We’ve been at it again, me and my good friend Devon. Stalking the dead. This time we’ve been visiting Brompton Cemetery, where the dearly departed of West London are interred. What could be more joyful on a crisp December morning than stepping amongst the tombs of those who have been loved and lost and reading inscriptions about their lives?
Brompton is one of the Magnificent Seven – the fabulously-named ring of ‘garden cemeteries’ built in the late Georgian and early Victorian period to relieve the pressure on London’s crowded ancient churchyards. And for keen cemetery-visitors like Dev and myself, it does not disappoint.
It is positively bijoux compared to vast Highgate Cemetery and rambling Nunhead. The well-maintained graves are packed tightly together like a giant game of dominoes, as if with a mighty push you could send a ripple of falling tombstones that would run all the way round the cemetery. I like my graveyards densely packed – all the better for seeing as many dead people as possible in the time you have available.
Brompton has some fancy mausoleums and some simple haeadstones, and at the southern end is a rather beautiful chapel – built at vast expense and nearly bankrupting its investors – which looks like a mini-version of the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford. And who doesn’t love the Radcliffe Camera?
For those who enjoy variety, Brompton’s inhabitants represent a good mix of the famous, the slightly well-known and people who were possibly somebody at the time, but are now quite forgotten. I always find it strange to think everyone who knew or cared about someone is dead, yet here I am reading about their lives a hundred years later.
Here’s some of the highlights from mine and Dev’s latest outing…
To live in the heart of those we love is not to die
This tombstone is not damaged, it was designed like this. I think its solid simplicity speaks volumes about the General. Clearly Bill was a man of few words and no messing. I respect that about him.
The same can’t be said of the next lady:
To the memory of Blanche Roosevelt Macchetta… By her brilliant accomplishments and rare graces of mind and person she gave distinction in the world of literature and art to the name of Blanche Roosevelt.
I can’t help feeling she might have written that eulogy herself, although in fairness she has her own page on Wikipedia, so maybe I’m too cynical…
I do love a Latin inscription, particularly if it’s a mosaic. This little beauty is on the floor of the family vault of Herbert Fitch.
Deeds not words!
Other members of the family buried in the vault get little more than their names and ages, but the eldest son gets a poem:
Come unexpectedly! Give me no warning.
But in a brighter land, bid me ‘Good Morning!’
Rather lovely, I think.
I think the gates below look like they come from the film set for Cleopatra, but they are actually the entrance to the catacombs – I’m not sure whether the snakes are there to keep visitors out, or the dead in!
The next lady gets a lovely inscription, although I can’t help feeling that the author (her husaband) had obviously run the poor woman ragged.
In loving memory of my beloved wife Elizabeth Baker… who was a charming companion, a helpmate under all difficulties, a comforter in sorrow, a true wife and sincere friend and now alas the most blessed memory of mine age.
The inscription on the grave below is in Russian so I’ve no idea what it says. I am filling in the blanks by imagining that she is a Russian aristocrat who fled her homeland during the Russian revolution. Feel free to investigate and correct me.
Sadly, despite being quite large, the monument below doesn’t take a good picture – and for some reason the statues around it are all headless. But I love the idea that the community were so swelled with pride at Robert’s rowing achievements that they all chipped in to give him a good send off.
This monument was erected by public subscription by the warm friends and admirers of Robert Coombes, champion sculler of the Thames and Tyne.
Rumours abound that this Egyptian-style mausoleum is, in fact, a working time machine. And I don’t see why it shouldn’t be, since it looks very much like it might be a Tardis. Although no-one let me in when I knocked…
Mausoleum of Hannah Courtoy who conveniently inherited a fortune from her husband and invested it in this lovely monument to herself (and her daughters).
And lastly, a nod to science:
To John Snow MD. Born at York March 15th 1813, died in London June 16th 1858. In remembrance of his great labours in science, of the excellence of his private life and character. This monument (with the assent of Mr William Snow) has been erected over his grave by his professional brethren and friends.
I’ve included John Snow because I once watched a very interesting documentary about him, and I thought it would be selfish to keep my learning to myself. By mapping cases of cholera, Snow was able to demonstrate that they clustered around water pumps, showing that it was water-borne, and not caught by breathing ‘foul air’. His systematic approach (i.e. using evidence, instead of making stuff up), means he is often cited as the founder of epidemiology. Go John Snow!
Hungry for more stuff about cemeteries, but don’t know where to get it? Why not read my exciting blog about Highgate and Nunhead. It’s got all of the fun of Brompton but less of the photos – enjoy!
Getting to Brompton Cemetery
The nearest London Underground & Overground station is West Brompton (District Line, Wimbledon branch, and London Overground): turn right out of the station, and the North Gate and Lodges are within two minutes’ walk.
Earl’s Court Station (Piccadilly and District Lines) is within ten minutes’ walk to the north: turn left out of the Warwick Road entrance and walk south along Warwick Road to Old Brompton Road.
Find out more about the Cemetery on the Friends of Brompton Cemetery website.