Nunhead Cemetery (The “Magnificent Seven” Tour)

Nunhead Cemetery, looking towards the Anglican chapel

My visit to Nunhead Cemetery marked the mid-point of my “Magnificent Seven” tour. I very nearly didn’t visit on Sunday – I lost an hour of sleep to the clock change, and when I woke up all I could hear was the sound of the wind and the rain hitting my window, which didn’t exactly make me want to leap out of bed and spend time out of doors. However, I forced myself to make the effort, and luckily by the time I reached the Cemetery the wind had died down and the rain had stopped.

Getting There

Nunhead is one of only two of the seven cemeteries to be located south of the river, the other being West Norwood. Its address is Linden Grove, London SE15 3LP, and the closest railway station is Nunhead, which can be reached from Victoria or London Bridge stations. Peckham Rye station is a little further away but as more trains stop at this station than at Nunhead (including Overground trains), it is sometimes the better option.

Approaching the Cemetery along Linden Grove

The cemetery is located very close to Nunhead station, and it is easy to reach, though you do come upon it suddenly as you step out of a housing estate. The railings are reproductions, the originals having been removed during World War II, but the neoclassical gates are original, although they have been restored. The upturned torches, which symbolise life extinguished, are common symbols in Victorian cemeteries.

The restored Cemetery gates

I was due to participate in the tour, the meeting place for which is beside the Anglican chapel.

Approaching the Anglican chapel


The fourth of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries to be built, in response to an overcrowding problem in central London burial grounds, Nunhead was founded in 1840 by the London Cemetery Company. It was originally called All Saints Cemetery, Nunhead. The first person to be buried here was a man called Charles Abbott, a 101 year old Ipswich grocer. The cemetery was popular, becoming nearly full by the middle of the 20th century, but was never as prestigious as Kensal Green or nearby West Norwood.

Abandoned by the company, the Cemetery fell into a state of disrepair and neglect, exacerbated by vandalism. In the early 1980s, the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery were formed to renovate and protect the Cemetery. Nunhead is now owned by the London Borough of Southwark and is a Local Nature Reserve, forming a habitat for many animals and birds. It was reopened in 2001, having been restored with funds from Southwark Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Nunhead is listed Grade II*.

Blue plaque

The neoclassical lodges were designed by James Bunstone Bunning, who was also responsible for the entrance gates and the landscaping. One is now occupied as a private house, while the other is sadly derelict.

One of the neoclassical lodges, now derelict, with catacombs underneath

The Gothic-style Anglican chapel was designed by Thomas Little. It fell victim to arson, but has been partially restored.

Close-up of the chapel
Side view of the chapel


Looking towards the Cemetery gates from the chapel

I attended a tour run by the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery. The tour began at the Anglican chapel, and we learnt about the history of the Cemetery. I was impressed with the height of the landscape, and the wonderful views that were apparent even on such a dull day.

One of the first graves we saw was that of Henry Daniel, a mason employed by the London Cemetery Company, buried surrounded by many of the memorials that he built.

Family vault of Henry and Charlotte Daniel
Close-up of the tomb with anchor and serpent decoration

An interesting part of the Cemetery was the Muslim section, something I had not expected to come across.

Muslim area

We noted the tomb of Bryan Donkin (d. 1855), the inventor of the tin can. His son, another Bryan, also buried here, opened a banknote factory in Russia.

Tomb of Bryan Donkin

On our way up the hill, our guide pointed out the silver granite memorial to the ship owner John Allen (d. 1865).

Heading up the hill with Allen’s tomb on the right

The tomb is a reworking of an ancient monument brought to Britain from Egypt.

Memorial of John Allen
Memorial of John Allen

Some parts of the memorial are in excellent condition, but others have decayed: the two angels that formerly flanked the head of the monument are no longer in position.

A fallen weeping angel

The Stearns family mausoleum was built in 1902 by the Doulton firm. It is similar to monuments at West Norwood.

Stearns family mausoleum

Our walk eventually brought us to the top of the hill. It was considered more prestigious to be buried at the top, because you were thought to be closer to God.

Approaching the top of the hill

However, being at the top does mean that your memorial is more exposed to the weather. This one is looking a bit wonky.

An unusually carved tomb

It is possible to see St Paul’s Cathedral from this point on the hill – a stunning view.

View of London from the very top of the Cemetery

Near the top is buried John Moritz Oppenheim, a skin and fur merchant who died in 1864 and was a generous patron of the arts, despite being blind for 20 years. His stone shows an angel touching his eyes.

Grave of John Moritz Oppenheim

The Cemetery is overgrown in parts and could do with some restoration, although I did think that this unkempt look made it more atmospheric.


Many of the graves are overgrown

The Cemetery is an important nature reserve: this pond, for example, is very important for wildlife.

Pond for wildlife

We headed back down the hill towards the entrance.

The way down
A winding path flanked by graves

The location of the former Dissenters’ chapel is marked by a clearing. The unconsecrated ground surrounding it contains graves of people belonging to non-Anglican denominations.

Location of the former Dissenters’ chapel

In the area you can see the Cemetery’s only gravestone with a Welsh inscription.

Welsh grave

Finally, we were shown the Scottish Martyrs obelisk, a memorial to 5 lowland Scots sentenced to transportation for advocating parliamentary reform.

Scottish Martyrs obelisk


The Scouts memorial

The Scouts memorial commemorates a tragic accident that occurred in 1912. On the 4th of August, nine boys were drowned at Leysdown after their boat overturned. The tragedy resulted in huge public mourning, and a bronze life-size Scout was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and erected here in 1914. Sadly stolen in 1969, it was replaced by this marble stone in 1992.

Some Commonwealth war graves are located in the same area, soldiers who died in a nearby hospital after returning from the Front in World War I.

Commonwealth War Graves


As with the other cemeteries I have visited so far, the architecture is varied and impressive. Many of the usual symbols are present, including angels, broken columns and crosses.

A stone angel decorating a grave
Tomb with a scroll carving
Broken column with rose design

This unusual anchor does not actually belong to the grave on which it rests. It was discovered after a period of bad weather destroyed the vegetation covering it, and bears an intriguing message.

Anchor-shaped stone
A cross
A cross covered with ivy

Nunhead is one of the least-known of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries, and its lack of fame and location south of the river might put people off visiting. However, it is a little gem: a lovely site on a hill, romantically overgrown, and a haven for wildlife.

Would I go back?

Yes – Nunhead would be a lovely place for a quiet walk. I also want to do a tour of the crypt, chapel and viewing tower, run by the Friends on various dates throughout the year.

There is an Open Day each year: in 2015 this will be the 16th of May. You can view details here.


Address: Linden Grove, London SE15 3LP
Founded: 1840
Size: 53 acres
Still in operation?: Yes
Official website:
Owners: London Borough of Southwark
Friends group: Friends of Nunhead Cemetery (FONC) (
Tours: General tours on the last Sunday of every month, free, 2.15 pm at the Linden Grove entrance. Special interest tours on certain dates – see the FONC website for details.

Lines in the Ice: Seeking the Northwest Passage – British Library

I finally got around to seeing the free Lines in the Ice: Seeking the Northwest Passage exhibition at the British Library, after attending a talk last year about the finding of HMS Erebus near Canada. The exhibition was recently extended to 19 April, so you still have a few weeks to see it.

It tells the story of humanity’s interest in and travel to the Arctic from the earliest times onward, with a wealth of written and printed material relating to the subject including Inuit woodcuts, early printed books, Russian maps and, later, photographs. Interestingly, there is also information about Santa Claus and how his place of residence was “moved” from Finland to the North Pole as interest in the Pole grew.

Fiction, factual accounts, and evocative pictures combine to bring the story to life. Definitely worth popping in to see.

Windsor Castle Part III: Precinct Tour and Semi-State Rooms

I made my third visit to Windsor Castle at the weekend in order to get the most out of my 1-year pass. It was a lovely sunny day and the Round Tower was looking smart. The Royal Standard was flying to show that the Queen was in residence.


I went on one of the Precinct Tours which I hadn’t done before. Our guide was very interesting and told us lots of things, some of which I hadn’t known before. We stopped briefly to see this Order of the Garter symbol which I hadn’t noticed previously.


Inside the Castle, I visited the Semi-State Rooms which are only open during the winter months, between September and March. These were created for George IV, completed in 1830, and are decorated lavishly. They were almost destroyed during the 1992 fire but have been thoroughly restored; luckily, the objects inside the rooms had been moved elsewhere at the time.

Another interesting and relaxed visit. I wonder if I will get the chance to go again before my pass runs out in June.


Visit to St Albans

At the weekend I visited some friends who have recently moved to St Albans in Hertfordshire. We embarked on a magical mystery historical tour.

Our first stop was Verulamium Park, so called because it lies on the site of the Roman city of Verulamium. It has a pretty lake with ducks and moorhens and on the edge there is a pub, called Ye Olde Fighting Cocks. We didn’t visit the pub on this occasion, but we did have lunch there the last time I visited. Apparently the pub holds the Guinness Book of Records title for being the oldest pub in England.

We walked away from the lake and came to the remains of the City walls and outline of the main London Gate. During the legendary drought of 1976, planes flying overhead could see the outlines of the old Roman city, made visible by the lack of grass, which had withered away in the heat.

Looking towards the lake at the remains of the London Gate. Apologies for the inconveniently-placed dog waste bin…
The remains of the London Gate

The Hypocaust Mosaic is nearby, covered by a purpose-built building. It is beautifully preserved and, in one corner, the hypocaust – or method of underfloor heating – can be seen.

The Hypocaust Mosaic

Following this we visited the nearby Verulamium Museum, containing many objects of everyday life, more mosaics, and a couple of skeletons. It cost £5 to enter which we thought a bit pricey, but there were some interesting things to see. We didn’t go to see the nearby Roman theatre as you had to pay separately to go in, and none of us felt like forking out more!

Mosaic in Verulamium Museum

Walking back into town, we could see the abbey – officially St Albans Cathedral – in the distance.

View of St Albans Cathedral

We decided to go inside.

St Albans Cathedral

The first thing that struck me was the gorgeous ceiling.

Another part of the ceiling

The rood screen, known as the Wallingford Screen, dates from around 1480, but the statues date from the Victorian period and are replacements of those destroyed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Wallingford Screen

This figure – a replica of an original on display in a case elsewhere in the Cathedral – stood above the Poor Box.

Poor box figure

There were several interesting things to look at, including this skull.


The shrine of St Alban still draws pilgrims to the abbey. Alban died around 300 AD; he lived in Verulamium and the story goes that he gave shelter to a Christian priest, who converted him. Alban changed clothes with the priest, who escaped, and died in his stead.

Shrine of St Alban
Shrine of St Alban

This ancient structure was designed so that priests could watch over the shrine constantly.




The Cathedral is unique in having very good and visible wall paintings, relics of the pre-Reformation days, which incredibly survived the Dissolution.


I loved this gorgeous window.


The Cathedral
The Cathedral

Finally, we visited the Museum of St Albans. This was a free museum and we both enjoyed it. My friend was impressed when she found her street mentioned on one of the information boards. My favourite thing was the stocks: you could put your head and hands through and be pelted by (cloth) fruit and vegetables. Hours of fun!

Museum building

St Albans is a nice place to visit if you want a bit of history. There are some lovely pubs too, and I definitely want to climb the tower when it reopens in the spring.

Highgate Cemetery (The “Magnificent Seven” Tour)

Highgate Cemetery is probably the most famous cemetery in London – I had heard of Highgate before any of the other Magnificent Seven. It is the burial place of some of the most famous figures ever to have graced London, and is well-known in popular culture, having appeared in novels such as Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. I’m not quite sure how I’ve managed to live in London for four years without visiting.

Getting There

Highgate has a lovely setting on a hill in North London. The nearest tube station is actually Archway, not Highgate. From Archway, take the 210,143 or 271 bus up Highgate Hill to Waterlow Park (you can walk, but it’s better to save your energy for exploring the cemetery). You have to walk through the park, which is lovely, to reach the cemetery.

Approaching Swain’s Lane from Waterlow Park


The English Heritage Grade 1* listed Highgate Cemetery originally opened in 1839, the third of the “Magnificent Seven” after Kensal Green and West Norwood, part of a ring of garden cemeteries around the outskirts of central London designed to draw burials away from the overcrowded and unhygienic inner-city cemeteries. An 1836 Act of Parliament created the London Cemetery Company, which bought seventeen acres of land on the steep hillside near Highgate Village for the sum of £3,500. The original design was by architect and entrepreneur Stephen Geary whose Tudor-Gothic style is evident in the entrance and chapels, and the Cemetery was dedicated to St. James by the Right Reverend Charles Blomfield, Lord Bishop of London, on 20 May 1839. The original Cemetery is now known as the West Cemetery; the East Cemetery was an extension established in 1854 thanks to the huge popularity of Highgate.

The Cemetery was built in the grounds of the Ashurst estate, evidence of which is the presence of a magnificent Cedar of Lebanon dating from the late seventeenth century. Sadly, Highgate’s profitability declined in the twentieth century and it began to decay, with vandalism and overgrown weeds prevalent until the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, set up in 1975, took over in 1981. The Friends are still responsible for the upkeep of the Cemetery and run the guided tours which are the only way to see the West Cemetery (you can walk around the East Cemetery alone but you do have to pay).

East Cemetery

Entrance to the East Cemetery

On Saturdays, you can’t book tours in advance: you just turn up. I had a bit of time to wait until my West Cemetery tour so I decided to have a look around the East Cemetery first (entry is included in the price of your West Cemetery tour ticket). The Eastern part was built later than the original West Cemetery, but it is still worth seeing. In fact, the lady at the entrance selling tickets to other visitors summed it up nicely when she said that the West Cemetery has the famous monuments, the East Cemetery has the famous people.

Inside the East Cemetery
Inside the East Cemetery

It was a lovely sunny day – warm enough to walk around without a coat – and I enjoyed exploring the beautiful Cemetery and the landscape of gravestones, with a couple of mausoleums thrown in.

Pocklington mausoleum

I had a good time finding significant graves, including that of one of my favourite Victorian writers, George Eliot, author of Middlemarch. Her real name of Mary Ann Cross is also on her tombstone.

Grave of George Eliot

A more recent but equally loved writer, Douglas Adams, famed for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, was buried here in 2001. His grave is often marked with pens.

Grave of Douglas Adams

Karl Marx is probably the most famous person buried at Highgate. His grave is easy to spot because there are lots of people milling around it.

Approaching Karl Marx’s tomb

The original gravestone, which is embedded within the newer structure, is plain and simple; the impressive tombstone, with the carved message “WORKERS OF ALL LANDS UNITE”, was erected by the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1954. The portrait bust is by Laurence Bradshaw. In 1970 there was an attempt to blow up the monument with a homemade bomb.

Marx’s tomb

A number of other Communists and revolutionaries are buried near Marx, as is the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm.

Socialist leaders and thinkers
Eric Hobsbawm’s grave

Actor Corin Redgrave is buried at Highgate.

Burial place of Corin Redgrave

Writer Alan Sillitoe (author of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning) also rests here.

Alan Sillitoe’s grave

Malcolm MacLaren, manager of the Sex Pistols, musician and fashion designer, is buried in an unique grave.

Malcolm McLaren’s grave

The artist Patrick Caulfield’s gravestone, dramatically reading “DEAD”, is one of my favourites.

Patrick Caulfield’s tombstone

One of my most surprising finds was the grave of TV personality and presenter (of Beadle’s About and You’ve Been Framed!) Jeremy Beadle. I really liked his gravestone, which looks like a bookshelf.

Jeremy Beadle’s grave

Aside from the famous individuals buried here, there are plenty of graves noteworthy for their architecture. A variety of styles are in evidence, including Victorian:

Grave of Caroline Tucker

…and modern. I love this Penguin Books-themed stone.

Jim Stanford Horn’s gravestone

I was intrigued by this picture and description.

Tom Wakefield’s grave

This person obviously loved their dog very much.


This piano is amazing.

Tomb of Thornton

The East Cemetery is beautiful and I could wander around for hours.





However it was time to leave this side and head over to the West Cemetery for my tour.


West Cemetery

Entrance to the West Cemetery

After waiting in the chapel for our tour guide, we were taken outside to the courtyard and arcade.

The Chapel

The smaller part of the chapel on the left, formerly the Dissenters’ Chapel, is now the private area for staff. The larger part on the right was the Anglican chapel: it is now the visitor centre and gift shop and has been recently restored.

The courtyard and arcade: the area was designed to be big enough for a coach and horses to turn around

Our guide explained the history of the site as we began our tour. Stephen Geary, the architect (and founder of the London Cemetery Company), appointed a surveyor (James Bunstone Bunning) and a garden designer/landscape architect (David Ramsey) who laid out the beautiful, winding paths. It’s a gloriously peaceful place.

The Chapel, seen from our route into the Cemetery



Things weren’t always so quiet: some parts of the Cemetery suffered bomb damage during World War II. The damage has been purposely left as a memorial.

Bomb damage

In more recent history, Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian poisoned in London in 2006, was buried here.

Alexander Litvinenko

The largest plot in Highgate belongs to a military man, and the railings around his tomb are miniature cannons.



The oldest grave in the Cemetery belongs to Elizabeth Jackson of Little Windmill Street, Soho, who died aged thirty-six and was buried on 26 May 1839.

Grave of Elizabeth Jackson

The Egyptian Avenue, a gorgeous structure with vaults – rather like above-ground catacombs – is located towards the top of the Cemetery. At first these vaults didn’t sell very well, as they were seen to be too “pagan” in tone, but after Queen Victoria popularised an interest in Egypt this changed.

Leading up to the Egyptian Avenue

In recent years a colony of rare orb weaver spiders has been discovered living inside the vaults of the Egyptian Avenue. The cold, dark conditions of the vaults are perfect for the spiders. This is no doubt a good thing in terms of ecological diversity, but I for one will be staying well away from the vaults!

Inside the Avenue

The Avenue leads to the Circle of Lebanon, which consists of twenty vaults around an inner circle; sixteen were added to an outer circle in the 1870s. The Circle was made by excavating earth from around the Cedar of Lebanon which had been present since the land was part of the Ashurst Estate. Above the Circle, a Gothic-style catacomb, known as the Terrace Catacombs as it was built on the site of the original terrace of Ashurst House, was constructed in 1842. We were able to visit the catacombs and they were fascinating, though sadly (but understandably) we were not allowed to take photos.

Inside the Circle of Lebanon
Close-up of some of the vaults in the Circle

Author Radclyffe Hall lies in one of the vaults.

Resting place of Radclyffe Hall
The magnificent Cedar of Lebanon
Looking down into the Circle of Lebanon
Looking down into the Circle of Lebanon

Coming out of the Circle of Lebanon and the Terrace Catacombs, we moved into the main Cemetery once again. Our first stop was the tomb of George Wombwell, the menagerie owner, who owned several exotic animals and raised the first lion in captivity in Britain.

Wombwell’s tomb with a statue of his lion, Nero

We saw the tiny stone of Adam Worth, a well-mannered and pleasant criminal mastermind who was apparently the inspiration behind Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Adam Worth’s grave

The mausoleum of millionaire newspaper magnate Julius Beer is one of the most impressive in the Cemetery. Sadly, though, he originally constructed it for his daughter Ada, who died aged eight. Apparently when the tomb was first reopened after many years, the Friends were unable to get the door open and had to send someone in through the broken top of the mausoleum. Once inside, they discovered why the door wouldn’t open – the floor was thick with bird poo. Lovely! Thankfully the structure has since been restored, although we couldn’t go inside as there was a problem with the door.

Mausoleum of Julius Beer

Thomas Sayers was a famous English bare-knuckle fighter during the Victorian period, a time when such fighting was in fact illegal. His final fight, against US champion John Camel Heenan, took place in Hampshire and ended in chaos when the spectating public invaded the ring and the police had to get involved. A public subscription raised a retirement fund for him and he never fought again, although he died aged only 39 in 1865. Thousands of people turned out on the streets of Highgate to see his funeral, although the chief mourner was his dog, Lion, who guards his tomb in effigy.

Grave of Thomas Sayers

Michael Faraday, the well-known scientist most famous for his work in electromagnetism and electrochemistry, is buried in the Dissenters’ area of the Cemetery.

Michael Faraday’s grave

Charles Dickens himself is buried in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey, but he was familiar with Highgate and has family connections there. His sister Frances (Fanny) Burnett is buried there along with her son Henry (Harry) Augustus, supposedly the inspiration for Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol.

Grave of Dickens’ sister

Dickens’ parents, John and Elizabeth, also rest in Highgate.

Burial place of Charles Dickens’ parents

Continuing the writers’ theme, I spied the grave of author Beryl Bainbridge.

Beryl Bainbridge’s grave

Highgate Cemetery is an absolutely fascinating place. It’s a shame about the entry charge, as it would be a wonderful place to visit again and again. Having said that, the Friends do a fantastic job of keeping everything going and the money is certainly put to good use.

I had heard horror stories about rude and grumpy staff, but I didn’t see any evidence of this at all: everyone seemed lovely and my tour guide was informative and friendly.

I really enjoyed my visit but was sad not to have been able to see the grave of Elizabeth Siddall (pre-Raphaelite muse, artist and wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti); apparently it is in a part of the Cemetery closed to visitors.

Would I go back?

Despite the cost, yes. It’s a hugely interesting place, with lots to see. A cheaper trip could take in the East Cemetery only; this would only cost £4. I would be back like a shot if I could have a chance to see Lizzie Siddall’s grave.


Address: Swain’s Lane, London N6 6PJ
Founded: 1839 (Eastern extension opened 1854)
Size: 37 acres
Still in operation?: Yes
Official website:
Owners: Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust (registered charity)
Tours: West Cemetery – weekdays at 2.45 pm (book online via website); weekends every half hour 11-3: £12 adults, £6 children. East Cemetery – Saturdays at 2 pm: £8 adults, £4 children (normal admission £4 adults, children free).

West Norwood Cemetery (The “Magnificent Seven” Tour)

Entrance to West Norwood Cemetery with the war memorial and inner gates visible

At the weekend I made a visit to the second of the “Magnificent Seven” commercial cemeteries in London, West Norwood Cemetery. Once again I was lucky with the weather: it was a dry and sunny day, though a cold wind made me shiver on occasion.

Getting There

West Norwood Cemetery is, as the name suggests, in West Norwood, south London. The address is Norwood Road, London SE27 9JU and the closest railway station is West Norwood, which can be reached from Victoria or London Bridge stations.


Initially known as The South Metropolitan Cemetery, the cemetery was founded by its own Act of Parliament in 1836 and the first burial took place a year later. The South Metropolitan Cemetery Company purchased land from the estate of the late Lord Thurlow to create the cemetery, which was consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester.

The Gothic inner gates designed by Sir William Tite
Close-up of the arch
Main office, which was rebuilt after the original was damaged in the war

In contrast to Kensal Green, which was built in the classical style, the South Metropolitan Cemetery was the first to be designed throughout in the Gothic style. The landscaping and some monuments, including the catacombs and the entrance gateway, were designed by architect Sir William Tite (1798-1873), who was eventually buried here himself. The cemetery later became known as the “Millionaires’ Cemetery” owing to the number of eminent Victorians buried here, including around 300 people with entries in the Dictionary of National Biography.

Looking into the cemetery with the entrance gates at my back

Sadly, the 40-acre cemetery suffered bomb damage during World War II and Lambeth Council, following a compulsory purchase order in 1965, proceeded to clear thousands of monuments. Luckily, the Friends group, the Archdeacon of Lambeth and others joined to prevent this. Many monuments are listed Grade II by English Heritage. The original consecrated chapel was also damaged by a bomb during the war and was later pulled down; the Dissenters’ chapel remains and has been converted into a crematorium.


Our guide told us a little about the history of the cemetery, and took us on a fascinating walk around it, pointing out some of the more notable features. One memorial that stood out is that of James Gilbart, founder of the London and Westminster Bank (now known as NatWest).

The J.W. Gilbart memorial, which is Grade II listed
Spire view of the memorial

We also saw the grave of Sir Hiram Maxim, of Maxim Gun fame – the American inventor, who moved to England aged 41, holds the dubious honour of being the inventor of the first portable, fully automatic machine gun.

The Maxim family grave

The grave of Joe Hunte, the anti-racism campaigner, rests here.

Burial place of Joe Hunte

I particularly liked this gravestone with its striking image of an old-fashioned diving helmet. Augustus Siebe was an inventor and engineer whose contributions to diving technology earned him fame. His stone was replaced without the cemetery’s permission a few decades ago, but I don’t feel I can object as I really like this interesting design.

Augustus Siebe’s grave

The most famous person to be buried in West Norwood is probably Isabella Beeton, of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management fame. She died at 28 after contracting puerperal fever following the birth of her fourth child. I had always thought she was older, but then she did have 20 younger siblings, so she had plenty of time to gain ample experience in cooking and household management.

Mrs Beeton’s unassuming burial place

The Reverend Charles Spurgeon was a Baptist preacher and he is still well-known and admired by Baptists around the world. Our guide told us about the time a coachload of American tourists came to the cemetery, surrounded Spurgeon’s tomb to take pictures and then left, without looking at anything else in the cemetery.

Charles Spurgeon’s tomb just outside the crematorium (formerly the Dissenters’ Chapel)

Mrs Beeton might be better-known, but for me the most exciting person to be buried in West Norwood is Charles Pearson. He was a solicitor and a reforming campaigner who campaigned for an underground railway system and was instrumental in promoting and establishing the Metropolitan Railway, the forerunner to the London Underground. I’m a great admirer of Pearson, whose encouragement of the railway system stemmed from a sense of social justice and a belief that it would improve the lives of the working poor.

Charles Pearson, buried in his son-in-law’s plot

Two lovely large red brick mausoleums stand out: the first belongs to Sir Henry Tate, the sugar magnate who also founded the Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain).

Henry Tate’s mausoleum

The second is the burial place of Sir Henry Doulton, the pottery manufacturer who was instrumental in developing his family firm into the famous Royal Doulton brand.

Tomb of Henry Doulton


The cemetery is interesting because of the people buried here, but also because of the examples of cemetery architecture in evidence. This draped urn was typical of the period.

Draped urn

Lucy Gallup’s grave is unusual because of the presence of a photograph of the deceased.

Lucy Gallup’s photograph

The English antiquary John Britton designed his monument to be as permanent as Stonehenge. In fact, it looks just like a Stonehenge stone.

John Britton’s unusual monument

Seaman John Wimble’s beautiful and intricate tomb, with its detailed carvings of ships, lent its name to Ship Path.

A beautifully carved ship on Wimble’s monument

The tomb of Alexander Berens, designed by E.M. Barry, is one of the most impressive in West Norwood and sits in a prime spot on the top of the hill.

Alexander Berens’ elaborate mausoleum

Here is an example of a heart plaque sometimes used in the sentimental Victorian period.

Heart plaque

Greek Necropolis

Looking towards the Greek Necropolis

Our final stop on the tour was the Greek Necropolis, complete with an imposing Chapel of St Stephen (architect unknown but sometimes thought to have been John Oldrid Scott). This section of the cemetery was acquired by the Greek community in London in 1842, and is filled with Greek Orthodox mausoleums and monuments commemorating members of the Anglo-Hellenic community. The Necropolis is overseen by the trustees of the Cathedral of Saint Sophia.

St Stephen’s Chapel
Greek monuments

The end point of our tour was the elaborate mausoleum of Edmund Distin Maddick, which had been opened up to form a little shop.

Mausoleum of Edmund Distin Maddick

It’s not as famous as Kensal Green or Highgate, and it’s a little out of the way, but West Norwood Cemetery is well worth a visit. There are some interesting monuments to see, and the cemetery’s location on a hill is an attractive one: and there are a couple of famous graves.

Would I go back?

Yes – it’s a decent-sized site with plenty to see, and I would like to be able to take a leisurely walk around it. Visiting the cemetery is free, so well worth it. In addition, if you join the Friends group for £5 per year you get a chance to take a tour of the catacombs – which is something I definitely intend to do at some point.


Address: Norwood Road, London SE27 9JU
Founded: 1836
Size: 40 acres
Still in operation?: Cremation plots are still available but the cemetery is closed to new burials, at least for now
Official website:
Owners: Lambeth Council
Friends group: Friends of West Norwood Cemetery (FOWNC) (
Tours: The first Sunday of every month, 11 am November-March, 2.30 pm April-October. Free, but donations appreciated.

Seven books that changed the way I see the world

This is a post that I originally wrote back in 2011 and posted on my librarianship blog. As it’s World Book Day today, I thought I’d re-post it here.

A while ago I read blog posts by Rachel Bickley and StEvelin on Seven books that changed the way I see the world, originally inspired by Bobbi Newman’s post on the same topic. Now that 23 Things is over, I’ve been thinking about what my own choices would be. It was a tough decision, but I’ve finally come to a conclusion.

The Story of Holly and Ivy – Rumer Godden
I first read this book when I was about five and found it on the bookshelf in my infant school. It made such an impact on me that I tried to track it down on Amazon twenty years later, having still remembered the story after all this time.

The book is about a lonely orphan girl called Ivy and how she wishes for a grandmother to love her and a doll of her own. Put on the train to a children’s home one Christmas, she ends up in the little village of Appleton, where Christmas doll Holly waits in the window of the toy shop hoping for a little girl to love. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jones prepares for Christmas, all the time feeling that Christmas is a time for children and wishing that she had a little girl of her own.

This is a lovely story about Christmas, magic and wishing. It strongly influenced my view of Christmas and the sort of books I liked to read afterwards – books with a bit of magic in them, even if it’s implicit.

The Doll in the Garden – Mary Downing Hahn
I came across this book while I was in primary school. Though I absolutely adored reading as a child I wasn’t incredibly adventurous – I read a lot of Enid Blyton for example – but took this book out of my local library as part of the Summer Reading Challenge.

The story is about a young girl called Ashley whose father has recently died. She and her mother move into a house next door to a rather unpleasant old woman, Miss Cooper. While exploring the garden, Ashley and her new friend Kristi find a doll buried in the soil, along with an apology note. Following a ghostly white cat that appears in the garden, Ashley travels back in time to the early 1900s and finds the owner of the doll, a young girl called Louisa, who is seriously ill with consumption. Back in the present day, Ashley and Kristi discover that their neighbour Miss Cooper is the person who stole the doll all those years ago and have to try to persuade her to return the doll to Louisa, hoping that this will help her get better.

This book is excellent in the way it explores grief, jealousy and relationships, dealing with adult themes in a way children can relate to. It made me think about all of these things in a way I hadn’t before, and the memory of it stayed with me all these years. As with The Story of Holly and Ivy, I managed to track down The Doll in the Garden on Amazon recently and enjoyed re-reading it from an adult point of view.

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
This one’s probably a bit of a cliché but I first read this book when I was about eleven and really related to the heroine. I really admired Jane and tried to model myself on her. I think she is inspiring in the way she maintains her self-respect and determination even though she is completely alone in the world. I have to admit that I have never expected a Mr Rochester-like figure to turn up and carry me off, although I maintain that Edward Rochester could wipe the floor with Fitzwilliam Darcy.

His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman
I first read this trilogy when I was about fifteen, around the time the final book, The Amber Spyglass, was released, and absolutely loved it. As well as telling a fantastic story, the books tackle important subjects like religion, philosophy, quantum physics and the nature of the soul. One part that made an enormous impression on me was the part towards the end where Will and Lyra end up in the world of the dead. I loved the idea that when you die the most important thing is to have a story to tell – about something you’ve done or something you’ve learned – to show that you’ve lived. This genuinely influenced my outlook on life.

I can also thank The Amber Spyglass in particular for my interest in poetry. At the beginning of each chapter there is a quote from a poem or play and I took great pleasure in tracking down the ones I didn’t recognise, which in turn led me to a greater exploration and understanding of poetry.

Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
I absolutely love Thomas Hardy’s books, even though most people I know can’t stand him. In Jude the Obscure, the title character Jude Fawley faces a number of hardships including being unable to attend university owing to his working-class background, difficult relationships, and other tragedies I won’t go into in case I spoil the story for those who haven’t read it. Jude is my favourite of Hardy’s novels, though it’s also considered his most depressing. I think this is why I like it so much, although I’m not entirely sure if Hardy appeals to me because of my pessimistic nature or whether his books influenced my pessimism. In any case, I sometimes feel like I do have a bit of a fatalistic attitude to life which was probably shaped by his books, especially this one.

The Seagull – Anton Chekhov
The Seagull is a play not a book, but I’m including it anyway – I do actually have the text in book form, though I’ve also seen it performed three times. It is set on a Russian country estate and peopled with a rounded cast of characters. The younger characters have different ambitions and dreams. Konstantin wants to write plays, but his innovative work meets with bafflement. Nina wants to be an actress, but her family is opposed to the idea and she has to sneak out of the house in secret. The older characters have unfulfilled dreams and regrets of their own: Konstantin’s mother Irina is a fading actress, while Trigorin is a writer who is slightly scornful of his own middlebrow novels. Irina’s brother Sorin, meanwhile, spends much of the play lamenting the mistakes he made while young.

Love triangles and emotional undercurrents form the backbone of the play but it was the different reactions of the main characters to tragic events in their lives that really struck me. Konstantin and Nina in particular deal with things very differently and I found their actions and behaviour alternately saddening, inspiring and thought-provoking. I won’t say any more for the sake of those who haven’t read or seen the play, but it made me think about my own attitude to life and how I deal with things.

Antarctic Navigation – Elizabeth Arthur
I wasn’t sure whether to include this book or not, seeing as I only read it a few months ago. However I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. I discovered it in a moment of serendipity – it caught my eye while I was browsing the shelves in my local library and I thought it looked interesting.

In short, Antarctic Navigation is about one woman’s mission to visit Antarctica and trek to the South Pole. However it is so much more than that. Covering the first thirty or so years of the heroine Morgan Lamont’s life, it is a kind of Bildungsroman in the tradition of the great Victorian novels. You learn about her childhood, the beginning of her interest in Antarctica, and her obsession with Robert Scott which eventually prompts her to try and recreate his doomed 1912 expedition. The descriptions of the harsh Antarctic landscape are vivid and the history and science of the area are woven into the story in a fascinating way. The story has quite a modern sensibility as it carries the awareness that the continent is under threat due to human activity and the fragility of nature. Antarctica itself also becomes a kind of symbol for the unknown, and the book’s title is a kind of metaphor for exploration both externally and inside of you – this is much more beautifully done in the book than my clumsy explanation suggests.

It’s a sign of a good book when you don’t want it to end and feel bereft when you close it for the last time – particularly when the book is eight hundred pages long. Before reading this novel, I had a passing albeit largely unexplored interest in Antarctica. Now, I have a wishlist of books about the place and really want to learn more.

These books are among my favourites, but I do have other favourite books which I wouldn’t necessarily put on this list. It’s interesting that I read four out of the seven while I was a child – I wonder if you are less likely to have your viewpoint challenged or shaped as an adult. Do we lose the capacity to be strongly influenced by literature as we get older? What books helped to change the way you see the world?

Drawn by Light: The Royal Photographic Society Collection – Science Museum

Drawn By Light is an exhibition at the Science Museum‘s Media Space encompassing the collection of the Royal Photographic Society. It focuses chiefly on early photography, the invention of which was publicly announced in 1839, but also includes some later works of significance.

The Great Exhibition, coming soon after the invention of photography, acted as a catalyst for the formation of the Royal Photographic Society owing to the increasing popularity of the new medium. The inaugural meeting was held on 20 January 1853, with Sir Charles Eastlake as the chair and Roger Fenton as the honorary secretary. One of my favourite pictures in the exhibition is of members of the RPS Club on an outing to Hampton Court in 1856, looking dapper in suits and top hats. The Society began to collect photographs in 1892, and has gathered donations from the time as well as earlier periods and later works, including Steve McCurry’s iconic 1985 Afghan Girl, an image which has been in the news again recently.

The works are unusual, often experimental: this was a new medium, after all, and pioneers were still working out how best to use it. Abstract images sit alongside human expressions: the pictures of the inmates of Surrey County Asylum in the 1850s, taken by Hugh Welch Diamond, are fascinating, while Erna Lendvai-Dirksen’s images of blond-haired, blue-eyed children in 1930s Germany have sinister overtones considering the rise of Nazism. The poster image, a red-cloaked, windswept girl on a beach, was, extraordinarily, taken in 1913, by Lieutenant Colonel Mervyn O’Gorman. Very early photographic images from the early nineteenth century are included, as are beautiful images of familiar and exotic places. This is one exhibition for which I certainly want to buy the accompanying book.

The exhibition has now closed at the Science Museum but is moving to the National Media Museum in Bradford, where it can be viewed between the 20th of March and the 21st of June.

2015 Reading Challenge – A book of short stories

The book of short stories I chose to read was Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov, a collection of stories that could also be described as folktales or fairy tales. Russia has a rich history of such stories; some of these were collected and transcribed by folklorists, others were reworked into new versions. Most of the stories are about the adventures of a tsarevich or a tsarevna (the Russian equivalent of a prince or princess), but many feature poor but honest country folk or serfs. The tales feature Russian characters such as the witch Baba Yaga and the daunting Koschey the Deathless, and some of them inspired compositions, such as Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird. A must read for anyone interested in fairy tales, folklore and Russian literature.

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