West Norwood Cemetery

Sunday saw another adventure day for myself and Laura D. We are getting on through the Magnificent Seven and visited our penultimate cemetery; West Norwood. I travelled to parts of South London I have never wandered before, taking full advantage of being that way in order to pay the amazing dinosaurs of Crystal Palace Park a visit with a picnic lunch. Those dinosaurs have been something I’ve wanted to see for about ten years or so but never had a chance to. At least a dozen life-size Victorian model dinosaurs in the middle of a (currently dried up) lake, looming over the people and just a very cool thing to go and see.

Look at them, aren’t they magnificent?

West Norwood itself is currently in Fest Norwood, a ten day arts festival where the local area is celebrated and places open up for the community to wander around. I can honestly say between the atmosphere of the festival and the very friendly pub we had a quick half in before the cemetery I was very impressed with the area! The Friends of West Norwood cemetery had arranged a tour as part of the festival, which proved very popular as around fifty people arrived to go on it! While I was pleased they did not turn anyone away; I was relieved when they split the group into two. There’s nothing worse than going on a tour and not being able to see or hear anything going on.

A mausoleum turned into an office/shop near the entrance of the cemetery

The cemetery itself seems huge. It had a good combination of some of the best bits of the others we have visited. A chequered past, some graves that are falling apart and others that are pristine from renovation. Big looming mausoleums that cannot fail to impress, examples of Victorian funerary symbolism galore and smaller modern gravestones. There’s famous names there too, Mrs. Beeton, Henry Doulton, Henry Tate and John Letts to name but a handful. In case you were wondering, Henry Tate is both responsible for the Tate Gallery and also his company later became Tate & Lyle!

From the side of Henry Tate’s mausoleum- Until the day dawns and the shadows flee away

Mrs Beeton and her husband’s grave

Inscription from the side of Henry Doulton’s mausoleum

The tour was two hours long and covered stories of the famous names or more interesting people there, including Gideon Mantell the medical surgeon who dabbled with palaeontology and helped with the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park even if he didn’t live to see them created. The tour guide John was incredibly knowledgeable and by all accounts also does tours of two of the other Mangnificent Seven! Laura asked me if I’d like to do something like that, and it popped in my head what a wonderful retirement hobby that would be!

Resting place of Gideon Mantell the Surgeon who loved Palaeontology

Like with all the cemeteries I would recommend a visit, but West Norwood has been one of the most impressive for certain. It’s probably as visibly impressive as Highgate but you are free to wander around. The Greek Cemetery in the cemetery is wonderful, and the winding paths lead to some extraordinary monuments. It is a shame but the catacombs here are currently closed due to safety and urgently needed repairs. While I understand this, I can’t seem to catch a glimpse of a catacomb in this country no matter how hard I try!

From graves looking a little worse for wear…

To beautiful restored mausoleums

I think I will finish on a little thought. It was a very hot day and I understand this can take its toll on people, however I will never understand how people can sit or stand on other people’s graves or monuments. There were a few cases of this on the tour and it made me shudder. While I accept that this is my opinion and please don’t consider me preaching, I do feel that if you visit a cemetery you should show utmost respect for the people there. It saddens me when I saw people leaning on headstones, sitting on the edge of a plinth or standing on top of the plaques. What do you think? Some of you may think it really doesn’t matter and I’d love to hear why!

MG x

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