I have always loved cemeteries. Something about them makes me feel calm and that I am still somehow connected to generations past. It’s been awhile since I have visited a really old cemetery (my favourite!) but I found out there was a tour being held at Nunhead Cemetery and I immediately knew I would be there.
Luckily for me the day dawned with beautiful weather – it was warm (8 degrees) and most importantly sunny. We haven’t seen sun since…well I don’t remember when we last saw sun! So it was a perfect day to wander amongst tombs and trees. I arrived early and within moments had already fallen in love with the place, and I found the cold bare branches piercing the sky imparted a mood that suited the cemetery, one of the 3 largest cemeteries of greater London. Consecrated in 1840, it is one of the seven great Victorian cemeteries established in a ring around the outskirts of London (I will definitely be visiting the other 6!)
Our tour was led by a volunteer from the Friends of Nunhead group, whose sole purpose is to promote and conduct conservation of the cemetery. No mean feat considering that it had been abandoned, then purchased by Southward Council for only 1 pound and faced years of neglect and vandalism in the 1960′s. He shared insights into various “monuments” and the history of the cemetery – with tidbits including the astounding fact that 10 coffins were buried on top of each other into a hole 24 feet deep, to make use of the space and get as much money for one plot as possible (the poor typically were buried in this way)
We also learned that there are quite a few symbols used in the cemetery – two which could be found on the front gates. The upturned torch is a Greek symbol of life extinguished while the snake eating its own tail is an ancient Egyptian symbol of eternal life to let the visitor know that they were entering a place of death and memorial.
Our first stop took us to an area just off the pathway. This is where many bodies were re-buried, having been moved from their location at the a centrally located churchyard into this crypt. They were moved when the Bank of England wanted to expand its space – and we all know money talks!
We walked up the main path to the church – a stunning walk with monuments and gravestones marking the entire way up (they are all rich people of course)
He shared with us a tragic story – On 4th August 1912 nine Scout boys were drowned in a tragic accident at Leysdown when their boat was overturned. There had been a bronze statue of a young scout holding a walking staff erected to remember those lost, but unfortunately it was destroyed during the years of vandalism and no one knows where it has gone to. However, the plaque that was below it was found recently and it now is located in the walls of the church. And a side tidbit – David Beckhams Great Grand Uncle was one of the boys that drowed.
There were of course more stories of dignitaries, engingeers (including the one who designed the first ever tin can to store food in and who supplied the ill-fated Franklin exploration trip to the arctic). There were lots of incredible views of headstones overgrown, peeking behind emerald green ivy. Here are some of my favourite pictures.