Life Overlooking Death
Imagine being in hospital and glancing out of the window. The first thing you see is a cemetery. Beautiful juxtaposition or unfortunate irony?
Behind Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith is the oasis of Margravine Cemetery; now commonly used as a cut -through between the hospital and Barons Court station.
Where once orchards and market gardens provided produce for the sleepy town of Hammersmith, the arrival of the Metropolitan Line and a wave of cholera epidemics forced the vestries of the local area to open a new burial ground for a rapidly expanding population after fifteen years of heel-dragging. farmers were told to move on after that year’s harvest had been taken and work promptly began in the laying out of the cemetery.
Two chapels, designed by local architect George Saunders were built in the Gothic style, although only one now remains: even though the Cemetery was bombed in 1940 (with stories of a crater and various bits of the dead ending up in neighbouring back gardens,) Hitler wasn’t responsible for the loss of the Anglican Chapel, which was demolished in 1939 at the hands of council forces instead. Boo.
Close to the entrance, the only Mausoleum in the entire Cemetery, to the Young Family stands, looking like its vacationing from West Norwood.
The Cemetery was closed in 1951 and landscaped to provide a green space in a part of London that was under consistent threat of development. I was slightly taken aback at how few headstones remain: part of the works to tidy the site involved removing headstones, unless living descendants wished the memorials to stay. This creates sporadic patches of emptiness and clusters of weathered headstones. But don’t let that allow any cause to sneer – its a beautiful space and rightly has a Green Flag award: a result and testament to the loyal volunteers and work that Hammersmith and Fulham put into the site to maintain a balance between nature, wildlife and the historic legacy of what remains.
There are a few memorials worthy of mentioning, including the three which are Grade II listed – Abe Smith, the Australian Gold prospector who’s bas relief adorns his headstone; the Bronze edifice to Robert Broad who owned the factory which cast the statue of Anteros in Piccadilly; and the cross to the Blakes Road Munitions Tragedy, where a few days before the end of the First World War, a number of the workforce, mainly women, were killed in an explosion. The site today is now home to the Riverside Studios, where early episodes of Doctor Who were filmed.
Despite not having the prestige of Highgate of Brompton, enough has happened within its seventeen acres that certainly shows off its quirky character. Gravediggers quarrelling over pay and having fist-fights in the tool-house, the superintendent’s wife getting drunk and making a spectacle of herself on Christmas day 1879 and residents of nearby Palliser Road complaining of the stench of a cemetery that was having to cater for 83,00 people. No such events happened on my visit, although alarmingly, a vandal has taken to decapitating the Angels of Margravine.
Margravine also has a family connection as somewhere in its soil lays the remains of me and Nick’s great-uncle, who, as family legend states, died aged five years old in the arms of my grandfather.
Something that Caroline, aka Flickering Lamps mentioned was the awkward situation of the leering dominance of the Charing Cross hospital over the seventeen acres of tranquility. “Imagine going into hospital and seeing that from your bedside window!” she remarked. I hadn’t thought of that: a number of Doctors must have had a very black sense of humour when dealing with patients from over the years. A not-to pleasant thought perhaps – perhaps current patients are glad the Cemetery is now full!
All photography (other than the image of the Chapel) © Sheldon K Goodman, 2015.
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