surrounding Churchyard, Chiswick Eyot and the Thames in the background. With a free afternoon I decided to examine my bucket list of places in London to visit and see that Hogarth wasn’t the only artistic guy buried in the Churchyard of St Nicholas.

A place of worship has existed here since the 15th Century and many of the surviving tombs are Georgian. There, towards the front, is Hogarth’s. Etched with an epitaph written by David Garrick, the George Clooney of the 18th Century and with various symbols denoting his trade as a draftsman and social examiner, I placed myself in the footsteps of that etching and looked.


Job done, head back to the path and say hello to Nanny Clare in nearby Chiswick New. But wait – what’s in the other side of that metal fence? Graves aplenty. Is that Chiswick Old?

Using land donated by the Duke of Devonshire in 1838, it was merely an extension of the Parish Churchyard. However, whilst walking around the tombs and graves, one thing became clear. There’s an awful lot of artists here – comrades in arms with William, albeit on the other side of the chest-height iron railings.


Standing proudly in a cleared area is the tomb of Ugo Foscolo. Here’s a man who was no stranger to graveyards; his seminal work, Dei Sepolcri, was written in response to his displeasure of Napoleon’s decree that all the dead of Venice were to be buried outside the City walls in uniform graves – much like us here on our blog, he saw the value and importance of art and individualism when it came to remembering the dead. An active writer, his tenure in England was as a result of his refusal to take the oath of allegiance when the Austrians marched into Italy. Writing for the Edinburgh Review and briefly teaching at a girl’s school in Stoke Newington, he died in poverty in 1827.

Forty years after his death his remains were brought home, to the Church of Santa Croce, under the instruction of the King of Italy. This was part of a plan to unite a divided Italy – bringing home an Italian hero could do nothing but bolster the cause.


Along the northern walk is another artist a long way from his homeland. Painter James Whistler, of Whistler’s Mother fame. Another man who called London his home, Whistler, originally born in Massachusetts, moved to London (its proximity to friends in Paris had him sample the best of both worlds)where he exhibited a painting of his mother and niece at the Royal Academy in 1859. By the 1870’s he was securing commissions such as contributing to the refurbishment of the home of shipping magnate Frederick Richard Leyland. Thomas Jekyll, who was focussing on the dining room, was taken ill and so Whistler volunteered to finish the job, with one or two ornamental changes.

Ornamental became monumental. In a room that contained wood panelling that was part of Catherine of Aragon’s dowry, what was supposed to resemble a Tudor refuge was suddenly bursting with blue and gold paint, in an oriental style. Leyland was incandescent wih rage at Whistler’s ad hoc changes and poor old Thomas Jekyll, returning from his sickbed, was so distraught by what had happened to his work that he was discovered in the foetal position in his studio, covered in gold leaf. He died, insane, three years later. Coupled with Whistler taking a shine to Leyland’s estranged wife, Whistler and Leyland never spoke again.



An art deco masterpiece happens to be nearby. Edward Bainbridge Copnall’s best known work adorn the old HQ of RIBA in Portland Place, where his ‘Architectural Aspiration’ looms over the street – venture up to the top floor (it’s free to get in) and there’s a picture of Copnall, seemingly in Village People mode, holding a chisel and hammer in a very seductive manner. Here though, an early piece of his from the 1920’s sits atop the grave of Sir Percy Harris, who originally had it on display in his garden at Chiswick Mall and became his memorial upon his death in 1952.



One of the most imposing and impressive monuments in the Cemetery is to the memory of Frederick Hitch. Hitch, along with eleven others, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in defending the garrison in th fierce Battle of Roke’s Drift in 1879. This hero, who was forced to retire from the army due to the injuries he sustained, didn’t thrive in civilian life – the army pension was small and so he had to settle with being the Victorian equivalent of a cabbie to eke out a living.

Coupled with a fall in 1901 which had him awake in hospital, with his medal stolen (although the circumstances as to how it was stolen vary) he was accused of faking the story after selling his medal to raise money. His funeral had his body encompass full military honours and his memorial was largely funded from the matinee takings of 1912 cinematic success ‘The Miracle’, at what is now the Regent Street Campus of the University of Westminster – art funding death.


The clock was ticking and I had a Grandmother to visit in Chiswick Old’s successor, a 15 minute walk away – but do take the time to wander round this desolate little art gallery – its an exhibition worthy of anything at the Royal Academy.

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Horror in The Dark – The Bethnal Green Tube Station Disaster of 1943 and its Memorial

Stairway to Heaven

by Christina

It’s funny- you can live in London for years, and every so often you still come across an area of the city you have never been to and know nothing about. I have lived on the outskirts of London for most of my 32 years, and I had never been to Bethnal Green Tube Station until last month. I found myself there for work, and I needed to hit two particular locations that were difficult to reach from the same station. Using Google Maps, I worked out a route that involved alighting at Mile End, visiting my first location, then walking down Roman Road to Bethnal Green and getting the Central Line to my next destination. This meant that I would reach Bethnal Green on foot, and given that the current book I had on the go was Walk The Lines – The London Underground OVERGROUND by Mark Mason, it seemed fitting to discover a new part of London in this way.

Walk The Lines by Mark Mason

In the book, Mason walks the routes of every single Tube line (except the DLR, which he considers not to be a proper Underground line).  He does this above ground. On the way, he keeps up a detailed commentary of the neighbourhoods he passes through and the people he meets. It’s incredibly interesting.

On this day, I had boarded a District Line tube at Victoria, and I had a good few stops to go before reaching Mile End, so I decided to read up on Mason’s experiences of the sections of the lines I would be encountering today. And that’s how I learned about the Bethnal Green Tube Station Disaster of 1943.

You can read an account of what happened on the night of 3 March 1943 here. 

Bethnal Green station, which had only opened in 1936, was an enormous bomb shelter, and a lot of people sought refuge inside it during air raids. The tragedy was that on this night, it was not an air raid that caused the sheer scale of death that occurred, but a series of circumstances that led to a lot of people being in one place at once, and one tiny accident that caused a domino effect.

‘This was the station that in 1943 saw the Second World War’s largest loss of UK civilian life. With a horrible irony it wasn’t due to bombing itself, but rather to someone falling in the scramble to get into the station after an air raid siren. In the resulting crush, 173 people were killed.’ – Mark Mason, Walk The Lines, 2011

How can you live in a city your whole life and not know that something like this had happened? Yet I previously had no idea. Because I was on the Tube when I read about it, I had no signal to call up the Internet on my phone and do any further research. When I got off the train at Mile End, I went on my way, and didn’t think about it again until I was reaching Bethnal Green on foot, an hour or so later. As I approached, I saw Bethnal Green Gardens coming into view, and wondered if there was a memorial to the disaster somewhere in there. I decided to take a few minutes out of my schedule to have a look. And that’s when I found the Stairway To Heaven Memorial.

Stairway to Heaven

I’m always interested to know how people learn about things, and as a result, I like to document in this blog not just the information that I want to share with you, but how I came to know about it. I’m sure many of you reading this have long known about this memorial and are wondering, perhaps aloud, how it was that I did not. I think that learning what I did, in the way that I did it (by reading a book and then discovering the memorial for myself) is rare nowadays. We are more likely to read about things Online. I felt like I had really DISCOVERED something, an important part of London, just waiting to tell me it’s story. Which is why I’m sharing it here.

Stairway to Heaven Memorial, Bethnal Green

The Memorial was hard to miss. Winding across almost one whole end of the Gardens, it listed the names of the people who had lost their lives at one end, and had facts and figures, as well as individual stories documented along the length of it, on bronze plates. It was covered with wreaths. A few other people had stopped to look at it. But most walked on by. Either they had long known it was there, or hadn’t noticed at all. In London, the propensity to not notice things that are right in front of you, in favour of getting where you are going, is strong.

Stairway to Heaven

I stood for a few minutes, trying to be respectful. I thought about the death toll. 173* people is a huge amount. Think about tragedies that have occurred in recent memory. 7/7 claimed 52 lives, and that is huge enough. 173 in one Tube station crush seems impossible, and definitely unbearable to think about. I looked at the names and ages of some of the victims, engraved on the memorial. So many were children. It was incredibly sad.

Bethnal Green Tube

Then, pushed for time, I was on my way, having learnt something new about this great city, and the ways in which it honours and remembers the lives of those claimed and swallowed by it.

If you find yourself passing through Bethnal Green, step out of the Tube station and into the sunlight. The Stairway to Heaven Memorial is right outside. Go and have a look.

Bethnal Green

All photos by Christina Owen March 2016. 

You can also donate to ongoing work on the memorial here.  

*The death toll is variously given as 173 or 178, depending on which source you read. 


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A Gangster’s Paradise

by Sheldon


The people whose houses backed on to Chingford Mount Cemetery would be forgiven for thinking that the Resurrectionists had returned, early in the morning of the 15th of June 1934. Flickering torches slowly meandered their way through the darkness, the light catching the odd headstone here and there. Their flickering light barely illuminating some kind of movement, as if people were digging. Daybreak came and the midnight diggers left – with a coffin in tow.


Back on the 22nd of May 1934, John Wilmott, of Woodford Green, was found, his head and face covered in blood in Epping Forest. Soon after he was taken to Whipp’s Cross Hospital but before Doctors had a chance at saving his life, he expired. The bizarre events which led to his death would require an investigation.

It emerged that he allegedly fathered a child with another woman, a claim to which he refused to his wife – and she believed him. ‘He loved me and I loved him. We had a happy married life for ten years’, Florence told the press. The exhumation itself was a surprise as Sir Bernard Spilsbury, a leading Pathologist of the day (who would later commit suicide on campus at UCL) had theorised that he’d either received two separate blows to the head or had fallen from a tree. So what was it – murder or suicide? An open verdict was recorded and his wife, who didn’t even know about the second exhumation until a reporter from the Telegraph appeared at her front door, was escorted from the Court Room a broken woman.



Myself and Paul visited Chingford Mount in slightly happier circumstances, however. This was the first cemetery we saw on our death road trip (being followed by a trip to St Patrick’s in Leytonstone). Chingford Mount, named after Caroline Mount, who owned the land – has a considerable lineage; opening in 1884 as the successor to Magnificent 4 of 7 Abney Park, which in turn opened as a relief to Bunhill Fields, which itself closed in 1854.



Bunhill had its ministers and dissenters, Abney had its exotic trees and flowers. Chingford has none of those things – other than an impressive driveway of mature London Plane Trees; this is a suburban cemetery catering to a very different area of people – but don’t let that put you off; its landscaping may not be dazzling but, as in the case of John Wilmott – some very important lives and stories lie here.


Let’s get it over with, as you can’t talk about Chingford Mount without talking about two of the most notorious criminal twins of all time – the Krays. London’s favourite gangsters occupy a corner plot with Reggie’s wife Francis, their mother Violet and older brother Charlie. We’d already been to the grave of George Cornell in Camberwell New Cemetery – murdered by Ronnie after he’d call him ‘a fat poof’ – and despite their reputation and subsequent incarceration, this little corner still draws admirers. A man in a Ford Zetec drove up to the grave whilst we were there and paused for a few moments, whilst blasting Little Mix very loudly from his Car. A picture was taken and then he promptly drove off.

I wonder if the Krays would have liked Little Mix?

If you’ve ever strolled near Goodge Street Station you may be familiar with the Caffe Nero that’s marooned in the middle of an open space. Part of this site was the burial ground for the Whitefield Tabernacle (now known as the American International Church) where, because of constant rioting and the need to redevelop a very dilapidated church, all bodies were moved en masse to Chingford Mount. All bar one  – the reverend Augustus Toplady, who was buried so deeply in the bowels of the Church they thought it best to leave him there. He wrote the Hymn ‘Rock of Ages’, which indirectly led to Def Leppard’s tune, too.


DSC_0056 copy


Another notable (overshadowed, forgotten, etc) person is that of John Bass. Bass was the director of Waterlow and Sons, an engraver of currency, stamps, stocks and bonds, often working with the British Government. Although a family run business, Bass had worked for the company for 52 years and had spent the most recent 18 of those as its managing director. ‘The deceased was well known and highly esteemed in the City’. Their printed materials are still rather eye-catching.

One of the oddities of Camden, like the site of The Whitefield Tabernacle, is Pollocks Toy Museum down Scala Street. A long standing visitor attraction based there since the 1960’s, its roots go back to the 1870’s when Joseph Pollock built toy theatres in Hoxton. Based in Hoxton Street, the likes of G.K. Chesterton and Charlie Chaplin were known fans and visitors yet his business flailed, which probably explains why he was buried in a common grave in the cemetery in 1937.

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 20.30.17

Thieves who would probably get the rough end of Lord Sugar’s tongue for a deal as bad as that. The Essex Newsman, Saturday 14th December, 1912. Image © Local World Limited. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.


Financial hardship rocked the Cemetery at the beginning of the 2oth Century and with mismanagement and the alleged activities of a Poltergeist in the entrance lodge, Chingford Mount fell victim to vandalism and arson; its beautiful (and now, sadly demolished) Chapel damaged by fire, which took most of the records with it. Local people rallied and strongly advised Waltham Forest Council to step in and purchase the Cemetery for £1, which was a very good thing – it turns out the Cemetery was only two thirds full and has space for another 100,000 people!

It may not be as romantic as Abney Park or Bunhill Fields, but take a stroll here as the weather improves – besides the Krays, whether you’re a philatelist, toy collector or an art fan – Chingford’s charm makes it a highlight in this part of London town.

All photos (bar the stamps) © Sheldon K Goodman, 2016

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Reasons To Visit Nunhead Cemetery

Spring at Nunhead

Spring at Nunhead

If you’re looking for a grand Victorian era cemetery in London, the guidebooks will direct you to Brompton or Highgate. But Nunhead? Where even IS it? Here’s why it’s worth finding out…

by Christina

My cemetery books are keen to stress that Nunhead, the 6th of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ Victorian cemeteries of London, is in a quiet suburb that no one can find. One book even describes it as being located in a ‘backwater of south-east London’ (Turpin & Knight, 2011) which seems less than complimentary. But the truth is – it is pretty hidden. It shares a post code with Peckham (SE15), which overshadows it. I’ve been there several times over the past 4 years, and I still can’t find it without a sat-nav. Which isn’t to say it’s small, or that it isn’t deserving of the adjective ‘magnificent’…

A Quick History of Nunhead

All Saints Cemetery, Nunhead covers 52 acres, making it the second largest of the Magnificent Seven (can you name the biggest?). It sits 200 metres above sea level,  looking out over the City of London. It was opened in 1840 by the London Cemetery Company, who also owned Highgate, making the two cemeteries ‘sisters’, despite being poles apart.

And it IS a world away from the Big Ego that is Highgate, with grand tomb after grand tomb proudly announcing ‘I was here! And don’t you forget it!’ Nunhead Cemetery’s long term residents, by and large, clearly do not care for showing off. The graves here tend to be more modest. And although the cemetery is fronted by a set of  stone pillars, with gigantic upturned torches mounted on them (to signify ‘a life extinguished’), it’s easy to miss. I’m not even sure the residents of the quiet street it lives on even notice it is there.



I love Nunhead. It’s so easy to love the underdog, and Nunhead IS the underdog of the Magnificent Seven. The fact that it gets overlooked makes it a hidden gem worth discovering. Here are 3 reasons why Nunhead is worth your time and attention:-

Get Back To Nature

I visited Nunhead on Good Friday this year, a day so clear and blue that any hint of unease you might feel about walking through a dilapidated Victorian space for the dead is extinguished in favour of the same sense of peace and calm you’d get on a ramble in the woods. Nunhead IS a ramble in the woods. With added gravestones. As well as a cemetery, it is also a nature reserve. And I certainly was not the only one enjoying a sunny day here. Dog walkers, families, photographers and ramblers were all out in force, walking the winding paths and enjoying exploring this fine place.

A log heap for stag beetles! Just one of many we found at Nunhead

A log heap for stag beetles! Just one of many we found at Nunhead

It’s rare that you can go somewhere in inner London and hear nothing but birdsong, without that faint ‘whoosh’ of traffic audible in the background.

‘What first strikes the visitor is bird song – woodpeckers, warblers and jays are just three species that make their nests here – and the sound will accompany you on your visit.’ (Philpot, 2013)

Also worth admiring is nature’s belief that this land needs reclaiming. Ivy creeping over a gravestone here, a whole monument engulfed by leafy tendrils there. Entire plots lost to green wilderness. So much of Nunhead appears to be sinking or shrinking back into the undergrowth.

An angel lifts up her skirts with her good arm, wading in a puddle of greenery that threatens to consume her

An angel lifts up her skirts with her good arm, wading in a puddle of greenery that threatens to consume her

 Admire the View

Climbing to the top of Nunhead Cemetery doesn’t take long and you’ll reap the rewards once you’re up there. 2 benches sit back to back at the very top of the slope. Sit on one, and you have a gorgeous view of St Paul’s cathedral through a gap in the trees. Sit on the other, and you can gaze across Lewisham to the North Downs.

You're looking the wrong way! St Paul's is over there!

You’re looking the wrong way! St Paul’s is over there!

Pay Tribute to The Scouts

There are undoubtedly many sad stories that ended with a grave stone at Nunhead. But the Leysdown Tragedy, as it has come to be known,  is a very sad one indeed.

In August 1912, a boat full of Boy Scouts who were sailing from Walworth to a campsite on The Isle of Sheppey capsized, and 9 boys died. They were aged 11-14. The public outpouring of grief was such that over a million people lined the streets between St John’s Church in Walworth and Nunhead Cemetery, to watch the cortege go by. The boys were buried at Nunhead in a communal grave, and in 1914, a cenotaph was erected there. It was fronted by a life-sized bronze statue of a Scout bowing his head. It was very grand. Sadly, it was stolen in the 1960’s for it’s scrap value. The grave site lay nearly forgotten for 2 decades, until the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery learned about the tragedy and raised the money to build a new memorial, taking the form of an open book, with the boys’ names inscribed onto marble. This is what I see today when I find the site, and although beautiful, it’s rather understated. I can’t help but wish the bronze statue was still here.


 Leysdown Tragedy

Nunhead cemetery can be whatever you want it to be – a ramble, a way to remember the past, a good view of London. These are all acceptable ways to experience it, and I urge you to venture into South London to visit! It may be the underdog of the Seven, but it’s just as Magnificent as any of the other six.

Nunhead is located on Linden Grove, SE15 3LP. It is open to the public daily between roughly 8.30am and 5pm.

Friends of Nunhead Cemetery Open Day is on 21 May 2016 between 11am-5pm. Find out more here.

Directions to the Scout’s memorial and the view of St Paul’s can be found on a map at the Cemetery entrance.


I didn't even get around to mentioning the Neo-Gothic Anglican Chapel, did I? Another reason you should visit Nunhead immediately!

I didn’t even get around to mentioning the Neo-Gothic Anglican Chapel, did I? Another reason you should visit Nunhead immediately!

There are Grand Designs here, but they are often hidden or understated, and need a keen eye to spot!

There are Grand Designs here, but they are often hidden or understated, and need a keen eye to spot!



Reference material and further reading:-

Terry Philpot, 31 Cemeteries to Visit Before You Die, 2013, Step Beach Press

John Turpin & Derrick Knight, The Magnificent Seven; London’s First Landscaped Cemeteries, 2011, Amberley Books

Facts and figures also taken from the information signposts found around Nunhead Cemetery.

‘The Walworth Scouts’ photograph found here.

All other photographs Copyright Christina Owen 2016, apart from photo of Christina on a bench, taken by Daniel Brookes.


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Amongst the Stones of Leytonstone

by Sheldon

Multiple stone eyes gazed heavenward as myself and Paul entered a mass of marble in Leytonstone, East London. The second part of a day trip which had firstly taken us to Chingford Mount (a forthcoming post), we decided to explore this vast, crowded expanse of weathered, wonky crosses and angels.


DSC_0073St Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery opened in 1868 in response to the population explosion which Hackney experienced in the latter half of the nineteenth century: a population of 38,000 in the 1861 Census had exploded to 125,000 merely a decade later – Suburbia had arrived and was making good use of its transport links to London. Forty three acres of land was secured for the rite of funeral in the Catholic way; it was also opened as a sister Cemetery to the huge St Mary’s, Kensal Green, which abuts the cemetery with which the area lends its name to.

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 22.49.40

No music. Intense Excitement. No disorder. Leicester Mail, Monday 11th October 1869. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Very close to the entrance lies a brutalist masterpiece, and with Paul’s love of Concrete, was a particular highlight. Echoing the bedouin tent that Caroline saw on her trip to Richard Burton’s mausoleum in Mortlake, this is the tomb of Lucia Ferrari, who passed away in 1965. Built at a time when most monuments were becoming painfully plain, Ferrari’s family commissioned this defiant piece of brutalist architecture which thankfully hasn’t suffered from any kind of decay or vandalism. 


Ferrari Mausoleum and Paul, to the right

In 1875 the passengers of the SS Deutschland, a steam/sail ship that was en route to take its passengers from Germany to a new life in the United States, was sailing through the Thames Estuary at roughly 5 o’clock in the morning. Conditions, from reports of the time, were dire. A snowstorm coupled with a strong easterly wind made the passage a cold, bitter, terrifying passage for the passengers onboard.

At 5:30am, the ship experienced a ‘slight shock’; the Captain, Eduard Brickenstein, realised that the ship had run aground on the Kentish Knock. Immediately, orders were given to reverse the engines however the screw broke, leaving the ship stranded in the middle (and at the mercy of) the sea. Passengers were initially calm, however as the day, and then night, wore on, the tide rose and the women, who insisted in staying below deck in the Saloon, soon found their refuge was quickly turning into a floating coffin.


‘Then happened the horrible scene which the pen refuses to fulfil in their fullness’

All hope evaporated when it became clear that peoples lives were not going to be saved and a tale of tragedy began to emerge. A woman hung herself from the roof of the saloon, a man dug a pen knife into his wrist and a another man, shouting the name of his wife and child whom he’d left behind in Germany, asked for a pen and pencil, where he quickly scrawled a message to them, slipped it inside a bottle and threw it into the sea; moments before he himself was washed overboard and into his permanent, watery grave.


Specifically, it is the story of five nuns who received particular attention in the press at the time. Giving up their places in the limited lifeboats, they were advised to climb up the rigging of the ship where many sought asylum from the waves and snow battering the great iron hulk. Refusing to leave, one of them, half through a skylight, was heard to cry ‘O my God! Make it Quick! Make it Quick!’ Their bodies were found the following morning, were initially taken to Sheerness and then to St Patrick’s, where their bodies (bar Henrica Fassbender, who was never found) were then interred together. A poem commemorating the tragedy was written by Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. 

In the immediate vicinity of the Franciscan Nuns are the graves of various Reverends and other Nuns – some in mass graves of very bizarre shapes; the authorities having bought whatever plots were free and merging them into an almost Tetris-like shape.




Fans of British Sitcoms may be interested to know that Stephen Lewis, the man who brought perpetually miserable Bus inspector Blakey to life in On the Buses, is buried in a newer part of the Cemetery. Born in Poplar in 1927, perhaps echoing Victorian actor William Terriss in having an eclectic CV prior to becoming an actor, a chance invitation to an audition after meeting the cast of the Theatre Workshop saw him resign his post in the Merchant Navy and become one of the most recognisable faces in comedy. Other notable roles he played involved porraying harry Lambert in ‘Oh Doctor Beeching!’ and Smiler in ‘Last of the Summer Wine’, a role he relinquished due to ill health in 2007.

Finally, in an area behind the Chapel in an area which was formerly pauper’s graves are the remains of the fifth and final canonical victim of Jack the Ripper. Following a large funeral that was held (and paid for) by the parish of St. Leonard’s Shoreditch. Her coffin placed in an open hearse, topped with three large wreaths, two mourning coaches made their way from the Church to the burial ground where she was then buried. At only twenty five years old, no family members could be found to attend her funeral.


Overlooked, expansive and in some areas being almost Mediterranean – this is one of the best places of rest in London!

All images © Sheldon K Goodman, 2016

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The Magnificent Seven: A Photographic Guide

By Christina 

Samuel Johnson once said ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life‘. Yawn. We’ve all had that quote shoved down our throats at some point. Yes yes, London is never boring, etc etc. However, if you really are tired of London life, and fancy a slice of London DEATH, the seven grand Victorian garden cemeteries are the places you must go! Havens of history, architecture, eternal rest, nature and peace, you must visit at least one during your time in London.

But what if you have time for only ONE of the seven? How do you choose which one to go to?

I have been digging through my photo archives of the last 3 years, hunting down all my hidden, forgotten cemetery photography that I never did anything with. And I’ve found photographs from all seven of the Mag 7, never before posted on this blog, or used, or even VIEWED in some cases. Have a scroll through and let these vast garden cemeteries capture your imagination.

Each one is free to visit (except Highgate EAST, where a donation of £4 is expected at the gate, and Highgate WEST, which is guided tours only)* and each one will provide you with exercise, a nature walk and a journey back in time, all in one go.

Top tip: wear appropriate footwear. And choose a sunny day!

Abney Park

Stoke Newington High Street, London  N16 0LH

Open from 8am year round (current closing time: 4.30pm)


Come for the falling down Gothic chapel, stay for the wildlife. (We went in November. It was freezing. Wear warm clothes). It’s like a mythical forest inside a city. Perfect for escapism. 

Brompton Cemetery 

Fulham Road, London. SW10 9UG – South Gate. Old Brompton Road – North Gate

Open daily from 8am


The ‘Open Air Cathedral’ hidden in plain sight in West London. 

Highgate Cemetery (East and West)

Highgate Cemetery, Swain’s Lane, London N6 6PJ

East side open from 10am Monday – Friday and from 11am Saturday. West side open for guided tours only.

HighgateMod4 HighgateMod1

The West Side – stately, imposing, half hidden by foliage and full of Egyptian – inspired architecture 


The East Side – more modern than it’s west side cousin. Home to Karl Marx and Douglas Adams among others. The more modern graves in the newer part of the cemetery include some truly creative memorials worth seeing.

Kensal Green Cemetery

Harrow Road., London W10 4RA

Open 9am – 6pm (April – September) and 9am – 5pm (October – March) Monday – Saturday, and 10am – 5/6pm Sundays.


Sheldon, dressed as the 4th Doctor, explores the graves at Kensal, January 2013



Kensal Green is vast, and hard to cover in one visit. My top tip: plan carefully for your visit. Which graves do you most want to see? And as demonstrated in the above photo…it can get quite muddy.

Nunhead Cemetery (I particularly like their web page, because it even tells you what digit to put into your Sat Nav if it requires a street number! You have to be impressed by this sort of attention to detail).

Linden Grove, London SE15 3L

Open 8.30am – 4pm during the winter, and ‘open slightly later’ in the summer


Visiting Nunhead is like a walk in the woods. In the middle of urban south London. And it’s easy to get lost, so make sure you pay attention when walking further and further into the cemetery. The winding pathways lead you up a hill, and there’s a great view across to St Paul’s Cathedral from the top.

Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

Southern Grove, London E3 4PX

Open from dawn until dusk.



Old meets new at Tower Hamlets

Walking through Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, you really get the sense that nature is trying to take back the city, and reclaim this bit of history for itself.

West Norwood Cemetery

Norwood Road, London SE27


May I recommend you visit Norwood in the springtime? So much life in such a dead place!

All photos by Christina Owen

Except for the first photo of the chapel at Abney, taken by Stephen Roberts

*if you want to get pedantic about it, it’s £12 to visit Highgate West and you can visit the east side on that ticket too! 

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The Man Who Helped Save a King

by Sheldon

It was supposed to be a time of jubilation. An incredible amount of research had gone into planning his Coronation – the future King cast his eye over all preparations ‘in typical detail’ and with particular fervour. The last one was for his mother, Queen Victoria, conducted over 60 years before and the problem was that no one quite remembered how to prepare another.

NPG P1700(62a); King Edward VII possibly by W. & D. Downey

Possibly by W. & D. Downey, albumen print, 9 August 1902, © National Portrait Gallery 2016

Busily readying himself for his official crowning, early in June 1901 the Prince of Wales was taken ill with sudden abdominal pain and fever. Sir Francis Laking, his personal Doctor, was called for but whatever the issue was, the problem had righted itself and the Prince of Wales and his future Queen attended a military event that evening.

By the next morning however, the pain had returned and would do so on and off for the next couple of weeks. Intense fevers and pain would fell poor Edward,  who, despite the advice of his surgeon and associated Doctors, refused any further medical intervention especially so close to the biggest event in his life. Appendicitis had been unanimously diagnosed and his abdomen was filling with the waste products of a body fighting a serious infection.

Wanting to uphold his duty to his country, the king was met by a team of physicians who tried their best to convince him of the dire straits he would commit himself to if he did not admit their help. It fell to one man in particular to explain the severity of his health; after giving his explanation the future King declared ‘I shall go to the Abbey‘, which was immediately stamped on by Sir Frederick Treves, (friend and Doctor of Joseph Merrick), who casutically replied:

‘Sire, then you shall go as corpse’. 

Treves may have pushed Edward into authorising the surgery which ultimately saved his life, it was the giant of late 19th Century Joseph Lister who was called on to clarify the situation. After an unexpected visit back to Hampstead Cemetery last week, I finally found the grave of a man who, despite the quiet part of the Cemetery he’s been buried in, contributed something a great deal of us are very thankful for- surgery in antiseptic conditions.


by Barrauds Ltd, printed by Walker & Boutall, photogravure, circa 1896

Born in Essex in 1812, he was the second son of Joseph Jackson Lister, who was a pioneer of lenses in Microscopes. A ‘precocious child’, he suffered terribly from a stammer and this may explain why he was home schooled until the age of 11. Fluent in French and German by the age of 14, his interest in Science seems to have been nurtured by his father. Despite having several artists in the family ancestrally, his interest in natural history seems to have been entirely spontaneous. His Quaker beliefs prevented him from studying at Oxford and Cambridge and like many others of the the time obtained a degree in Botany from UCL in 1847.

L0016923 A page from Lister's sketchbook, 1832-34

A page from Lister’s childhood sketchbook, pencil drawing 1832-34 Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images House, zebra and a bird.

Entering the Royal College of Surgeons aged 26, he then began working at the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Royal Infirmary under noted Scottish surgeon James Syme, whom Lister commented on having ‘a very original mind’. Becoming his dresser, Lister then settled there and married Syme’s daughter, Agnes.

While he was Professor of Surgery at the University of Glasgow, he closely followed the work of French Chemist and Microbiologist Louis Pasteur, who had proposed that disease and infection were the result of microbes, rather than the prevailing idea of Miasma. Pasteur’s work proposed rotting and fermentation food could happen under anaerobic conditions if microbes were present. Pasteur theorised there were three methods to get rid of the microbes that caused gangrene – heat, filtration or exposure to chemicals. Lister experimented with the third idea as this was the most practical for surgery.

A German man named Runge had developed Creosote which was used to preserve wood for railway ties and ships and it seemed to stop the rotting of timbers. Lister created a solution of it and sprayed his instruments and dressings with it as a means of sterilisation. He was amazed to find that a patient of his with a broken leg, with treatment, exhibited no gangrene after four days of wearing the dressing and that after 6 weeks the bone had fused back together perfectly well. This was a breakthrough, despite the misgivings of a number of other medical men – former friend Sampson Gamgee (he who lent his surname to the dressing) who still maintained fresh air was the best environment for a wound to heal.

Besides antiseptic surgery, he also modified the technique of several operations and various technologies. Absorbable ligatures, the surgery on varicose veins and drainage tubes – used on the future Edward VII – all benefitted from his research.

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 22.15.08

Lister happens to be one of only two surgeons recognised with a monument in the UK. This is at the top of Portland Place -sculpted by Sir Thomas Brock and unveiled by the President of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1924. © Google, 2016

From his home in Park Crescent he then retired to Park House in Walmer Kent, where he died, melancholy from his wife’s death several years earlier and the passing of his younger brother recently beforehand in 1912. It’s now a cosy little guest house, although I suspect when he lived there it wasn’t the pleasing shade of mint green that it is today. His body was given a triumphant funeral in Westminster Abbey and was even offered burial there; his executors however followed his wishes and like many of the people who ended up somewhere they shouldn’t have done so originally, was reunited with Agnes in a simple grave in Hampstead, amongst the likes of Sir Charles Wyndham and Marie Lloyd.



Plain and off the beaten track, you’d never know of his contribution to modern medicine from this tomb.

And no. He didn’t invent Listerine.

References and Source Material

Guts and Glory: Edward VII’s Appendix and the Coronation that Never Was

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


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