As the year draws to a close, I thought I’d subscribe to that popular ‘top 9’ idea that invades everyone’s feeds every December. Here’s the top 9 most-liked posts from my Instagram – it’s quite the eclectic mix!
9. Captain Danny
Last year I wrote about a guy I found in Abney Park purely by accident – from deep diving YouTube videos, of all things. Looking at how he was remembered then, I went off to see if I could find out what his memory (and legacy) were like now – have read about the remarkable tale of Captain Danny.
8. The Roman Dead
I love a good dead thing, me, so when the Museum of London invited me to check out their new exhibition that looked at the Roman Dead, I couldn’t really say no!
It was an amazing exhibition that looks at what death meant to the Romans, which also highlighted movement, migration and place. The reach and diversity of the Roman Empire is examined with the spotlight focusing on eleven skeletons which were chosen from one of the four ancient cemeteries that used to surround Londonium. – to get to the cities of the living you had to make your way and pay homage to the deceased gatekeepers!
7. Karl Marx
Grave offerings to historical people aren’t uncommon – the pennies on William Blake’s grave, pens on Douglas Adams and flowers on Marie Lloyd’s.
Karl Marx is no different. Flowers, candles and…Oyster cards.
6. The Hansel and Gretel Mausoleum
A phenomenal afternoon spent looking around the splendidly huge Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey with the Monuments and Mausolea Trust. A massive expanse of forest, woodland and garden cemetery which is more akin to examples I’ve seen in America and Amsterdam than the likes of your Highgate and Kensal Green.
This delightful little tomb was built by the same guy who went on to do Alexander Palace; its crypt also floods repeatedly. This is fine, as the man who had it built liked rowing. Have a read about the jaunt I took to the London Necropolis.
The state of my beard! My first TV appearance of the year, celebrating the amazing news that Caring for God’s Acre had been awarded £580,000 in Heritage Lottery funding for their ‘Beautiful Burial Grounds’ project.
The Beautiful Burial Ground scheme records and map historic buildings and monuments and species found in churchyards and cemeteries, to encourage more people to visit them and help secure their future. The grant will help create a database with an interactive map for individual burial sites and what’s in them.
The scheme will encourage volunteers to engage in “citizen science” by helping to survey wildlife such as flowers and bats and record built heritage ranging from memorials to boundary walls and preaching crosses.
4. Père Lachaise
It’s taken me nearly five years but this is the year I finally got to visit the daddy cemetery of them all: Père-Lachaise! I always said I’d only ever go with my partner and in early November my poor boyfriend did just that, putting up with me ooh-ing and ahh-ing for well over five hours, without a single complaint or grumble.
Opened in 1804 as the first garden cemetery, it has inspired copycats the world over – but I have to say, never mind your Highgates or West Norwoods, the original is the most definitely the best. Who ended up here in this cobbled city of the dead? Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Felix de Beaujour – I’m going to be blogging about them and more in 2019.
3. All Hallow’s by Lamplight
Easily the highlight of my year, after seeing Père-Lachaise. A solid three nights (not consecutively, thank God) of taking 30+ people around the last of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries to be opened, aided by some LED lanterns to add to the mood. I love working with Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and its great to connect local people to a history that could have easily been lost, considering the migration the area has seen since the War.
Over the course of an hour me and Sacha cherry-picked some key East End figures as we did a ‘This is Your Life’ at each of their gravesides. Sacha was enchanted by the tale of Topsy, a young girl whose short life was full of mystery, whereas I was fascinated by William Clark, the man who boiled himself alive – sadly we couldn’t fit him into the tour. Some of the people we spoke about were famous, some were just of interest to us – a marvellous time was had by all.
If you come on our Christmas tour, ask Sacha what happened between me and a Pomeranian as we walked around the darkening place of rest for a recce one evening.
2. A Stroll Around Abney Park
In May I had the pleasure of visiting Abney Park once again, accompanied by Mark and Jake who’s come from Bristol for the day to join me. Scurrying around in the undergrowth looking for odd names and hidden histories – a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon!
I had the privilege of seeing a tombstone forever remembering William Blake being unveiled in August. The culmination of a 12 year project spearheaded by the Blake Society; the existing headstone states he was *near* this spot, never explicitly stating *where* he was in Bunhill Fields. That was all about to change. Have a read of blog on being part of the latest rebirth of William Blake. Poets, rock stars and ministers alike together to celebrate a brilliant mind!