diamond geezer

 Sunday, May 19, 2013

Nunhead Cemetery is one of London's Magnificent Seven, a ring of private burial grounds established around the edge of the capital in the 1830s. Highgate's the best known, Kensal Green's the largest, and Nunhead's possibly the quietest. Located between Peckham and Brockley, its 50 acres are deeply wooded, and rather lovely. It wasn't meant to be this way. The cemetery went bankrupt in 1969 and a deep decline ensued, with gravestones toppling and the undergrowth bearing up. Along came The Friends of Nunhead Cemetery, not a moment too soon, and in 2001 the place was restored enough to be reopened. The gates are opened daily, and on the last Sunday of the month the Friends run a guided walking tour. But once a year they really push the boat out and host an Open Day, with stalls and tours and the opportunity to delve inside parts not usually accessible. And that was yesterday.

At Nunhead, all paths lead to the Anglican Chapel. It stands at the top of the main avenue leading up from Linden Grove, thin and tall with a pair of narrow spires rising to the sky. The chapel roof fell in a while back, so normally the front gates are locked, but yesterday they were flung open and a wheelchair ramp installed. It was busy inside too, especially when the musicians were performing. I missed the Dulwich Ukulele Club, but enjoyed the dulcet tones of the Nunhead Community Choir. Most carried their song words in book form or on clipboards, but I noticed a couple reading from iPads, or equivalent, and swishing through to the next page of the manuscript as the song progressed. Lucky it wasn't raining.

One Open Day special was the offer to don a hard hat and climb the "very narrow, steep and dark" spiral staircase to the roof of the tower, but I passed on that. Instead I joined the hourly tour to the crypt, which is very rarely open, with access down a slope round the back. We weren't quite sure what we'd be entering as the volunteer guided pushed open the doors and warned us about the big step down. It was very dark inside, but we spotted the trapdoor in the ceiling through which coffins were lowered, and then we spotted the coffins. There are 76 shelves down here, stacked like the sorting boxes in a post office, and most contain the remains of a dead Victorian. Not all the boxes have survived in this dank vault, some have rotted or collapsed, while others were vandalised in the 1970s and the bones had to be put back in mixed-body plastic sacks.

The 40 stalls were busy, or at least some of them were. Anyone offering face painting did well, as did the local history societies and gardening guilds. Other tables garnered less interest, but that's obscure well-meaning volunteers for you. Beekeepers and woodcarvers were present, and a lady chiselling letters in stone, and a group with a petition trying to save a nearby pub from developers. A small child thrust an out-of-date copy of The War Cry into my hand, while the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society didn't have to try that hard to unload some free leaflets. I fancied a jam scone from the temporary cafe, indeed the entire table of cakes and sponges looked proper homemade gorgeous, but the queue was extreme so I decided to pass.

Obviously the best things to do when visiting one of the Magnificent Seven is to walk around the cemetery. Paths curve round the perimeter and through the centre, some narrow, some broader, but all shadowed by verdant tree cover. Gravestones emerge from the wilderness at peculiar angles, with a few bluebells inbetween at this time of year. On one bank a small boy called Bertie posed with a dandelion clock for his Dad's smartphone, close to a headstone in loving memory of his namesake who died a century ago. Up at the mausoleum, if you found it, was a curated art exhibition based on the Seven Heavenly Virtues. They did the Sins last year, in case you're wondering. You've probably also unconsciously misjudged the mausoleum's size, it's more like a garden shed, but beautifully decorated on the outside. Pop back any weekend this month to see inside for yourself, or visit any time to enjoy the peace of this urban retreat.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream