Or, Cemeteries and Cocktails part IV: Brompton Cemetery in the no-man’s-land of west-ish London.
Let’s get this clear right from the start, shall we? West-ish London has never been my stamping ground, other than having to go to work in South Kensington rather often at the moment, and as it turns out it’s equally unfamiliar to my partner in these adventures. Between us we are pretty good with east and north, but west and south are unknowns. Keep this in mind as we progress!
We met at St Pancras, which was heaving with Sunderland supporters who were on their way to Wembley for the Division One play off or something. There were lots of them, and even at 10am the station pubs were awash with red and white stripes as they all got into the spirit of things (except the poor man who’d brought his wife and son and who was being dragged off to Leicester Square. He was not being allowed to get into the spirit of things, judging by the look on his face.). Wycombe were the other team in the play-off and presumably they just had to get on the outer reaches of the tube – we didn’t see any, anyway! They lost, possibly as their fans weren’t in the spirit of things.
A and I successfully negotiated the Piccadilly line to Earl’s Court and to the cemetery, which was about 10 minutes walk past nice houses. We tried the North Lodge cafe first, with an almond milk hot chocolate for me and a flat white for her, and we shared an almond croissant. Cute dogs galore, and very clean toilets. I could have lived without the person in front of me in the queue ordering his ‘iced americano, yah, with just a dash of oat milk, yah’ and adding daft things to his drink every 30 seconds. So, I suspect, could the baristas.
The cemetery looked green and lovely, so we set off in search of Emmeline Pankhurst’s grave and whoever else was laying about in there. Unlike the previous three, Brompton is clearly used much more as a leisure space by the locals – lots of cyclists, runners and dog walkers were in evidence. It didn’t feel as friendly as the others, either, possibly because people weren’t all there to see the graves and so there were less hellos from fellow wanderers.
The cemetery leaflet very helpfully lists their ‘Top 25’ must-sees and there is a downloadable PDF with another 75, so every so often you find a small metal number in the path telling you where someone is. Other notables in Brompton include John Snow (the cholera one, not the newsreader or the Game of Thrones one. Duh!), Sir Henry Cole (without whom I would not have my current job or something), and James Bohee who was apparently the best banjoist in the world. We didn’t find all of them but we did meet a lot of extremely tame crows and squirrels, who were happy to share one of my emergency biscuits.
After 180 odd years there are a lot of graves in the cemetery – it’s still a working cemetery so there are recent burials as well as the older ones. These are very well tended, some with beautiful miniature gardens and one which is permanently decorated for Christmas. You’re no longer allowed to build giant mausoleums any more, sadly, or have the huge family plots. I have always quite fancied a mausoleum, to be honest, but since that doesn’t seem to be an option I’ll go completely the other way and have a woodland plot instead. One mausoleum we rather liked was that of Hannah Courtoy, who sounds like a woman I’d like to have met: she had three children with an older man and although they never married she – somewhat controversially – inherited his fortune which paid for her Egyptian-style tomb. It looked like a TARDIS, so we half expected a Doctor or 14 to appear.
We wandered past the catacombs (the plan is to go back in July for a tour) and the Brigade of Guards monument, and worshipped briefly at the paws of a supremely disinterested cat who was drowsing in a coat-lined hollow in the sunshine. Many of the older sections have been allowed to grow wild so are covered in grasses and spring flowers attracting bees and all sorts of wildlife.
What’s White City got to do with all this, I hear you ask?
Once we’d had a good explore and put the world to rights, we congratulated ourselves on not having been accosted by weirdos or chased by strange men in skips, and decided it was time to go and find some lunch – Nandos or a good burger, we thought. We left the cemetery and headed back to Earls Court – and somehow we missed. We took the next road down from the one we’d come in from, thinking that we’d find our way back, and next thing we know we have seen a lot of seedy hotels, some very expensive houses, and we’ve found ourselves at a huge Tesco on the A4 where a strange man was juggling clubs in the middle of the road.
With the aid of Google Maps we oriented ourselves, found a bus that was supposed to go to South Kensington and with a sigh of relief we sat down and anticipated a good lunch. It was with dawning horror that we slowly realised the bus was going to White City instead, despite what the bus timetable had said. There was our weirdo, too, in the shape of a little old lady who rang the bell for every stop but did not get off! Instead, she harangued the poor driver until he let her off somewhere between stops as she claimed he had not opened the doors where she wanted (he had) and she did not want to walk back.
It was with another sigh of relief that we spotted Westfield – not where we’d wanted to be but we were pretty sure we’d find some lunch there. We did, in the shape of GBK, and a well-earned burger and fries. We passed on the joy of going shopping, and headed home instead. Next up: a return to Brompton and then Nunhead. What excitement will a foray south of the river provide?
What I’ve been reading:
Not Dark Yet/The Price of Love – Peter Robinson