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Kensal Green Cemetery, London

Thursday 17 August 2017
'For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.'
'The Rolling English Road' (1913) G. K. Chesterton

The spectacular monuments at Kensal Green Cemetery. 

Imagine London, 1830s. The population has more than doubled from around 1 million in 1799 to approximately 2.34 million. There have been, and are to come, medical epidemics in which thousands of people die. In 1832, Cholera came to London. Medicine was primitive at best and most people feared going to a hospital as they knew if they died, their bodies could be used for dissection (the 1832 Anatomy Act had not yet come into fruition). The disease naturally spread; sanitation was poor at best. It became clear that an area for the burial of dead, away from the over-crowded graveyards of local parish churches, was desperately needed. 

In response to this, there was an Act of Parliament passed on July 11 1832 that established a 'General Cemetery for the Internment of the Dead in the Neighbourhood of the Metropolis'. The General Cemetery Company (who had formed in 1830) bought land in West London, thus paving the way for the General Cemetery of All Souls, Kensal Green, the first of London's Magnificent Seven garden-cemeteries. The cemetery was consecrated on January 24 1833 by the Bishop of London and its first burial took place seven days later. 

Mausolea just adjacent to the Anglican Chapel

There is little doubt that Kensal Green Cemetery was inspired by the grand Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Far from the aesthetic of a graveyard, Kensal Green was landscaped and beautifully fashioned. According to The Penny Magazine;

“The ground is laid out in gravelled roads of sufficient width for carriages, and planted with forest trees, evergreens, and other shrubs and flowers. The visitor has before him a long vista of slightly-ascending ground, termination of which is concealed by trees and shrubs”( August 1834).

A solitary tomb inside the extensive colonnades that cover the catacombs. 

Kensal Green Cemetery is the stereotypical Victorian cemetery. There are elaborate funerary monuments which bear the recognisable motifs of death and eternal life. Many of the free-standing mausolea are listed buildings themselves, including that of HRH Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843) and Princess Sophia (1777-1848).

Princess Sophia's marble sarcophagus

Princess Sophia's magnificent memorial is a marble sarcophagus and tomb chest on a granite podium designed by Ludwig Gruner of Dresden. This was a wonder to see but there was another memorial that makes Princess Sophia's monument look boring in comparison: Andrew Ducrow's flamboyant Eygyptian-style tomb.

The Ducrow Memorial

This is a Grade II* ostentatious, 'wonderfully flamboyant Egyptian concoction with sloping sides, eared pediments, sphinxes, a winged orb, and much low relief sculpture including a scene of Pegasus and a mourning woman surrounded by clouds. Placed on the ground within the railed enclosure is a carving of the horseman’s hat and gloves lying at the base of a broken column.' (Mausoleum & Monuments Trust).

I did not realise the grandeur of this memorial until I stood in front of it. At the time of its completion, it was described as a, 'ponderous coxcombry' by a contemporary. I get the feeling that Ducrow was proud of this extreme show of exhibitionism as the tomb bears the inscription, 'THIS TOMB IS ERECTED BY GENIUS FOR THE RECEPTION OF ITS OWN REMAINS.' Need I say any more?

Ivy upon a tomb at Kensal Green Cemetery

Notable Burials
- Marc Isambard Brunel (1769-1849) - civil engineer who constructed the first Thames tunnel at Rotherhithe.
- Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) - one of the greatest figures of the industrial revolution who built the Great Western Railway and designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
- Charles Babbage (1791-1871) - the 'father of modern computing'.
- Lady Anne Isabella Byron  (1792-1860) - poet and wife of Lord Byron.
- The Duke of Sussex (1773-1843) - the third son of George III.
- Princess Sophia (1777-1848) - a daughter of George III.
- The Duke of Cambridge (1819-1904) - grandson of George III.

The grave of the famous Brunel engineering family

My Dark Travels Rating: 9/10 

I spent approximately 3 hours wandering around the cemetery, looking at the numerous graves, tombs and mauseolea. Kensal Green Cemetery is huge, you will need to dedicate an afternoon meandering through the glorious paths of the dead. Highlights include the Ducrow memorial, the Anglican Chapel and the Pere Lachaise-style tombs that line the Chapel's west avenue. I really enjoyed Kensal Green Cemetery because it was steeped in history and beautiful architecture. I have awarded it a 9/10 rating because, after all, Kensal Green was the first of the London Cemeteries and it set a high standard indeed.
Kensal Green Cemetery is free to visit if you wish to wander around unguided. There was a helpful volunteer who gave me a useful map of the cemetery when I asked - I would recommend this because it is huge! It took around 20 minutes of aimless wandering before I found Isambard Kingdom Brunel's grave! The Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery offer guided tours of the cemetery every Sunday afternoon from the beginning of March to the end of October,and the first and third Sunday of the month in November, December, January and February. They are at 2pm and there is a suggested donation of £7.
 I drove and parked on a nearby residential street - do watch out for restrictions though. You can drive through the cemetery but it was much more magical to wander in on foot. The nearest tube station is Kensal Green Station on the Bakerloo Line. The bus stop is 'Stop W' and the number 18 (to Euston) bus runs here.

Kensal Green Cemetery, London. 

A draped urn memorial. The urn symbolises a vessel for the soul and ashes of the dead. The draped fabric is also a popular Victorian symbol of mourning.

The tomb of the Paul family. It is a Grade II listed doric temple. 

Kensington Gas Works as seen from the cemetery

The entrance to the vaults, 1864. 

Golders Green Crematorium, London

Sunday 9 July 2017
I will make no secret of it, I wanted to visit Golders Green Crematorium because this is where Bram Stoker's mortal remains are kept. I wasn't sure how to go about visiting here because it is a working crematorium and I wanted to be respectful. I couldn't find much in the way of information regarding Golders Green Crematorium, so I just decided to go down and see what happened. 

The urn containing the cremated remains of Bram Stoker. 

Golders Green is located in North London and was opened in 1902. Victorian Britain was the golden age of the Cemetery (Brompton, West Norwood, Undercliffe, Arnos Vale etc.) and cremation was not considered as an option of care for the deceased. However, as Victoria's reign began to draw to a close, so did the fixed principle of burying corpses. The Cremation Society of Great Britain was formed in 1874 and country's first Crematorium was opened in Woking in 1878. Interestingly, the Society's president and founding member, Sir Henry Thompson, was cremated at Golders Green in 1904. 

Upon arriving at Golders Green, I followed signage to enquire about visiting the East Columbarium, where Mr Stoker's remains are kept. I was greeted by a very friendly and knowledgeable member of staff, Eric Willis, who led me through the magnificent grounds to the East Columbarium. It is worth noting that you can not enter the East Columbarium alone - you must be admitted by a member of staff as it is locked at all times. 
Staff Member Eric Willis and myself who gave me an interesting tour of the Crematorium. 

It is difficult to describe how I felt upon entering the Columbarium. It is a grand structure with many floors and on each floor there were hundreds of urns on shelves like books on a shelf in a library. Walking up the stairs, past all of the lives of people who had lived and since passed was a curious and exciting feeling indeed. 
Inside the East Columbarium.

Stoker's urn was up a few flights of stairs, directly left of the stairwell. The urn is remarkable and beautiful - it was chilling to be in the presence of such a great author. Eric spoke about the people who come to visit Stoker and his son Noel, whose remains are also here in the same urn. He also read out a poem he had written for the 100th anniversary of Stoker's death. All very interesting. 
Eric's poem about Bram Stoker written for the 100th Anniversary of the author's death.

Although it was my main intention to visit Stoker's remains, I could not help myself from wandering around the Columbarium looking at all of the different urns. Eric revealed the urn next to us had it's residents names written in pencil and this was because they could not afford to have their details engraved. He also led me to the ostentatious memorial of one of the men who died upon the Titanic. Admittedly, this was extremely interesting and a delightful way to spend a day. 

My Dark Travels Rating 10/10
I loved Golders Green Crematorium. It was peaceful and beautiful. My favourite part of the Crematorium was the East Columbarium and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in history. There were so many lives, so many different stories housed in one tranquil structure - I could have spent days in there, happily reading about those who had lived before me. If you do visit, enquire to see if Eric can give you a guided tour. I was very fortunate that he was available to guide me around the Crematorium and impart his knowledge upon me. His knowledge of crematoria and other facts had me speechless. Thank you, Eric! 
The Crematorium is free to visit and my 'tour' from Eric was also free but this depends upon his availability! You can access it via the Northern Line (Edgware branch) or drive (as I did). I parked in a residential street but do look out for parking restrictions. There is a car park in the Crematorium which is free but spaces may be limited.

DT x

Warstone Lane Cemetery, Birmingham

Saturday 3 June 2017

The past few weeks in England have been quite sunny and warm. However, today it was dull and gloomy: perfect weather for ambling around a cemetery and discovering its hidden secrets. I have a lengthy list of graveyards, cemeteries and crematoriums that I would like to visit but the majority of them are quite far away from where I am based so I decided to venture to a cemetery that was a bit closer to home.

Warstone Lane Cemetery is located at the heart of Birmingham's jewelry quarter. It was founded in 1848 and is also known as Brookfields Cemetery. Like many cemeteries of the mid-Victorian era, Warstone Lane Cemetery was seen as a solution to the problems caused by an ever-increasing population. Birmingham was the heart of the industrial revolution and many people flocked to work here, especially in Birmingham's ever expanding factories and railways. Poor sanitation, lack of medical care and poverty ensured that mortality rates, especially in children, were extremely high and this lead to an overwhelming amount of dead, of which churches simply could not cope with. 

The Cemetery was constructed in the style of the exquisite London necropolises such as Highgate Cemetery (1839) and Nunhead Cemetery (1840). The Birmingham Church of England Cemetery Company also took inspiration from Warstone Lanes' 'sister' cemetery, Key Hill. Key Hill Cemetery was established in 1836 not only as response to an urgent need for burial space but as a place of internment for those who were non-conformist. 

Arguably, the most impressive feature of the cemetery is the catacombs. Warstone Lane Cemetery was built near a sandpit quarry (operated by the Guardians of the Poor to provide out-relief to the unemployed after the Napoleonic Wars). This meant that burials could be quite difficult and thus
 catacombs were proposed and
promptly constructed as a tiered burial ground. The catacombs were open to the public (wow!) but closed in response to the Birmingham Cemeteries Act. This Act stated that the catacombs must be sealed with lead or pitch due to the 'unhealthy vapours' (rotting corpse smell?) that was leaking out. I have read that there are plans to re-open the catacombs... please!

There once was a burial chapel, St Michael's, which briefly operated as a parish church. This building, which boasted a 116 ft spire and a Bramah lift to take coffins down into the catacombs, was demolished in 1954 having been extensively damaged in the Blitz. The Cemetery Company’s offices in Warstone Lane, which also formed the main vehicular entrance, were sold to a private company. The sole remaining feature of the original Victorian cemetery is the catacombs. These catacombs are more visually imposing than those at Key Hill, which were completed in 1880. 

Warstone Lane Cemetery was acquired by Birmingham City Council in 1951 and burials were stopped around 1982. 

My Dark Travels Rating 7/10
If you enjoy the history and stunning architecture of a cemetery then you will enjoy visiting Warstone Lane Cemetery. My favourite feature was indeed the tiered catacombs. It did remind me of the Circle of Lebanon catacombs at Highgate Cemetery. However, due to the Birmingham Cemeteries Act, they have been plastered shut and look very miserable indeed. There also seems to be a very alarming litter problem in the cemetery, which really did upset me. We found socks, plastic bags, coffee cups, crisp packets and even toothpaste (!) strewn around the graves. There were also a couple of youths smoking something that smelt suspicious... 
I would urge Birmingham City Council to sort this problem out because the cemetery holds a wealth of history that is integral to the rich fabric of the Black Country. I hear that there is a 'Friends' society that looks after the cemetery as well, so if they are reading this and need any volunteers to help clean up the cemetery, I'm available!
On street meter parking is accessible around the cemetery and it is located next to the Jewelry Quarter train station. The cemetery is free to visit but it closes at 5pm each day. 

DT x

The Non-Catholic Cemetery, Rome.

Thursday 7 April 2016

Visiting graveyards/cemeteries is an undeniable staple of a Dark Tourist's diet. I like to visit cemeteries because they are tranquil and offer peace from often busy schedules. The beautifully stylised monuments and headstones are particularly pleasing to read. The Historian inside of me enjoys pondering the lives of those interred within the earthy vaults below the moss and fauna. 

It is no surprise then, that when my Husband and I decided to go to Rome for our Honeymoon, we would pay a visit to the 300 year old Non-Catholic Cemetery. 

The Cemetery is most notable for containing the ashes of the English Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) and his contemporary, the English Poet John Keats (1795-1821). Burials began during the 18th Century and were mainly for European Upper-Class young men whom had embarked upon the 'Grand Tour' of Europe and found themselves at the mercy of the Grim Reaper. 

Graves and monuments sprung up next to the 'Piramide' of Gaius Cestius, a colossal pyramid tomb for the Roman Magistrate and sometime Priest, Gaius Cestius. In 1818, Percy Bysshe Shelley described the area as, '... a green slope near the walls, under the pyramid tomb of Cestius and, as I think, the most beautiful and solemn cemetery I have ever beheld.'

Visiting the Non-Catholic Cemetery was the highlight of my trip. I can't quite decide which area of it was my favourite - every inch of it fulfilled the Romantic ideal of eternal sleep in a flower-adorned meadow underneath the beautiful Italian sun. As well as the graves of Shelley and Keats, there is one other grave that deserves a mention.

William Wetmore Story's Angel of Grief (1894) is the most spectacular monument in a cemetery/graveyard I have ever seen. A monument for his wife, Emelyn, the Angel of Grief is a testament to bereavement.  The angel is slumped over the gravestone, her hands covering her face in a painfully emotive posture. Story's creation is one of the most visited graves in the cemetery and it is world famous (having appeared upon many 'Goth' bands album covers, most notable the Evanescence  EP from 1998). Shoutout to the film American Beauty - THIS is the most beautiful thing in the world!

Myself and Percy Bysshe Shelley's grave containing his ashes but not his heart. Contemporary reports suggest that his heart did not burn upon his cremation so his wife, Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) kept his heart wrapped in his poetry in her desk. It is buried with the Shelley's son at St Peter's Church, Bournemouth. 

Arguably one of the prettiest graves is that of poet John Keats. In accordance with Keats' wishes, the headstone is not marked with his name, but that of a 'Young English Poet'. The painter and Keats' close friend, Joseph Severn is buried next to him. Severn nursed Keats through his final moments of Tuberculosis. 

My Dark Travels Rating - 10/10

It is very hard to describe the beauty of this cemetery. When wondering around, I was in awe of what lay before me. The landscaping is pleasant, tranquil and it is very well taken care of. The headstones, the memorials and the sculptures here are a stunning and sobering reminder of our own mortality. The cemetery even has resident cats! Graves, Poets, Cats & Sunshine - what more could you possibly want in life?!
The cemetery is FREE to visit, but a donation of 3€ is customary (unless you are as overwhelmed as I was and then you can put as much as you want in! I think I put in a 20€ donation as well as buying one of their many books in the well-stocked information centre! It was too fabulous!) You can also become a Friend of the Cemetery HERE.

DT x

Moreton Corbet Castle, Shropshire.

Sunday 21 February 2016
Not many people have heard of the county of Shropshire. Not many people know where it is. I know where it is because it is my home county, and what a fantastic county it is. Most Salopians would argue against this because there is hardly anything to do here. However, Shropshire is a county flooded with ruined buildings, country estates and crumbling castles. And from a Dark Traveller perspective, there are many opportunities to visit some locations steeped in grim history.

In June of 2015, I visited Moreton Corbet Castle. It is located a few miles from the Shropshire town of Shrewsbury and is in the middle of the countryside. You can actually see the ruins of the old Elizabethan part of the manor house from the road, crumbling away in the distance. Very exciting.

The property is looked after by English Heritage but is free to visit. There is a small car park which is also free. Walking up to the ruins is eerie, especially when you are the only visitor or visiting party. Moreton Corbet Castle is old, very old, as settlements on the land were established as early as 1086. Evidence of a rich and terrible history is clear. 

Moreton Corbet Castle witnessed both the Plague and the English Civil War (1642-1651). The owner, Robert Corbet, whose chosen architectural style dominates the building, died of the Bubonic Plague at the property in 1583. Parliamentary forces stormed the castle in the 1640s, damaging it (and a few Royalist soldiers) in the process. 

Although damaged, the Manor House was restored and inhabited up until the early 18th century. The Corbet family still own the property but live elsewhere, leaving the house to slowly fall to nature. Ancestors of the Corbets are buried next to Moreton Corbet in the Church, St Bartholomew's and it's Churchyard. 

The Church of St Bartholomew is glorious and colourful. There are a variety of effigies, tombs and dedications to the dead, including a list of those who died in the Great Wars, handwritten and displayed proudly next to the pulpit. There is a children's section with a mini library and toys watched over by skulls carved into the stone fire place. 

My Dark Travels Rating - 9/10
I have given Moreton Corbet Castle this rating because it is one of my favourite places to visit. Not only is it free, it has everything that I look for in a location - creepy old ruins, steeped in history, next to a quaint village church with tombs, graves and skulls. Oh, and it is in the middle of the countryside which makes it isolated, bleak and extra creepy. It would be 10/10 if English Heritage had provided an audio tour (EH do great audio tours!). I would definitely recommend MCC to anyone interested in Dark Tourism. 

What is 'Dark Tourism'

Friday 19 February 2016
It is no secret that people are interested in strange things. Some people are interested in baking, some people like to dance and some people enjoy nothing more than a fine cheese. I am neither inserted in baking, dancing nor cheese. I am interested in Dark Tourism. 

Dark Tourism is the act of visiting a location that is associated with tragedy, misery and death. If you think about it, Dark Tourism is not a modern nor alien concept. For centuries, people have been attending to the graves of their loved ones, preserving memories. When I was 14, I went on a GCSE History trip to Ypres, touring the WW1 battlefields and visiting the location of the Somme. It was a peculiar feeling to know that the trees in the distance bore witness to the deaths of as many as 1,000,000 men in one of the bloodiest battles in history. Strangely enough, I also felt calm. Calm because I knew I was remembering and honouring the wasted lives of these men who died in tragic circumstances. 

My GCSE History group and I are not alone in visiting areas associated with death and tragedy. Every November, the Queen and major political figures lay wreathes of poppies in front of the Cenotaph in London. In New York, the 9/11 Memorial Museum remembers those who lost their lives in the infamous attacks on the World Trade Centre towers. Furthermore, tourists regularly flock to Pompeii to observe the unfortunate fate of those buried in ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. 

Memorialising death and disaster is a concrete ideology, whether society choses to accept it or not. 


Tyburn Tree, London.

Tyburn - A name synonymous with death. Sounds a bit like a rather shit Hammer film (not starring Christopher Lee). Tyburn's link to death is because it was used as a site for executions in London.

The first recorded execution in 1196 was of a William Fitz Osbert, who was arrested for riling up the poor. He was dragged naked, behind a horse, to Tyburn where he was hanged. Henry VIII, the notoriously blood thirsty ginger King of England, ordered the hanging of the Pilgrimage of Grace leaders to be at Tyburn. However, there were no formal set of gallows until 1571 and these gallows were named the Tyburn Tree.

Hogarth's 'The IDLE PRENTICE Executed at Tyburn' (1747)

These executions were public. Many men, women and children, those rich and those poor gathered to watch prisoners take their last breaths. This was a favoured past-time as there was little to entertain the mostly illiterate masses of pre-Victorian Britain. People would line the streets of London to watch the procession of the condemned travel from Newgate Prison to the Tyburn Tree. Prisoners were permitted to climb from their carted wagon to take one last drink before death - hence the expression, off the wagon. 

The Tyburn tree took its final victim, Highwayman John Austin, in 1783. The gallows moved outside Newgate prison where they stood until 1868 when executions took place inside the prison. 

You can visit what is believed to be the original site of the Tyburn Tree gallows. A neat stone circle bearing the words 'THE SITE OF TYBURN TREE' marks the area of centuries of executions. It is located just opposite Marble Arch (watch out for the pigeons...) in the middle of a traffic crossing. It is free to visit but do be aware of passers by wondering why you are staring at the floor.

My Dark Travels Rating - 6/10. 
Tyburn Tree is a great attraction as it is free. The history that surrounds the spot is rather macabre and very interesting to read about, especially if you like the history of crime. However, it is just a stone memorial and will take about 20 seconds to visit!