Google ‘famous graves in London’ and you’re assaulted by the usual suspects – these lists generally include Emmeline Pankhurst, John Bunyan and perhaps the best known of them all – Karl Marx.
There’s no denying the above named peoples influence and legacy but there are others whose graves are just as interesting – be it architecturally, because of what the person achieved in life or just for the monument they chose to be remembered by.
After nearly four years of going around various Graveyards and places of remembrance, here are my personal top 10 graves that I’ve found…
1. The Lego Grave
This is always a favourite when I mention it to people, especially when you hear about the bravery of the poor little lad it acts as a marker to.
This grave in Highgate Cemetery remembers Sonny Anderson, a courageous young Arsenal supporter who died of Cancer in 2011. His treatment, experiences and untimely end are collected in this heartfelt blog written by his Mum. The Lego figures at the top seem to alternate; I assume visitors to the cemetery or his family leave their own figures there as a token of respect.
2. Joseph Bonomi the Younger
A modest headstone in Brompton Cemetery, marked with the Egyptian God of the Underworld, is the marker of a man who promoted Egyptian influences in British Architecture. In 1824 Bonomi went on an expedition to Egypt via Malta; igniting a lifelong fascination with the ancient world.
In 1861 (amidst much criticism) he was appointed curator of the Sir John Soane Museum in Holborn: a posting which was usually given to a practicing architect. Bonomi also designed the Egyptian entrance to Abney Park Cemetery, the facade of the Temple Works in Leeds and supposedly, the Courtroy Mauseoleum, just a short walk from his final resting place.
It’s also one of the saddest headstones that you’ll ever see, as he shares the grave with his four eldest children who all died of Whooping Cough during the Easter weekend of 1852.
3. Samuel Broome
This grave must’ve been spectacular when it was new. Broome was a champion Chrysanthemum grower and gardener at Inner Temple gardens for over 40 years; considering the plant only arrived in this country in 1846, by the 1860’s he’d turned the formerly desolate gardens into a paradise filled with Roses and other flowers, to the extent the Royal Horticultural Society had a show there on a yearly basis. It was reported that ‘10,000 of the outer world, chiefly Children, who are always in search of the lost Eden, come here annually’ Now, his grave, sans Chrysanthemums, lies forgotten under a canopy of mature trees in Nunhead Cemetery and the gardens which he worked in for decades seem to lack the sparkle of their heyday.
4. The TARDIS of Streatham Cemetery
It’s blue. It looks like a TARDIS-cum-Temple. What more do you want! This is the grave of Henry Budden and it dates from 1907. According to cemetery historian Colin Fenn, the monument is made of a material called faience ( a type of tin glazed earthenware). Budden’s family worked at Doulton’s of Lambeth and you can see a fragment of its glorious factory still on the corner of Lambeth High Street and Black Prince Road on the Albert Embankment. It’s from here they had access to all the materials that they needed to fittingly create a memorial for Henry.
5. William Booth
The founder of the Salvation Army is situated in one of the most picturesque parts of any Cemetery I’ve been to, the Booth grave in Abney Park fascinates me because historically, this spot has been captured by historic film footage. It’s interesting how the changing fortunes of the cemetery can be seen from these images: where was once immaculate kept flowers and graves is now wild woodland.
6. The Bronze Man of St. Marylebone Cemetery
Sam introduced me to this tomb and it’s easily one of the most beautiful bronzes I’ve ever seen. Very much in the same vein as the Lancaster and Greig tombs I wrote about a year or so ago, this is a draped Roman figure on a sarcophagus to Thomas Tate, sculpted by F Lynn Jenkins and was completed in 1909. I always advocate that Cemeteries are just as good as museums – how about this for an exhibit?
7. Brutalist Mausoleum
Tombs aren’t always classical or gothic Victorian affairs, as seen here in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Leytonstone. this is the mausoleum of the Ferrari family, a concrete structure originally built in 1965. It sticks out like a sore thumb amidst hundreds of sculpted Jesus’ and Our Lady – I can’t say I’m a massive fan of Brutalism, but this is a must see.
8. Joseph Westwood
Joseph Westwood’s grave is the most impressive monument in Tower Hamlets Cemetery; indeed, it seems like it’s been airlifted from Highgate and decided to timeshare in this woodland for a while. Westwood was a ship builder who originally built yachts for the likes of the Prince of Egypt and others; however; an economic downturn in the 1860’s had him repurpose his business into building ships, bridges and railroads across the expanding British empire, which provided far more reliable work. A local guy, he was buried where he lived. Sadly the grave is a shadow of its former glory – it’s built out of Portland Stone (like St. Paul’s) and would have shone a brilliant white; small bells were once attached to it which would have quietly jingled in the wind.
9. Celtic Cross of Orbs
Not far from where Joseph Bonomi is, is this remarkable Celtic Cross which is studded with different rocks of astounding colour. Remarkably, it’s been untouched since 1897 and none of them have been pinched. Long may this continue.
10. A Father’s Love for his Daughter
Don’t blink…otherwise you’ll miss one of Kensal Green’s most beautiful monuments. This baroque number commemorates Mary Eleanor Gibson. She died at the Great Western Hotel by Kings Cross, possibly on a visit to London to see a medical consultant. Sadly she never got the chance to receive treatment; she died aged 18 in 1872. If you ever need evidence of a father’s love for his daughter, then point them in this tomb’s direction – it’s on the main boulevard with other equally impressive monuments such as that of William Mulready and Andrew Ducrow nearby.
The four angels here originally held a crown. Now, they are frozen, almost mid dance, whilst she sleeps eternally below.
All photos © Sheldon K Goodman, 2017.