London Walking Tours    with Joanna Moncrieff

A trip to the Cemetery

Kensal Green Cemetery is one of those places I always knew about but didn’t really know much about. Last Saturday I went on a guided tour round it and now have a strange desire to tour other cemeteries around London.

I learnt a host of information not only about the lives of famous people buried there but about the symbolism of the various adornments to the graves. It was interesting to find out that plots were offered on a leasehold or freehold basis. Freehold meaning the grave would never be disturbed whereas leasehold meant that the body could be moved to another location.

If I had the time and was a bit closer I think I would probably join Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery as I find the whole thing fascinating.

Blondin, the tightrope walker is buried here. He crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope at least 4 times each time doing something completely bizarre such as carrying his manager on his back or stopping halfway across for a bite to eat. He died in his sleep at this home at Niagara House, Ealing. On the top of his grave is the Angel of Hope.

Mary Hogarth, Dickens’ mistress (his sister-in-law) is buried here. We heard that he wanted to be buried with her but is in fact buried in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.

The Brunel family including Marc Brunel who built the first Thames tunnel which took 18 years and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel famous for his many engineering feats are buried here.

The most over the top grave must go to Ducrow an equestrian circus performer who has a bizarre monument which includes classical columns, Egyptian sphinxes and many other outlandish items. He may not have been famous during his lifetime but his grave is almost certainly going to be a stop on every tour.

George Grossmith, author of Diary of a Nobody, Harold Pinter who died just a month or so ago, William Thackeray, Anthony Trollope the writer who I discovered also invented the pillar box (he worked for the Post Office), 2 of George III’s children including his daughter Sophia who it is said had an incestuous affair and a child with her brother the Duke of Cumberland.

The eccentric 5th Duke of Portland is buried there. He created amongst other things an underground ballroom to which no-one was ever invited. He would eat alone and his servants would put his meals onto a model railway. The current Duke of Portland (although he may have renounced his title) is an actor, Timothy Bentinck who stars in The Archers.

The saddest grave was that to Marigold Churchill (2 1/2 year old daughter to Winston and Clementine Churchill) who died of meningitis. Her grave is hidden away off the beaten track. It’s very simple but striking. Churchill employed Eric Gill the sculptor who some ten years after this went on to sculpt the controversial Aerial (whose genitals had to be reduced after complaints from passers-by) and Prospero outside the BBC in Langham Place. The inscription on the Churchill grave is written in a font which we heard is named after Eric Gill and is still in use today.

When my course is finished and I have more time I would like to go back, do another tour and discover some more. Our tour was private led by Blue Badge Guide Diana Kersey but the Cemetery do arrange their own tours.

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