Like so many of our articles recently we are indebted to Maya Donelan for this charming essay. I hope we all can find in this the cheerfulness and inspiration to keep active yet safe during this period of lockdown. It is followed by a new map of quiet walking routes through London. (With a challenge for any techies!)
Three Cemeteries in West London
Earlier this year, when the world started to go mad, I suddenly realised how lucky I was to live in Fulham within walking distance of three cemeteries: Fulham Cemetery, Margravine Cemetery and the Brompton Cemetery. What wonderful choices for the daily walk.
Fulham Cemetery, established in 1865, with an entrance lodge (being converted into a private house) and its remaining chapel (now somewhat derelict) in situated between the Fulham Palace Road and Munster Road, Fulham. Designated as a Garden of Rest, it is a pleasant green space, with good trees. Sadly there are no spectacular monuments, but there is a touching area of very modest headstones from the 1940s. I think its chief interest is the very large number of WWI military graves, not arranged as usual in neat serried ranks within an enclosure, but scattered higgledy-piggledy throughout the cemetery. They are there as the former Fulham Hospital just up the road, now the site of the Charing Cross Hospital, was used as a military hospital during WWI. The soldiers were buried before the War Graves Commission was set up. It was obviously decided to mark their graves in situ, and not to dig them up and move them to a formal setting.
The Hammersmith or Margravine Cemetery at Barons Court, now also a Garden of Rest, was opened in 1869 by the Hammersmith Vestry. The cemetery contains a recently restored and listed ‘Receiving House’, unique in London. It has a few distinctive monuments – the most striking are the green bronze memorial to George Broad, who owned the foundry which made the Eros statue at Piccadilly Circus and that of ‘Abe Smith’ an Australian gold prospector, who died in 1923, depicted in his hut. This is just close to the J. Lyons & Co. WWI and II war memorials. The company was based at Cadby Hall in Hammersmith from 1894, until the 1980s when Cadby Hall was demolished and the great company began to disintegrate. Margravine is a very’ rural’ seeming cemetery – lots of open green grass areas, with few memorials, carpeted with bluebells and later cow parsley in the spring – a total joy!
And then of course, the Brompton Cemetery – one of London’s great marvels, loved and cherished by a wide range of people, with its imaginatively planned layout, splendid architecture and fascinating tombs. A real urban cemetery – but its wonderful trees and grassed walkways give a refreshingly open and relaxing atmosphere even in the heat of the summer. Now in autumn with the leaves falling from the trees and the undergrowth cut back – one can see all the memorials in full glory.
One week I went walking in the cemetery on three occasions, all ending in coffee with friends at the well-designed coffee shop, at the North Entrance- a great addition to the Cemetery and its delights.
On every visit I discover interesting memorials I had never noticed before. That is the joy of Brompton – every walk, in every weather brings forth new delights, or highlights new and never before noticed vistas. I am longing for the work on the silver numbered discs, designating famous or interesting people, to be completed, as at the moment it is somewhat complicated to attribute them to specific tombs. But it is a really good project and many congratulations to those who are working on it.
Brompton is a very west London cemetery – full of past local dignitaries, names that are well known to Kensington and Fulham local historians and also, for someone of my generation, friends of my Kensington dwelling parents. I have come across many memorials to those I remember from my childhood who are buried here with their distinctive Russian Orthodox monumental crosses.
Without the stimulus, both physical and intellectual of these cemetery walks, I would have found the last months very difficult to cope with – thanks to these sad, but wonderful places, so many of us have found pleasure and delight and learned to appreciate the treasure of cemeteries and their passed away occupants.
We thank the staff and volunteers so much for all their efforts to keep the cemeteries open to the public throughout these difficult months
Maya Donelan November 2020
As a footnote I have included a new map which is the product of a collaboration to create a Network of walks in London that take quiet and interesting routes. It comes in both physical and digital versions do see their website the aim is to encourage people to walk rather than tube or bus it. The network starts at West Brompton Cemetery or Holland Park so on the edge of FHHS patch.
The challenge is for those adept with a smartphone or coding to perhaps plot some walks in our area noting points of Historical interest. This would make a good school technology project.