The Grin Reaper's English Excursion

An American Gravedigger in London

If you are a regular visitor to this site (and you know who you are!)...you are a "gravedigger." And my friends, as the Grin Reaper ("Grinny" if you will) and a fellow gravedigger, it is a pleasure to share my recent escapades in merry ol' England.

My first stop was to revisit Highgate Cemetery, an easy tube ride from central London on the Northern Line (exit Archway, it's actually closer to the cemetery than the Highgate stop). As of 1992, there were over 167,000 persons in 51,800 graves (many family monuments). From what I could tell though, there were many new residents over the last six years.

First, the good news: The Friends of Highgate are doing a splendid job of cleaning/maintaining the cemetery since they began their work in 1975. The last time I visited Highgate was in 1991 and it was in sorry condition...thick vegetation and lots of vandalism. And now, the bad news: there's still lots of thick vegetation which makes it difficult to view many of the graves, and because of all of the previous vandalism, it's nearly impossible to find statues that haven't suffered some damage.

Highgate Cemetery's most prestigious permanent resident is Karl Marx. His bold bust sits atop a monument which declares: "Workers of All Lands Unite." His epitaph reads: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point however is to change it." (Click on image for another view). Click on image for another view
Angel of the Vines Highgate AngelsSeated Angel
One with Nature. Here is an excellent example of how the gravestones have become one with nature because of the thick overgrowth. These stones have become woven into the roots of a nearby tree.
Struggle. I literally stumbled upon this eighteen-inch high statue, which was hidden under the thick brush. What a beautiful, symbolic statue showing the constant struggle of life.
Natural Beauty. My good friend, Juliet Eve, took me to several small village churches near her home in Hemel Hempstead. This first colorful image is a nameless grave from the grounds of the Ancient Church of St. Mary (built 1140 - 1184; it contains a Roman arch!) in Hemel Hempstead. This photo proves how naturally beautiful cemeteries can be.
 

 
Nettleden. These two grave images are from St. Lawrence Church (built in the beginning of the 18th century) in the small village of Nettleden.

I forced my friend Sally Stratton, to turn around her car and stop at the Isleworth Cemetery, Isleworth, Middlesex. It's a charming Victorian cemetery located right next door to West Middlesex Hospital.

Terminal View. A hospital next to a cemetery; the situation reminded me of a train terminal with people arriving at one end and departing at the other. It must be depressing for the fatally sick to look out the window at their inevitable end.

 
Two images from Isleworth Cemetery.

 

Offbeat Tales of the Bizarre!

While on the road, I heard two wonderful death-related tales that I must share with you, my fellow gravediggers. The first, Juliet told me as we walked towards a 16th century mansion, just off the road we were driving on in Gaddesden.

"Look up, Michael. At the chimneys. See anything strange?" she taunted.

I looked up and sure enough there was a cement sarcophagus amongst a series of brink chimneys.

"The gent buried there didn't want anyone to walk on his grave," she declared with a chuckle.

Click on the Photo for a closer look.

The other offbeat story came from Sally. She showed me a mausoleum surrounded by a six-foot high brick wall, located off of St. Margarets Road, almost directly across from the Alisa Tavern, St. Margarets, Twickenham, southwest of London. She told me it was a fine piece of Victorian masonry and it is well regarded by the Victorian Society. And for those who are interested, the gates are opened once a year to the public.

Anyway, the story goes that the Earl of Kilmorey had it built in good time for his demise and he became obsessed with the notion of having a fitting send off. So, he held elaborate rehearsals for his burial while he was alive! Eccentric? Perhaps, but at least he was well prepared for the big day. Obviously, the Earl was a few bricks light of a load! The story goes that he use to have his servants dress him and his mistress in plush, billowy shrouds and then wheel the pair down from his mansion to the waiting mausoleum on a practice run. Practice makes perfect, and the Earl's final funeral march must have been a sight to behold.

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So, What do ya' think?

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