Brighton Extra Mural Cemetery could very easily be that other great nationally famous Cemetery; Karl Marx’s last resting place – Highgate; but in my opinion, much tidier and just as beautiful. A grand Victorian architectural wonder which appears to be placed in the basin of an overgrown valley.
Huge monuments – easily rivalling anything in London – jut out of the ground, displaying wallet-burning size and proportions. A number of them state the residence of the deceased – the atypical class system adhered to even when the proverbial daisies were being pushed up.
Opening the same year as the Great Exhibition, four men founded the private Cemetery company that sought to alleviate a Brighton problem which was also a national one – Churchyards were bursting at the seams and were fast becoming a health hazard. Kensal Green, West Norwood, Highgate, Brompton, Abney Park and Tower Hamlets opened to alleviate the problem in the Capital.
Brighton Extra Mural was the Sussex equivalent. Designed by Amos Wild, the competition to design the cemetery mirrored a scheme which was used to find an architect for the new Palace of Westminster in 1834. All designs were to be submitted to the Office and instead of the architects name, a motto distinguished each plan from the other.
Buried on the steep hill overlooking the main valley of death is journalist Sir Ignatius Valentin Chirol, a former Times Journalist who often spoke out about the threat of American Isolationism. Trump, take note. Taking a job in the Foreign Office in his youth, a career behind a desk was not for him and soon he was off adventuring in places such as Palestine and China. A friend to Viceroys and Statesmen, in his 1902 book, he first coins the term ‘Middle East’.
Not too far away is the Swedish Poet Eric Stenbock, whose character is typified by his eccentricity. He kept all manner of creatures in his bedroom – Snakes, Toads, Salamanders – and his travelling companions were a dog, a Monkey and a life size doll which was referred to as ‘Le Petit Comte’ or ‘The Little Count’. He treated it like a son and would ask about its health if ever it was absent.
His death was stunning. A heavy Opium addict and drinker, an inebriated argument he had with his stepfather Sir Francis Mowatt (who happened to be Permanent Secretary of the Treasury) ends with him brandishing a Poker, tripping over and killing himself on the Fireplace. His heart was buried in the Stenbock Vault in a Church in Kusal, Estonia – where he held an estate as the Count of Bogesund.
Although long since full and now joined by neighbouring Woodvale Cemetery where Sam and I spoke about the sad tale of Tom Highflyer and the marvellous Ginnett family tomb, do take a look at this atmospheric beauty. More fantastic characters await to be rediscovered – and that’s what this blog is all about.