Sunday, January 7, 2018

Stones and Bones 3 - Brompton Cemetery

This cemetery was suggested by: Bob Sherfield

For a taphophile, London is one of the prime locations to visit to see some of the world's most magnificent graveyards. And magnificent is the key word, because this city is home to the Magnificent Seven Garden Cemeteries.  These graveyards were built over a ten year period in the mid-19th century to change the way burials were being done before that time. Burial in a small churchyard was the standard, but as the population of London grew, it became impossible to continue this practice. Decomp fluids were seeping into water systems and epidemics were the result. So the British Parliament passed a bill in 1832 to establish private cemeteries outside of London. The Magnificent Seven Cemeteries used Père Lachaise cemetery as a model and are known for their grandiose memorials and statuary, lush garden-like landscaping and sweeping pathways. One of these seven cemeteries is Brompton Cemetery.

Brompton Cemetery was officially opened in 1840 as the West of London and Westminster Cemetery and consecrated by the Bishop of London. Architect Stephen Geary, who had designed Highgate Cemetery, was a part of the cemetery company formed to implement the building of the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries and he initially designed the buildings for Brompton. An open competition was held and judged by a ‘Committee of Taste’ led by the distinguished architect Sir Jeffry Wyatville. He chose the designs of architect Benjamin Baud who was one of his assistants. Since Stephen Geary’s own proposals were rejected, he resigned from the board of directors. The original plot for Brompton was purchased from Lord Kensington in 1838 and stretched over 39 acres. It was located along a railway and between Old Brompton and Fulham Roads.

Baud's design was to give the cemetery an open air cathedral feel. Brompton is rectangular in shape with the Brompton Cemetery Chapel and colonnades in the center. The chapel was modeled off of the Basilica of St. Peter's in Rome. Catacombs were built beneath the colonnades and thousands of burials were meant to be sold in them. Only 500 were ever sold. Many mausoleums were designed by famous artists and all of the funerary art covers two centuries of styles featuring decorative ironwork and lettering. There are 35,000 monuments and around 205,000 burials. The landscaping features great examples of Victorian country flora with over 60 species of trees, including lime trees. Flowers include bluebells, wild lupin and snow-drops. Ivy and evergreens grow among the burials and provide cover for a wide variety of birds and fauna like squirrels, foxes, rabbits and bats.

From 1854 to 1939, Brompton Cemetery became the London District's Military Cemetery. There is a memorial entitled the Brigade of the Guards and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains the graves of 289 Commonwealth service personnel of World War I and 79 of World War II. There are burials of other military members that were not British throughout the cemetery. The Garden of Remembrance is for cremated remains.

Brompton was closed to burials between 1952 and 1966, but has been open up until the present for burials. The cemetery is open starting at 7am and during the summer months, closes at 8pm. Tours are offered on Sundays. Obviously, there are many notable burials here. John Keats is one of the most beloved English poets and he famously had a muse that inspired his later writings before his death. Her name was Fanny Brawne and the couple were betrothed to each other for four years. Keats never married her because he felt unworthy with his station in life. Fanny survived Keats by 40 years and eventually married another man. She is buried at Brompton under her married name Fanny Lindon.

John Snow was an English physician who is considered one of the fathers of modern epidemiology. He was a leader in the use of anesthesia and medical hygiene as well. He is best known for his work in regards to cholera. He traced an outbreak in 1854 to contamination between waste water and drinking water and this caused improvements in water sanitation. He suffered a stroke at the age of 45 and died six days later. He has a beautiful monument here featuring a partially draped urn atop an obelisk.

Henry James Byron was a prolific English novelist, journalist, editor and dramatist. He got his start as a playwright in burlesques. He moved onto editing humorous magazines and then co-managing Prince of Wales' Theater. His name probably makes you think of Lord Byron and the two were actually second cousins. Henry's most famous work was Our Boys, which was at one time the world's longest running play. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 49 and he was buried at Brompton. Another writer buried here is George Borrow. He wrote novels and travel books and it was during his travels that he developed many relationships with the Romani people, more commonly known as Gypsies. His experiences with these people are reflected in many of his works.

William Ayrton was a scientist and electrical engineer who helped develop electrical measuring instruments that included the spiral-spring ammenter, the wattmeter, the dynometer and electric searchlight. He was born in London and eventually studied under the noted physicist, Lord Kelvin in Glasgow. He introduced the electric arc to Japan in 1878 while teaching physics and electrical engineering in Tokyo. He published many books on physics and was awarded a medal by the Royal Society in 1909. This honor came after his death in 1908.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show came to Britain several times in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Unfortunately, on a couple of these trips performers passed away and it was not possible to send them back to America, so they were buried at Brompton. Oglala Sioux warrior Surrounded By the Enemy caught a lung infection in 1887 and died while traveling with the tour. Paul Eagle Star was a Brulé Sioux tribesman who died after breaking his ankle when he fell off a horse while performing. The child of Little Chief and Good Robe named Red Penny died while traveling with the group. And Sioux Chief Long Wolf died of bronchial pneumonia at the age of 59. As we all know, it is very important for native people to buried in their home land and efforts have been made to get these individuals home. The burials of little Red Penny and Surrounded By The Enemy were lost to time. Paul Eagle Star was exhumed in the spring of 1999 by his grandchildren and he was taken to Rosebud's Lakota Cemetery. In 1991, a British woman named Elizabeth Knight discovered Chief Long Wolf's grave when reading an old book describing the chief's burial. She traced his family and campaigned with them to get his remains returned to South Dakota. His great grandson Black Feather said, "Our medicine men and holy men tell us that since he's buried in a foreign country and (there are) no relatives, it would be better if he was brought to his homeland for his final resting place. They figure that his spirit will never rest until he's brought home." Finally in 1997, the chief was finally moved to a new plot in the Wolf Creek Cemetery, which is the ancestral burial ground of the Oglala Sioux tribe at Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

*Fun fact: Beatrix Potter is the author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. She lived on Old Brompton Road and took some of the names of her characters from the tombstones in Brompton Cemetery. These include Mr. Nutkins, Mr. McGregor, Mr. Brock, Mr. Tod, Jeremiah Fisher and there was also a Peter Rabbett.*

Brompton Cemetery is Grade I listed on Historic England’s Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. It is unique in that it is the only cemetery in the country owned by the Crown and managed by The Royal Parks on behalf of the nation. The cemetery is listed as a Site of Nature Conservation. And that, was just a little about the Stones and Bones found there!

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