So It begins: Kensal Green
Myself and Christina had already completed four visits out of the seven cemeteries by the time we came to Kensal Green.
It was the one we’d actually intended to visit after our initial trip to Highgate, but for various reasons, it slipped down the list. However, almost thirteen months after we were due to go, we disembarked at Kensal Rise Station and headed towards the first of the Seven to be built.
Even before it was built, the cemetery had fierce criticism. This will be explored in a future blog post, but the basic gist of the matter is that there was a call for a British ‘Père Lachaise’ to set the standard for the new vision on dealing with London’s deceased, and this polarised opinion. Barrister and burial reformer George Frederick Carden set up the General Cemetery Company in 1830, which eventually set up the Cemetery itself three years later. Before this time, the Cemetery was pasture for Sheep as urban sprawl had not yet touched the surrounding area.
Opened by the Bishop of London, Charles Blomfield (who also opened Highgate and lies interred in the churchyard of All Saints, Fulham) under the name ‘The Cemetery of All Souls, Kensal Green’, the cemetery was an immediate success. This was aided by the patronage of George III’s son, the Duke of Sussex: the Duke had chosen Kensal Green over the Royal Chapel in Windsor as his grave after being appalled at his brother’s (William IV’s) funeral, stating he did not wish to be buried ‘in that stinking hole’. Kensal Green afforded both rich and poor with an attractive, dignified resting place which had not been seen to families for several hundred years.
That’s the very bare bones of the formation of the Cemetery, I’ll elaborate more on the subject in the next couple of posts. In terms of our visit however, the one thing that struck me with this particular ‘Magnificent’ was it’s scale. It certainly felt like the biggest of the ones we’ve visited thus far: I believe in total it’s fifty four acres in area.
There’s a very definite feel of ‘old’ and the ‘not so old’ – additional land was purchased at some point and this is reflected in the more modest grave styles in comparison with the ornate grandeur of the original cemetery. This coincides with changes in mourning practices after the First World War, where so many people died, the pomp and ceremony of a Victorian funeral was not seen to be fitting or practical.