As Sheldon has mentioned in his Kensal Green post, we had originally intended to visit this cemetery much earlier on in the project. Right after we took the Highgate West cemetery tour in July 2011, the name Kensal Green was on Sheldon’s lips, but we didn’t make it there for well over a year. Maybe to two south-Londoners, the journey to north -west London seemed arduous. But we finally braved the Bakerloo line in January of this year and found ourselves in a largely industrial wasteland (I apologise to all north-west Londoners – this is how that part of London will always seem to me) that had a grand old cemetery sitting slap bang in the middle of it, as if not entirely sure how it got there. Or how everything else got there, seeing as it was founded in 1833, which is firmly categorized in my mind as Quite a Long Blimmin’ Time Ago.
Once inside the cemetery walls, we felt like we had actually been transported to another time and place. This doesn’t happen with all cemeteries believe it or not – with some (I’ll use Brompton as a good example of this) you know your place in time and society, and are merely looking on at the remnants of another world, another time and another way of celebrating/commemorating/displaying the dead. At Kensal Green, I felt like a Victorian. It was very bizarre. Modern day London melted away and everything became very bleak, very old world and with a slight sepia tint. I think pathetic fallacy had a part to play here – it was January and it had rained. It was the middle of the afternoon and therefore nearly dark, and Sheldon was wearing a big Victorian style coat and waving his trademark umbrella about.
The cemetery was huge (72 acres), grand and full of famous people throughout history. We got lost without too much difficulty. Spending time surrounded by grand old chapels and memorials, it’s easy to begin to believe that it’s 1850 and you may soon end up in this cemetery as a result of a particularly nasty winter TB bug. It was clear from the sheer size of some of the memorials, as well as the family names and locations on some of the stones, that Kensal Green was once a place to aspire to be. I felt more than once that I should bow or curtsy to some unknown entity. In truth, it was a little spooky. Once during the afternoon, Sheldon, in his excitement, hurried off to look at something and left me standing among imposing statues of angels. I was a little freaked out. It is this I think of when I look back at the grainy, black and white photographs I took that day.
I’m not so much with the history of the grand cemeteries. Sheldon brings the history, and I bring the cameras and the questions. But when it comes to atmosphere, I can describe pretty well what was what, and here’s what Kensal Green felt like: truly Dickensian. It is not an experience I’ll forget in a hurry.
For a beautiful, historic and slightly creepy day out at Kensal Green Cemetery, view this link.
Photographs by Iris Jones Photography.