I really like going to see exhibitions at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace: they are always interesting and well-curated, and the one-year pass system – by which you buy a ticket on your first visit, get it stamped at the end, and gain free admission to the site for a year – means that you can see three different exhibitions for under £10. I visited on the last day of two smaller exhibitions that have been running since last autumn.
Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East
The first exhibition was Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East, which examined the Middle Eastern journey of the Prince of Wales (the later King Edward VII) in 1862, encompassing Egypt, Palestine, the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. The exhibition mainly consisted of photographs taken by Francis Bedford (1815-94), which are evocative and beautiful. They had originally been exhibited immediately after the tour, when they fascinated Victorian audiences, particularly as many of the pictures were of sites it was very difficult to visit in person. I loved the pictures, although I was slightly concerned at the amount of heritage the Prince of Wales was seemingly allowed to keep for himself, like the statue of Queen Senet.
The second exhibition was Gold, which explored “the beauty and symbolism of gold, from the Early Bronze Age to the 20th century”. A fascinating range of items from the Royal Collection were displayed. I particularly liked the 18th-century tiger’s head from Mysore, India, and I also loved the painting The Misers which illustrated the evils of a love of gold and a miserly nature.
I began my tour of all seven garden cemeteries in London – the “Magnificent Seven” – with a trip to the first of them to be established, Kensal Green Cemetery. It was a lovely day: dry and warm, cloudy at first but the sun came out later.
The cemetery is located in North West London; the address is Harrow Road, London, W10 4RA. Nearby Kensal Green tube station is on the Bakerloo Line.
A rapidly increasing population in London meant that parish graveyards were becoming dangerously overcrowded, and new solutions were sought for the burial of the dead. In 1830 George Carden, a barrister, formed the General Cemetery Company (which still owns the cemetery); an Act of Parliament in 1832 enabled the company to establish a cemetery on land beside the Grand Union Canal. It was originally known as the General Cemetery of All Souls, Kensal Green.
An architectural competition was launched in 1831 to find a design for the Anglican Chapel in the centre of the cemetery. Henry Edward Kendall’s Gothic Revival design won the competition, but the owners – who preferred the classical style – overturned the decision (at least Kendall still got his prize money). The cemetery gateway and the two chapels were eventually completed to designs by John William Griffith, a company shareholder.
Originally there was a division between the Anglican section of the cemetery, comprising 39 acres, and the smaller Dissenters’ area of 15 acres. This distinction was very important at the time.
I had been to Kensal Green cemetery before, but only for a quick look round. The place is so huge that I had only managed to see a relatively small part of it. I decided to go back for a proper tour, getting there a bit early to have another look round by myself. Completely by accident I came across the grave of John Cam Hobhouse, close friend of my favourite poet Lord Byron.
Tours, which are run by the cemetery’s Friends group, start at the steps of the Anglican Chapel.
After a quick background introduction to the cemetery and London’s garden cemeteries in general, we got to go into the chapel, which is cold and in need of some repair. The ceiling is still beautiful, though.
The raised platform is where the coffins are placed, and rollers help the bearers to slide it on. The platform turns around so that coffins can be taken out head first, as is custom.
The raised structure also happens to be a hydraulic catafalque for lowering coffins into the catacombs. Sadly we couldn’t go into the catacombs because of Health & Safety risks (mould, apparently), but we could see the entrance from outside the chapel.
We had a comprehensive tour of the cemetery which took over two hours. The time went very quickly, however, and our guide was very knowledgeable. Even then, we didn’t see all of the notable tombs here: it is so big and there are so many significant people buried in Kensal Green.
Uniquely for a public cemetery, three members of the Royal Family have been buried here: Prince Augustus Frederick and Princess Sophia, children of George III, and Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, grandson of George III and commander-in-chief of the British Army. Royal burials helped to make Kensal Green a popular and fashionable place to be buried.
A significant number of important authors have been buried at Kensal Green, including Anthony Trollope, Wilkie Collins, Thomas Hood, Harold Pinter and William Makepeace Thackeray. As a lover of nineteenth-century literature (and twentieth-century theatre) I was thrilled to see these. My favourite was Anthony Trollope’s. I don’t know if he chose his inscription himself or if a family member selected it after his death, but either way it is astoundingly modest and deeply moving. It simply reads, “He was a loving husband, a loving father, and a true friend” – no mention of his (hugely underrated, in my opinion) forty-seven novels, written alongside his full-time job in the Post Office (he is credited with introducing the red pillar box to Great Britain).
I’d already heard of many of the famous figures buried in Kensal Green, but one person new to me was Jean-François Gravelet Blondin. Blondin, who is buried with his wife, was a French tightrope walker and acrobat. His most famous and impressive feat was crossing the Niagara Falls, not once but repeatedly. On different occasions he crossed blindfolded; in a sack; and carrying a man on his back. Once, he even carried a small stove: halfway across, he stopped, lit the stove and proceeded to cook an omelette.
Charles Babbage, the polymath who created the concept of a programmable computer, is buried in the cemetery, as are Marc Brunel and his son Isambard, two of the most important and prolific engineers in British history. One of Marc’s great achievements was the Thames tunnel between Rotherhithe and Wapping, while Isambard’s accomplishments include the Great Western Railway and the designs for the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol.
George Carden, founder of the cemetery, rests inside it.
The cemetery is of interest not just because of the individuals buried here, but because of the varied and rich architecture of the different tombs and mausoleums. One of the most significant graves in this respect is that of circus performer Andrew Ducrow.
Our tour ended at the other end of the cemetery, with a visit to the Dissenters’ Chapel. We didn’t spend much time in this part of the graveyard, though it is interesting to me because my ancestors on my dad’s side, as Methodists, would have been classed as Dissenters, and if they had lived in London and been buried here, this is the area of the cemetery where they would have ended up. The chapel is similar in design to the larger Anglican chapel at the centre of the cemetery, but it has been restored more recently, with facilities for us to view displays and enjoy a hot cup of tea and some biscuits.
Finally we were allowed to look inside the catacombs. They are smaller than those beneath the Anglican chapel, and the coffins there have been moved, but the space was still atmospheric. Plans are afoot to put on exhibitions and other events down here, which I think would be quite exciting.
We were let out of a side gate leading to Ladbroke Grove, and I made my way home.
A visit to Kensal Green cemetery is a must for anyone interested in cemeteries and the history of burials in London. It’s also a beautiful and peaceful space for a walk. Entry is free (unless you take a tour) and there is so much to see – it would be easy to go back again and again.
Would I go back?
Yes – it’s a lovely place for a relaxing walk, and I would particularly like to see Lady Byron’s grave and Terence Rattigan’s memorial stone, neither of which we had time to see on the tour. A booklet produced by the Friends, which I purchased for £2, has a map with the locations of significant graves, and this would be useful to take with me when I return.
Address: Harrow Road, London, W10 4RA
Size: 72 acres
Still in operation?: Yes Official website: http://www.kensalgreencemetery.com Owners: The General Cemetery Company Friends group: Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery (http://www.kensalgreen.co.uk) Tours: 2 pm every Sunday March to October and the first and third Sundays of the month November to February. Cost £7 (£5 for concessions/English Heritage members)
Strictly speaking, I think this should be “A book from an author you love that you hadn’t read yet”, since if I picked a book I haven’t read, I surely wouldn’t be able to count it as part of the challenge? Anyway, I hadn’t read it before the challenge, but I have read it now. Obviously.
Jo Nesbø’s Cockroaches is the second in the series of ten (so far) novels starring detective Harry Hole. The most famous of these is probably The Snowman, which was hugely popular a few years ago. The books fit into the category of Scandinavian noir, which I am into at the moment, and I think Nesbø is one of the best writers of this kind.
Cockroaches was translated last, although it is the second in the series. Like the first book, The Bat, it is not set in Norway: the plot revolves around an investigation into the death of the Norwegian ambassador in Bangkok. It’s a gripping read and well worth it, especially if you’ve read some of the other books in the series.
On Saturday I finally got round to visiting the Wallace Collection, a unique free museum based in Hertford House, Manchester Square near Oxford Street. The collection was accumulated in the 18th and 19th centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the fourth Marquess’s son. Lady Wallace, Sir Richard’s widow, bequeathed the collection to the nation in 1897. Under the terms of the bequest the main collection cannot be added to, however museum staff do continue to seek out objects and archives relating to the family.
The house is situated in an impressive but quiet square, and opens into a lovely hallway. There is a posh-looking restaurant out the back (which I’d love to go to for Prosecco one day) and a gift shop, in addition to the 25 galleries. Eighteenth century French painting, works by the Old Masters and some rather famous works (including Frans Hals’ The Laughing Cavalier (1624)) sit alongside ancient furniture, small religious mementoes and an extensive armoury. I also saw the temporary exhibition, Collecting History: The Founders of the Wallace Collection.
I enjoyed looking around, although there was an overwhelming amount of art and I certainly couldn’t take it all in. I enjoyed the sumptuous interior of the house itself, however, and I would like to make a return journey or two to explore further.
Address: Hertford House, Manchester Square, London, W1U 3BN
On Friday I was lucky enough to be able to go on a tour of Ealing Studios as part of the Ealing Music & Film Festival. The studios are the oldest continuously working film studios in the world, and have played a huge part in the British film industry for over a century, encompassing silent film, the onset of the “talkies”, the upheaval of two world wars and technological developments such as motion capture.
The site was originally occupied by Will Barker Studios from 1902, later becoming Associated Talking Pictures Ltd. Ealing Studios was built in 1931 and in 1938 Michael Balcon (who gave his name to the local branch of Wetherspoon’s) from MGM took over, issuing films under the Ealing Studios name. Many memorable films were produced in the 1930s and 40s, including documentary war films, but the studio’s heyday was during the post-war 1940s and the 1950s when celebrated Ealing comedies, including Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers, were produced.
The studios were purchased by the BBC in 1955, leading to nearly half a century of location filming for television dramas and serials. After a transitional period late in the century, the studios entered new ownership in 2001. The five original sound stages are present, and are now listed. As well as offices and bases for modern production and related companies, the studios produce films and television shows: recent films include The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) and St. Trinian’s (2007), as well as the hugely popular Downton Abbey. In addition, the Imaginarium, a performance capture studio set up by Andy Serkis and Jonathan Cavendish, is based in one of the sound stages: famously it was used to create Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
To reach the tour meeting point, which was the reception area, I had to go through the security point. There were several of us on the tour and we were taken to see the white building which was the original studio entrance in the 1950s. Famous figures including Michael Balcon and Alfred Hitchcock had offices here. It is looking slightly shabby these days but they are hoping to get the funds to restore it shortly. We were taken around the large complex and saw some of the modern companies, including a casting company and a hair and makeup studio, present on-site. One of the buildings, which includes the original sound stages, is listed but the newer building in front of it is due to be demolished and replaced with up-to-the-minute production facilities.
The most exciting part of the tour was being able to go on to the sound stages. On one, we saw a set being built, consisting of a theatre foyer and a staircase. This set is for a remake of the 1983 film The Dresser, and will star Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellen. The top of the staircase leads to nowhere: a real theatre is being used for the auditorium (Hackney Empire). Thanks to a question from another person on the tour, I found out that this was the sound stage on which Scott of the Antarctic was shot. It was huge and still had some of the old safety notices on the walls.
The second sound stage was even more exciting: crew members and carpenters were preparing for the filming of Downton Abbey. Much of this popular show is filmed at Highclere Castle, but a significant proportion is filmed at Ealing Studios. As they were busy creating the set, we couldn’t see much but I could see into Lady Mary’s bedroom – which was in the process of having wooden “fireplaces” fitted – and had a peek into the servants’ corridor. We also saw the large backdrops used behind the windows, to give the illusion that it is a real room in a real house with a view. I also had a very brief glance into the Dower House sitting room.
The tour was fairly short – it is a working studio after all – but very interesting. I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to visit.
I suppose it’s rather odd to be reading a book set during Christmas in the middle of February, but I actually bought I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge last summer, then put it in my bookcase and promptly forgot about it until a couple of weeks ago. It’s a quaint but moving short tale about a young girl and a series of “miracles” that happen in the seaside town where she lives with two maiden aunts. It has Goudge’s usual wry wit and the language used is old-fashioned yet beautiful.
Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica by Sara Wheeler is a wonderful book. Wheeler was the first foreigner accepted on the US Artists and Writers Program at the continent and she clearly made the most of her opportunity. She describes everyday life at base, visits the South Pole and Scott’s hut, and goes off on various expeditions, camping out and using all kinds of transport to get around the ice. Interspersed with descriptions of her adventures are fascinating historical snippets, anecdotes from fellow Antarctic residents and musings on what Antarctica means to her. Highly recommended.
I’ve always said I never want to get married, but that didn’t stop me from visiting the V&A‘s exhibition Wedding Dresses 1775–2014. Firstly, it was historical. Secondly, I do have a thing for gorgeous dresses.
There were plenty of those in the exhibition, but what really fascinated me was the history. From Georgian dresses that weren’t always white, but which tended to be “best” dresses then worn again later, through to Victorian white gowns with sprigs of orange blossom, to the development of the modern one-off white dress tradition during the twentieth century, the wedding dress has a rich and varied history. Upstairs, there were examples of more modern dresses from ordinary people and celebrities – I especially liked Dita Von Teese’s beautiful purple gown.
As soon as I finished this book I knew I had to count it as the “funny” book in my challenge. I doubt I’ll read a funnier all year.
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh is an illustrated account of various events in the author’s life, from her adventures with her two dogs to her experience of depression. Her unique drawings are full of character: I don’t normally go for cartoons but I love these.
The book is based on the successful and marvellous blog Hyperbole and a Half. If you haven’t checked it out, please do.
I hardly ever read graphic novels, but I quite fancied this manga book because of the title. Library Wars: Love & War Volume I is the first in a series about Iku Kusahara, an officer-in-training to be part of the Library Defense Force. This group fights against censorship and the banning of books in an alternative future where a government Act allows officials to remove “inappropriate” material from bookshops. Though the public can access such material via the library, tension between the two groups means that the Defense Force is a very important presence. I quite enjoyed the story, though it was quite light, and I will probably seek out further volumes of Library Wars in the future.