25 October 2009

The Angels Have the Phonebox

The West Norwood cemetery is a sprawling 40-acre maze of Gothic Victoriana - It is listed as one of the Magnificent Seven metropolitan lawn cemeteries of the Victorian era, considered amongst the most significant cemeteries in Europe. You can read a whole slew of fascinating information about the cemetery at everyone's favourite website wikipedia, including the fantastic story of how the borough bought the cemetery and started re-selling the spaces, essentially burying more bodies on top of the old ones. Heh.

I wandered through it once before; the day I moved in, I had to wait in town for my electricity key to come through the post, so I decided to a do a bit of grave-watching. I had, unfortunately, not brought my camera and was determined to come back on another sunny day to take pictures. The sun was out today, the wind was whirling the dead leaves around like ghosts, and I ended up taking nearly a hundred photos - before my batteries died. I was out for nearly an hour, and probably only saw about half of the cemetery - it's hard to tell, really, since the grounds are sprawling, and there are very few signs directing you where to go. If it wasn't so calm and peaceful, it would be fantastically spooky.

The grave on the left is of a boy who died in 1989 - the grave on the right lies interned a woman who died in 1912. (Well, she and her husband)

Top half and bottom half - monument to the honor of James William Gilbart, ESO F/PRS; born 1794, died 1863.

The ground is completely uneven - they've done what they can to "pave" the driveable road with bricks, but the ground where the graves sit has never been smoothed in the least - leading to great winding bits of field where the graves are falling over, resting on their sides, leaning on each other, or smashed where they've fallen and broken. You can't help but get an eerie foreboding of the Second Coming where the dead will be called forth from their graves - wandering amongst the rubble, you get the feeling of either being left behind - or waiting for a hand to clamp down on your shoulder.

The gravestones - being, of the majority, Victorian - also feature several, SEVERAL statuary angels, either clinging to a cross, weeping for those below, or reminding us to look upwards at where they have taken the former occupant of the ground beneath your feet.

All I can say is THANK GOD none of them were covering their eyes - if you don't find these statues creepy, then you have obviously never seen the Doctor Who episode Blink -
absolutely one of my all-time favourites, thanks to its creepiness and fantastically clever time manipulation bits that mess with your brain.

(It speaks very highly of the episode that I like it so much, even though David Tennant is only in it for about 5 minutes [though he does get to use the Timey-Wimey Detector - it goes ding when there's stuff!] ) - Seriously, if you haven't seen it, go watch it now. It's fab. 

Don't blink. Blink and you're dead. Don't turn your back. Don't look away. And don't blink. Good Luck. 

The Powers That Be eventually decided that double and triple stacking the graves can only lead to a zombie apocalypse, so they've set up a Rose Garden area towards the Northwest corner. A lovely little fountain bubbles away, surrounded by rose plants which bear a nameplate of the deceased - the ashes can be sprinkled here, and the flower lives on to remember the dead.

Lots of benches, lovely landscaping, and an overall very peaceful feel make this a lovely area to sit and be calm - which, of course, means that this is the moment my iPod decides to shuffle onto Lily Allen. Yeah, not exactly what I was going for. (I switched it over to the North and South soundtrack, which fit much nicer [by which, I mean, the BBC miniseries, based on the book by Elizabeth Gaskell, not the 1980's Civil War miniseries starring the immortal Patrick Swayze. I haven't seen the latter but, oh baby...)

Not that we're bitter about it... *#%@-ing Germans...

At one point, as I was walking, I breathed in the smell of the air and rejoiced in the crisp wind, the raw earth, the dead leaves, the dying flowers, the ... ash? Turning the corner, I saw a Korean family, with one of the family members leaning over and sprinkling something on the the ground. I momentarily turned white, imagining I'd just reenacted The Big Lebowski. Fortunately, a moment later and I recognized the smell as incense, not ash, and the woman moved to show that she had been sprinkling water out of a jug onto a plant on the grave. Whew.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting.... if you look at some of the history of the church/area, it mentions that there was a local workhouse for pauper children :-( which accounts for the large number of very young children buried in the graveyard...how truly sad. Guess Dickens wasn't just melancholy but an accurate historian...
    thanks for the amazing photos, Bonnie. luv, Mums