Tuesday, February 14, 2012

More of the Magnificent Seven

In an earlier blog I wrote about the "Magnificent Seven," the cemeteries created in the 1840s to take pressure off the city of London.  In that blog I only discussed three of the cemeteries.  Here are some brief notes on the remaining four.
Abney Park Cemetery

Abney Park Cemetery, one of the "Magnificent Seven," was created in 1840 and was the first completely non-denominational garden cemetery in Europe. For more than 100 years it functioned as a graveyard, only ceasing as a place of burial in the 1970s. Not only was it a non-denominational place of burial, it was unique in combining the cemetery function with an educational arboretum bounded with 2,500 trees and shrubs laid out in alphabetical order. 

Because of its non-denominational origins, Abney Park soon became the favoured place of burial for non-conformists of all persuasions. Here lie the founders of the Salvation Army, William and Catherine Booth, along with their son Bramwell and many others connected to that church. As well it was a favourite resting place for many of the leaders of the Abolition movement. Joanna Vassa, the daughter of Olaudah Equiano an eighteenth century leader for the emancipation of slaves and himself an ex-slave, is buried here.

Among the many fascinating graves to be found here is one, the monument of which features a  magnificent lion.  This marks the grave of Frank Bostock an extraordinary animal trainer of the last years of the nineteenth and the earliest years of the twentieth cemetery.

The "Bostock" Lion

Nunhead Cemetery

Perhaps the least known of the "Seven," Nunhead Cemetery, originally All Saint's Cemetery, was founded by the London Cemetery Company, which also founded Highgate.  With 52 acres of ground, it was the second largest of the Victorian Cemeteries. Consecrated in 1840, it is one of the two cemeteries of the "Magnificent Seven" located south of the river Thames (the other being West Norwood Cemetery).   In 1865, when its first superintendent died, it was discovered that he had managed to mulct the company of eighteen thousand pounds.

In 1851, Tallis's Illustrated London commented, "The grounds are planted with great taste, many of the monuments are extremely beautiful and the chapels have considerable architectural merit."

Gates to Nunhead Cemetery c. 1855

Brompton Cemetery

Near Earl's Court, the Brompton Cemetery was originally known as the West of London and Westminster Cemetery.  Nowadays it is primarily used as a park. The cemetery centred around a domed chapel at one end, with long colonnades leading up to it flanked by catacombs which were seen as a cheaper burial option.

Brompton Cemetery Colonnades

The cemetery has an interesting connection to Beatrix Potter who lived nearby.  She is supposed to have taken many names for her creations from headstones even that of "Peter Rabbett" as it was found on one of the grave markers.  Others were Nutkins, McGregor and Fisher.

Here, too, is buried Fanny Brawne to whom John Keats was engaged and to whom he wrote a series of charming love letter including this one, written in October of 1819 only sixteen months before his death.
25 College Street

My dearest Girl,

Fanny Brawne
    This moment I have set myself to copy some verses out fair.  I cannot proceed with any degree of content.  I must write you a line or two and see if that will assist in dismissing you from my Mind for ever so short a time.  Upon my Soul I can think of nothing else - The time is passed when I had power to advise and warn you again[s]t the unpromising morning of my Life - My love has made me selfish.  I cannot exist without you - I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again - my Life seems to stop there - I see no further.  You have absorb'd me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving - I should be exquisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you.  I should be afraid to separate myself far from you.  My sweet Fanny, will your heart never change?  My love, will it?  I have no limit now to my love - You note came in just here - I cannot be happier away from you - 'T is richer than an Argosy of Pearles.  Do not threat me even in jest. I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion - I have shudder'd at it - I shudder no more - I could be martyr'd for my Religion - Love is my religion - I could die for that - I could die for you.  My Creed is Love and you are its only tenet - You have ravish'd me away by a Power I cannot resist: and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often "to reason against the reasons of my Love."  I can do that no more - the pain would be too great - My Love is selfish - I cannot breathe without you.

    Yours for ever
    John Keats

Others buried here include Henry Cole, the founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal College of Music, the 1851 Great Exhibition and inventor of the Christmas card; Samuel Smiles, the author of that most Victorian book, Self Help; Samuel Cunard, the founder of the Cunard Line and John Snow who demonstrated the link between cholera and infected water.  Lovers of Cricket too can find in the Brompton Cemetery the grave of John Wisden, a most excellent cricketer who is, however, best remembered as the founder of the eponymous Wisden Cricketers' Almanack in 1864.

Long Wolf
In this most English of cemeteries were buried a number of American Indians. These were the casualties of that great institution, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.  Among those who died in England while on tour was  the Lakota Sioux chief, Long Wolf, born in 1833 and one of the warriors who fought in the battle of the Little Big Horn.  Buried with Long Wolf was an infant child, Star Ghost Dog, who died at only 17 months when she fell from her mother's arms while on horseback.  Here too were the graves of Paul Eagle Star, another Sioux and Surrounded by the Enemy, undoubtedly one of the tallest men in the Wild West Show at 6 foot, seven inches who succumbed to a chest infection at the early age of twenty-two. Long Wolf's remains were returned to South Dakota in 1997 and buried in Wolf Creek Community Cemetery at Pine Ridge in that state.

Tower Hamlets Cemetery

This cemetery was opened in 1841 and officially closed in 1966. The Cemetery Company was composed of eleven wealthy directors including the Lord Mayor of the City of London.  Consisting of 27 acres, it was divided into a consecrated part for Church of England burials and an unconsecrated part for all others.

It was the cemetery of the East End and by the turn of the century had a quarter of a million bodies buried in its grounds. Because it was situated in one of the poorest areas of London, a large number of the burials were in public graves which by 1851, ten years after the cemetery opened, house 80% of the deceased.  Public graves often held multiple unrelated bodies and might contain as many as thirty bodies in a pit up to forty feet deep. There was no charge for public graves and they were commonly used by those whose families could afford a funeral, but not the price of a burial plot.

There were, of course, other cemeteries in and around London, and an increasing number as the century moved on.  But the creation of the "Magnificent Seven" stood as a model movement for the cleansing of the unwholesome practices which had caused so much disease in the great Metropolis.

Brompton Park Cemetery Squirrel

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