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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Get Involved! Tour Schedule 2015

by Sheldon

With the summer season firmly in sight it’s time to announce this year’s tour schedule!

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We kick off this year’s season with the celebration of the 175th birthday of Abney Park Cemetery. An immaculate arboretum in its day, nature has claimed back the once tidy flowerbeds and hidden the people buried here…UNTIL NOW. Come and see Christopher Newman Hall, a rector who befriended Abraham Lincoln and had a strong influence of the abolition of slavery in the States: the Lion of Stoke Newington, who its said that if you rub his paw brings you good luck; or how about the first celebrity to endorse a product, the incomparable Champagne Charlie himself, George Leybourne? Welcoming Highgate Cemetery guide Sam Perrin to the Club membership, she’ll be running the tour alongside me. Tickets are £8, pre-book here.

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Next up! The classical magnificence of BROMPTON CEMETERY, which has recently joined Twitter. A cemetery which was plagued with financial difficulties in its early years, it later became the last resting place of arguably the second greatest Victorian engineer after Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the woman who helped women gain the vote (what would she have made of the likes of Farage, Cameron and Miliband?) and an American Indian who was recently taken back home by his people after a hundred years away from his homeland. Multiple dates, tickets are £8, pre-book here.

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Over in old East London, down a quiet street off the bustling Mile End Road, a modest brick wall hides the only woodland to be found in Zone 2…but a whole lot more. Beneath the trees and hidden in the undergrowth are the old characters of the East End, from White Hat Willy, the man responsible for the now marooned/hovercraft impersonating Cutty Sark, Charlie Brown (not that one) the uncrowned King of Limehouse, and the invisible Cemetery Chapel (who said the Victorians weren’t forward thinking in their technology). These characters are now resting cheek by jowl with an important ecosystem which is providing to be a valuable lung to an incredibly busy Tower Hamlets. Multiple dates, tickets are £8, 25% of the proceeds going to the upkeep of the Cemetery. Prebook here

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And there’s MORE! I’ll be giving a talk as part of the Digital Legacy Conference entitled ‘Cemeteries vs Social Media’. With the world getting ever smaller with improved communication and technological developments, we’re all leaving a digital footprint that will be left behind after we’re gone. Are these profiles replacing the traditional grave as a place of remembrance and pilgramage? Tickets are free but prebooking essential – click here for more information.

Tell your friends and spread the word – the dead are coming back and we’re leading the charge. Hear their lives and help us bring awareness to the lost Londoners who’ve gone before us!

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Cimetière du Père Lachaise Part 1

by Christina

In a couple of weeks I’m going to Paris. I’ve been there in every season except springtime, which according to poetry and literature throughout the ages, is the ultimate time to go.

(When spring comes to Paris the humblest mortal alive must feel that he dwells in paradise‘ – Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer)

I’m particularly excited because it means I get to visit the French forerunner to the Magnificent Seven London cemeteries we know and love – the grand Cimetière du Père Lachaise. Sitting on a hill overlooking the city with it’s 110 acres, it’s the largest cemetery in all of Paris.

Père Lachaise was opened on 21 May 1804, the city’s answer to the rapidly filling graveyards in the city. London cemetery fans and long-time readers of this blog will be no stranger to the notion of overcrowded churchyards and corpses piling up with nowhere to go. A large garden cemetery situated far enough away from the city centre to avoid the spread of disease was the solution. London would follow suit some years later with the opening of Kensal Green Cemetery.

To begin with, Père Lachaise was not a popular cemetery. Most considered the greater distance from the centre of Paris a disadvantage, as it was too far to come for a funeral, and Roman Catholics would not be buried there as it had not been blessed by the church. By the end of 1804, Père Lachaise only contained 13 graves. Bizarrely, the administrators chose to execute a publicity stunt in order to attract more burials, and consequently, the remains of Jean de la Fontaine and Molière were transferred to Père Lachaise, after which popularity grew, and in 1812, 833 people had been interred there. Desperate to be buried next to famous people, everyone began clamouring to get in, and by 1830, there were more than 33,000 graves in the cemetery.

Père Lachaise has been expanded 5 times over the years (between 1824 and 1850) and today it holds over 1 million graves, which doesn’t include the columbarium, which houses the remains of the many that have chosen to be cremated there.

I visited the cemetery in early 2011, on the sort of grey January day where it never really gets light, and oddly, I took no photos of the place, bar a few Polaroids that didn’t develop well due to the lack of light and warmth needed. Specifically, I went to visit the grave of Jim Morrison of The Doors, and I wasn’t the only one. As we arrived, near to midday, we found a small crowd of people gathered around the fence separating his (surprisingly tiny) grave from us, the common man.

Paris Jim Morrison

Several people had chosen to vent their frustration at being the common man, forbidden from getting too close to the grave of their hero by scrawling graffiti on a nearby tree.

Paris Jim Morrison

And on the sides of a nearby mausoleum.

Paris Jim Morrison

 

The experience would have been somewhat of a musical epiphany had it not been so bitterly cold and dark that day. I declined to spend any more time freezing my butt off in a French cemetery, something I now regret. I would have liked to have visited some other famous Père Lachaise residents. Oscar Wilde for example. And I really wish I had taken some more photographs.

Paris Père Lachaise

I hope to revisit this beautiful place in a couple of weeks, and I very much hope the weather is better. With that in mind, keep your fingers crossed for part 2 of this post!

All photos by Christina Owen © 2015

 

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The Lost Docks, Prince and Engineer of Southwark

by Sheldon

On a chilly Sunday morning, Steve and I went to Bermondsey tube station to go on a tour of Thames-side Southwark, led by the charismatic Tim Thomas (who wore the best flat cap I’ve ever seen). An actor (gleefully telling us it was he who bumped off Simon Callow in the third act of Four Weddings and a Funeral), Singer (and songwriter, co-writing the theme tune to Rainbow) and friend of the Brunel Museum, over the next two hours Tim took us into the heart of the old docks of Southwark.

Tim

Bermondsey and Rotherhithe were historically poor areas. The inconsistent docking of ships meant that a regular wage to a worker was not accessible, so it’s hardly surprising that Dickens, the tour-guides’ friend, came here regularly to see the deplorable conditions for himself and get inspiration for his characters from the area. One such character lies in the Church of St Mary’s, designed by John Adams, who also designed St. George’s Hanover Square, where Laurence Sterne was buried.

Grave

In the shadow of its mighty spire, lies the grave of a Prince. In 1783, The Antelope, on a secret mission from the East India Company, was wrecked on a coral reef off what is now the Republic of Palau. “The crew were terrified that they were going to be put in a pot, boiled up and eaten by the locals” explained Tim. “The opposite happened, the locals welcomed them and helped them repair the ship. The Captain got to know the King of the island very well, and friendships were formed.”

“Now the King had a son by the name of Prince Lee Boo, and he was fascinated by what he could gather from the crew about what London was like. Prince Lee Boo begged his father that he should sail back. He caused a sensation when he arrived as no-one had seen a South Sea Islander before. He became a celebrity and even met the King. However the air of London got to him and he died of Smallpox six months later.”

Weee

Wheeeeeeee! Prince Lee Boo in the background, probably wouldn’t be impressed…

Graves

Tim then took us to a pub nearby called the Mayflower, whose Captain resides in the same Churchyard as Prince Lee Boo. The Mayflower, named in honour  of the ship that sailed from the mooring of this very pub to bring the first successful colonists of North America to what is now Massachusetts in November 1620. “This is a very popular place for our North American allies to make a pilgrimage to,” confirmed Tim.

Mayflower

The jewel of the tour was hidden from view, ingress gained through a tight hole into what looks like a baby gas-holder from Rotherhithe Street. Next door to the Brunel Museum is the original entrance shaft to is Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s first significant engineering project: the first tunnel under the Thames and indeed, a river. The project, which sought to alleviate the congestion that the boats of the Thames had created, was projected to take three but instead took eighteen years to complete. It was a marvel of engineering which cost several workers their lives (with Isambard a near fatality at one stage) from deadly methane gas, quicksand and flooding.

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Tim’s voice, holding the group’s attention like a subterranean raconteur, boomed around the soot-stained walls, pointing out the remains of the staircases that our greatest living engineer and thousands of Londoners would have once walked down, to sample banquets and music. The venture ultimately failed and the tunnel, which became the haunt of thieves and scarlet women, was eventually converted into a tunnel for a railway. It is now the oldest section of railway in London.

Brunel's Tunnel last year, when it was open to walk to the public die to engineering works. © Nick Richards, 2014.

Brunel’s Tunnel last year, when it was open to walk to the public die to engineering works. © Nick Richards, 2014.

An original rail for the bannister of the Brunel Tunnel

An original rail for the bannister of the Brunel Tunnel

We ascended the scaffold out of Brunel’s tunnel and seemingly returned to the world of the living. Much of the area’s past is hidden, buried even, underground, but with guides such as Tim, the long gone and the long dead effortlessly were resurrected.

ShellyAndTim

And to finish, two pints in the pub frequeted by Turner and Whistler.

And to finish, two pints in the Angel pub, frequented by Turner and Whistler.

Tim’s walk runs every Sunday, meeting at 10:45am at Bermondsey Tube. Photographs © Stephen Roberts 2015.

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Outside London: A Visit To The Miracle Church, Iceland.

by Christina

On the south western tip of Iceland, near to the parish of Selvogur,  lies Strond, an old area of farmland. Here, there is a little church standing on a dune, looking out to sea. In front of it, the Atlantic Ocean crashes angrily over lava reefs and onto the shore. Down the coast a bit there’s a lighthouse, and all around is evidence of what nature can do when it’s feeling volatile. Mountains and ice caps hiding volcanoes underneath. Lava fields and flood plains. Snow and ice. Iceland is magnificent but deadly. The lighthouse might not save you if nature decided to do it’s worst here. The church is called Strandarkirkja and it is small and calm in the face of all of this terrifying and dramatic beauty.

The church of miracles

Strandarkirkja

The legend of the church at Strond

‘A long time ago, a young farmer who lived inland went to Norway on his own ship to obtain goods for building a house. On his way back to Iceland with his companions, the seas were getting rough. They were lost in the dark storm not knowing where the ship was heading. In desperation the farmer promised that if he came ashore safely, he would give all his wood to build a church at the landing site. 

Then a vision of a shining angel appeared to him, in front of the ship and he steered towards it. Nothing is told of the progress of the ship until it landed in a sandy cove between low cliffs. The angel disappeared and dawn broke upon the sailors, who then saw that they had been led along a winding channel between dangerous reefs on the surf-pounded coast. Upon that shore, beyond a low gravel dune, the first church at Strond was erected from the farmers’ wood as he had promised. ‘

– A popular legend about the church at Strond, chronicled by Konrad Bjarnason in Selvogur in 1988. The events probably took place in the 11th or 12th century. 

The origins of the church at Strond

The church is mentioned for the first time in a register of churches compiled by bishop Pall Jonsson shortly before 1200. It is dedicated to two saints of the Catholic church – Mary, the mother of God and Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury who was martyred in 1170.

The oldest description of the church dates from 1624, during the time of Oddur Einarsson, the bishop of Skaholt, who detailed a restoration of the church, including new beams and a pulpit. The church has been restored several times over the centuries, but it has always stood in the same spot, despite plans to move it in 1751, 1759 and 1820.

How I came to be standing in front of the church at Strond

I was on a coach tour of southern Iceland during the first week of March 2015. It was spectacular. We had seen hulking glaciers and mountains that stretched away into the distance. The edges of continents and crashing waterfalls with rainbows running through them like ribbons. We had seen the Northern Lights shining in the sky above us and the waves of the north Atlantic attempting to rush up beaches with volcanic sand as black as night, to capture us and sweep us away. It was our last day and we were on our way back to Reykjavik. This church was one of our last stops. It was a sunny day but very cold, and it had snowed earlier. There was snow still on the ground, and thick sheet ice all around. As we descended the steps from the coach, several of our party slipped over. Wind battered the faces of those who chose to venture towards the edge of the dunes to stare out to sea. I turned around and made a beeline up the hill, towards the church.

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It looked so small and innocent standing there on the low dunes, surrounded by a small churchyard and a smattering of gravestones. Why had the ocean not risen up and swept it away? Surely it could not remain here unharmed for long? Our Icelandic tour guide told us that this church was known as the ‘miracle church’ and this area as ‘angel’s cove’ in homage to the legend of the seamen lost in the storm, who were brought safe to shore by a shining angel.

Standarkirkja

 

The locals believe that the church has divine powers, and that no harm will come to sailors who sail within sight of it.

Next to the church, there is a path that winds up a little hill to where a stone statue of an angel stands tall and looks out over the ocean.

Angel's CoveThe sculpture is called ‘Landsyn’ or ‘Land in Sight’. It was carved of Norwegian stone in 1950 by Gunnfriour Jonsdottir, who is buried in the churchyard at Strandarkirkja. It reminds men to compare the ‘low and insignificant here on Earth to the high and heavenly’.

Landsyn

 

We were called back to the coach all too soon and were on our way, leaving the little church on this remote coastline behind us. I was sad to say goodbye so soon. I could have stayed there all day.

All photographs by Christina Owen, copyright March 2015

 

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The Burton Mausoleum: an adventurer’s tomb in a quiet suburb

by Caroline

To call Sir Richard Francis Burton an adventurer is, really, a huge oversimplification.  He was an explorer, a translator, a linguist, an ethnographer, a diplomat, a spy, a poet and a soldier – one of the most eccentric, fascinating and controversial of Victorians.  He’s buried in an otherwise unassuming churchyard in Mortlake, South West London, in a stunning mausoleum that captures something of the dramatic, adventurous nature of his life.

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