This has been a strange weekend weather-wise! The mornings have been rainy, grey, windy (RIP my umbrella), but in the afternoon, the autumnal rays of sunshine grace us with their presence. And so I found myself with the perfect conditions for what I was planning this weekend. A nice, tranquil walk through Brompton Cemetery Park, with my camera in hand. I have been to this place countless times. It is incredibly beautiful, peaceful and no matter how busy it can be, you can always find a corner where the only companions are the deceased and the squirrels. Add to that a nice book, and you have the perfect afternoon.
Brompton Cemetery opened in 1840 and it’s part of the called “Magnificient Seven” cemeteries, all established in the 19th century when inner-city churchyards were getting way too overcrowded representing a danger for the public health and well… disrespect for the dead. The intense development of the city with the industrial revolution had caused an exponential growth of London’s population… but people do die, and there was space needed. From the Magnificient Seven, I have only been to three, counting with Brompton’s – Kensal Rise and Highgate. All of them are definitely worth a visit.
While all of these cemeteries were private at the time, today Brompton Cemetery is owned by the crown. Situated in what before was land for market gardens, the cemetery was designed by Benjamin Baud, and its main distinguishable feature is the small piazza with a domed chapel at its centre, that can be easily compared to a miniature of what St. Peters Cathedral in the Vatican City looks like. It is flanked by catacombs which apparently were never a huge success, with only 500 of the thousands of places available being sold. These are not, of course, open to the public.
Unfortunately, during World War II, the cemetery suffered bomb damage… however, to me, it just looks like any Victorian cemetery in London. Hauntingly abandoned, damaged but somehow resisting the force of time.
Even though some of the plaques don’t show any names, apparently every single person buried here ‘ over 200 000 people – are identified in the cemetery archives. I suppose poorer people wouldn’t be able to afford this level of personalisation – it is true that we all die, regardless of socio-economical status – Memento Mori. However, even in that moment, the difference in wealth is notable.
Besides reading the dates, the names and the messages left engraved for eternity in the stone, I also enjoyed finding out about the symbolism behind some of the designs. For instance, a half column represents the death of someone in its prime, such as the head of a family. A cross with flowers, such as lilies or roses, represent innocence, someone who died too early in life. Angels, doves, represent hope. And so on.
But in Brompton, the cemetery is ironically full of life. And no, I’m not talking about the flora. The crows were a good addition to the vibe.
I had some fun with the squirrels. How they approached me in hopes I had some treats, and then just stared at me like if I was some alien creature. I managed to get some great pictures – and most of these are different squirrels, I swear I was not following the same furry guy.
And finally, I also made a short friendship with a black cat that literally crossed my way. What would Halloween be, without a black cat?
Hope you enjoyed exploring Brompton with me this Halloween!