99: ghouls just want to have fun

Yesterday my best friend and I marked off the third on the list of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries of London with a trip to Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. I’m rather ashamed that, despite living or working in the borough for 22 of the 25 years I’ve been in London, this is the first time I’ve visited what turned out to be a really pretty and peaceful spot smack in the middle of Mile End. We discovered a mutual love of graveyards back in Preston when we were at university together, so this is a thirty year old tradition. For once we weren’t exploring in pouring rain, which is usually the case on our expeditions!

Here it’s more about the nature than about the big names buried in the site, and there are no enormous monuments or mausoleums like those on our previous adventures at Highgate and Kensal Green. We were also not chased by strange men jumping out of a skip, or confronted by a pickled baby. We did have a very good mocha from a tiny coffee TukTuk called the Blue Daisy though. Many of the headstones are tiny, well below knee height, and all the stones are higgledy-piggledy and crammed together as a lot of the park was cleared by the GLC in 1967 after it was closed in 1966.

There are local ‘names’ buried there – the wild animal importer Charles Jamrach, for example, whose story I told for years in my London immigration sessions at Museum of London Docklands. Clara Grant, the social reformer and ‘Bundle Lady of Bow’ is there, also remembered in the name of a local primary school. She believed that children could not learn effectively if they were cold, hungry and unhappy – it’s a sad fact that more than a century after she started the ‘farthing bundle’ scheme there are still huge numbers of children in poverty in Tower Hamlets. There’s the grave of Alfred Linnel, who was trampled by a police horse in Trafalgar Square when he attended a protest against the Bloody Sunday violence the week before. You can also see the Blitz Memorial, built of the bricks of damaged houses from Poplar and commemorating those who died in the Blitz. There are public graves, such as that of 27 of the people who died in the Princess Alice disaster in 1878.

The site was declared a local nature reserve in 2000, and even in this urban area with the District Line rattling past we heard the drumming of a woodpecker and the shrieks of the now-ubiquitous parakeets. The ground was covered in snowdrops, winter aconite and crocuses and there were plenty of magpies, squirrels and this rather Goth pigeon lurking about. He was patient enough to let us take a photo before flying off.

Spot the pigeon.

After a good wander around the paths and desire lines we decided we’d walk through to Spitalfields for lunch – a good two mile wander along some of the side streets and then along the Mile End and Whitechapel Roads where you can still see some gorgeous houses among the Pizza-Go-Gos and fried chicken joints. Whitechapel and Spitalfields markets were buzzing, unlike Oxford Street where I’d been working on Friday. You forget what a stranglehold the Arcadia Group had on the British high street until you see the empty shop fronts of House of Fraser, Debenhams, Top Shop and so on. (Soho, where I had a meeting in the afternoon, was reassuringly busy and grubby still, complete with businessmen taking three or four attempts to go through the ‘private dancing downstairs’ door and ‘rooms by the hour’).

I really fancied noodles so we went to Xi’an Biang Biang Noodles on Commercial Street, where we both had the hand-pulled BiangBiang noodles with beef in special sauce. Gloriously splashy and messy and well-earned after our long walk. All in all a good day out, and our next one will be Brompton Cemetery in April.

This week it’s half term and I have an exciting co-creation project lined up with Spotlight and the mixed-media and materials designer Scott Ramsay Kyle, which will be full on but fun. See you on Sunday!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Locked Room – Elly Griffiths

The Best Thing You Can Steal – Simon R Green

Ninth Doctor Novels (vol 2) (Audible)

Ink and Sigil – Kevin Hearne

Running Tracks – Rob Deering