Archive for Cemeteries

With the roadside dead.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on July 8, 2018 by cliffdean

Below the railway flyover in Zugdidi you see a curious quarter of small roofed buildings, a market perhaps?

A closer view reveals enclosures and shelters harbouring black granite gravestones.

All over Georgia these line the roadsides, resembling elaborate bus shelters from which photogravure portraits of the departed watch over passing traffic. Family members can sit at the graveside, protected from sun, rain or snow.

Images are rare in English graveyards where the inscriptions too abide by strict guidelines. Perhaps it’s the Protestant tradition; an internet search reveals no reasons. In most of Europe you can see enamel ovals derived from formal studio portraits, but here the more recent are drawn from snapshots, in startlingly immediate colour.

Tucked away behind a fence alongside the main street in Mestia I noticed a small, overgrown cemetery with no obvious entrance but for a small iron gate round the corner.

The ornate cast iron enclosures were leaning over, the weeds waist-high yet with a narrow path trodden through and despite the appearance of neglect and abandonment some of the memorials were fairly recent.

Older portraits are characterized by formal poses and traditional dress: moustaches and headscarves.

Picking my way between the worst of the nettles, to the cool shade of a big overhanging tree, I worked my way back in time to enamel plaques and wrought iron enclosures like ornate bird-cages.

There were too many young people – people who had been young – whose lives never passed beyond youth. In a poor and remote place with terrible roads and hard winters, medical care cannot have been the best, while the combination of those roads, alcohol and youthful male hormones would account for some.

That which I found most poignant was this slab bearing the portrait of a young man standing casually, confidently in a smart long leather coat, hands in pockets, head cocked to one side. He looks pleased with himself. The symmetrically placed pillars in the background suggest that it’s a carefully posed studio portrait.

Not for a second would he have suspected that this picture would soon serve on his tombstone.


Back among the dead

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 10, 2018 by cliffdean

More than a month after Ralph H first found a Hawfinch in Hastings Cemetery, and with many sightings since, David B emailed me to say he’d seen at least a dozen. Figuring that the nice sunny weather would make them easier to see, we called in at midday on our return from a recce to Beckley Woods but, tactfully taking a circuitous path in order to avoid the ceremonies in progress, we reached the north end of the cemetery without a sign of the fat finches in question. Not a click.

Never mind the birds, however, there is so much to see and to reflect upon: names familiar from illustrious Hastings firms both disappeared and surviving; military men who’d served in 19th century Madras; the naval Beaney brothers who’d been killed within a month of one another in the autumn of 1914…


… the work of skillful monumental masons: the chains, the anchors, the broken columns, draped urns, lilies-of-the-valley and clasped hands…then suddenly a stubby bird shot out of the yew-tops and parked itself in a bare tree as four other followed but dived into another yew. Peter C had just emerged from the gloomy conifers and was coming up the path towards us but from his angle the birds had been blocked by bushes.

Luckily though the one in the bare trees stayed there, lit by a shaft of sunlight like an angel – albeit one with a very big nose – in a Victorian devotional print. Once it had dived into cover we crept round there, seeing nothing again until a rattling council truck scared the birds out of cover to shoot off over the crematorium. Peter then told us that another friend, Jane B, had through patiently waiting for two hours earlier in the day had ended up seeing 15!

Time was up, but as we passed the flowers and mourners, the site’s sombre associations (our attendance more frequent with every year that passes) now seemed leavened a little.


This tilting, snake-draped urn commemorates Robert Tubbs Nightingale Tubbs.

Death In Lviv

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 1, 2017 by cliffdean

Walking out along the avenue from the city centre, you pass between bigger gardens, with calling Robins & Blackbirds, until you reach the hill of the beautiful Lychakiv Cemetery, earlier but similar in purpose to the necropolises  of London and, like them, arboreal through neglect. Unlike then, though, in that the site was abandoned or vandalised for ideological rather than financial reasons as successive occupying powers sought to selectively celebrate or erase reminders of Ukrainian identity.

Through gaps between the tall trees there appeared a few Steppe Buzzards & a Lesser Spotted Eagle circling south towards Crimea.

Like Highgate there are poignant memorials to lost sons & daughters…


…and national heroes, none of them known to me and Cyrillic inscriptions revealing nothing more. Woodland birds – tits, woodpeckers and Jays – call in the yellowing foliage. Emergent tree roots and Japanese Knotweed are elbowing monuments aside.

There are themes of exile, recalling the mass deportations which have marked Ukraine’s history.

In the green hilltop silence, away from the city traffic, with sunlight slanting through the autumn leaves, we pause by a field of steel crosses bedecked with red & white ribbons, commemorating the Polish-Ukrainian War of 1918. A Middle Spotted Woodpecker creeps up a nearby Ash.

Another warm walk past a pleasant park and a right fork then a left into Bryullov Street brings us to the undistinguished brown door of the Lontskoho detention centre, now the National Museum-Memorial of Victims of the Occupation Regimes. Inside, a guard waves us through a much heavier door into corridors painted a chipped institutional green. In the first room, a custodian is delivering a very lengthy lecture to a group of police cadets in big hats.

Inspection hatches – patriotic red berries of Guelder Rose have been left on this one – give a view of cells lit by one small high window. There’s an interrogation room furnished with one table bearing a lamp, a typewriter, a stack of papers, an ink-stand and a telephone. there’s a chair on one side and a stool on the other. Another room is equipped with a camera on a tripod and developing equipment.

The condemned cell has no window.

In 1941 the NKVD were caught out by the rapidity of the German advance and had to decide what to do with the 4,000 political prisoners in Lwów, as it then was. They killed them all. the 1,600 in this centre were shot in the small adjoining yard and buried in shallow graves. Once the Nazis arrived they publicized the atrocity, blaming it on Jews who they required to disinter and lay out the corpses for identification by family members.

The new administration then, with the eager assistance of the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police set about the extermination of the 150,000 Jewish population, in massacres and at the camps of Janowska & Belzec. Of 30 pre-war synagogues just one survives. The site of the Golden Rose synagogue is preserved as a memorial.

Across the street, people eat and drink as always. Little children play among the slabs and two teenage girls swig wine from a bottle.

It doesn’t stop there. Back in Lychakiv Cemetery, we’d noticed down the hill, through the sunlit leaves, some bigger crosses.

War graves in this country tend to be discreet, bearing only a name & regiment and, with painful exceptions, relate to a previous era. Here we found ourselves looking into the shockingly fresh faces of the dead from the recent Russian incursion into E Ukraine, some of the boys younger than our own…

…while in the furthest corner giant teardrop wreaths marked the graves of this year’s victims.

When I’ve told friends about all this, they respond that it must have been a pretty depressing trip. While that’s true – and there’s much, much worse – my response is that it’s “thought-provoking”. One of those thoughts is that I’ve been supremely lucky to have lived in a relatively peaceful and democratic country ( I know, “at whose expense?” and “so far so good”) and another is that this happy state is extremely fragile. Yet another is that such a life has made us cosily complacent. Last night, as I watched “The Death of Stalin”, I was speculating that its wit and irony was only possible in a country that had not, in living memory, suffered such levels of oppression.


Bones, ashes, shards & guts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 20, 2016 by cliffdean


Although the ruins of Ancient Rome have been cleaned of vegetation (much to the regret of those who read the accounts of early travellers there who found heroic, shaggy architecture projecting from lumpy farmland) the briefest exposure to them leads into an endless entanglement of cultural associations.

Not far from here, in Brightling churchyard, stands the steep-sided tomb of John Fuller. I’d never previously noticed just how steep-sided it was; I always assumed the model to be Egyptian.


Now I realise it’s much more likely, especially in view of its date, to take its inspiration from the pyramid mausoleum of Caius Septimus (18-12 BC) (its own pointy design maybe based on Nubian monuments), embraced by red bricks of the later Aurelian Wall (271-5 AD) which stands by a busy roundabout not far from Ostiense stations (itself unaccountably generous for today’s rail traffic until you learn it was built to welcome Hitler into the city in 1938…)


Beyond those walls it used to be open country, partly dedicated to those activities excluded from the city itself. By the early 19th century those included the interment of non-Catholic northerners attracted to Rome by duty, light or archaeology but having the misfortune (or good fortune) to die there, along with rather a lot of their children.


The principal object of pilgrimage in the cemetery’s older, less crowded part is the anonymous grave of John Keats – a “YOUNG ENGLISH POET”, victim of a familial strain of consumption, over in the corner of a lawn patrolled by plump and arrogant cats, beneath dark cypresses inhabited by Serins & Firecrests. Black Redstarts quiver on the ancient brickwork  of the wall from beyond which comes the rumble of city traffic and the howling chorus of rooftop Yellow-legged Gulls.




Shelley’s ashes were eventually removed here, though to the congested new section, following the cremation of his rotting, drowned body on the beach at Lerici.


Besides the soldiers, diplomats, politicians, hedonistic gentry and sickly Grand Tourists there are buried painters, sculptors, linguists, optimistic convalescents and those who met an unexpected end in the Tiber: a group of mariners, a 16-year-old girl swept off her horse.


Leaving the shadow, warbling Blackbirds and grating Sardinian Warblers of the graveyard, you turn down some steps onto the cobbles of a shabby, graffitied back-street, lined with single-storey shanties. No tourists, no pilgrims, no selfies. Feeling a bit dodgy actually.


The scrub rising behind the squalid, impromptu buildings covers one of the biggest waste-heaps in the world: millions and millions of amphorae mounded up over some centuries. Monte Testaccio, the last resting place of Dressel 20 vessels in which olive oil had been shipped to the hungry city from southern Spain. Whereas most amphorae were reused this type, for reasons of contamination and structure, it seems, were simply discarded. Not all that simply – it was done in a very organised way.

This article gives an excellent overview of the logistics involved in building Monte Testaccio and places it within the context of World Dumps, their management and rehabilitation.


Dressel 20 is bottom left, I believe.


At some point, it was discovered that the porous shard-filled hill maintained an even interior temperature which was just right for keeping wine cool and so sprang up a ring of bars supplied from cantine bored through strata of terracotta.

The Roman Campagna from Monte Testaccio, Sunset 1819 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856


Then across the road is a fine neo-classical facade – topped by a crumbling cherub overpowering a justifiably resistant bull – also graffitied but in clear process of restoration – which turns out to have been the city slaughterhouse.


Behind the archway you see the stockades which once sheltered doomed beasts from the sun, and the overhead trackway designed to transport their carcasses from one part to another.


The installation is undergoing redevelopment, part of which is an arts centre which includes a music school.


P.S. Once I had published this post, people complained. “The title mentions guts but upon these you are silent. We’d like to know more about guts.”

I just forgot. It was taking too long. By implication the guts would be to do with the Mattatoio and so they are. Slaughtermen were paid in offal from which the rich Roman legacy of typical dishes descends, as explained interestingly in this article. Did I try any of them? Nope; I grew up in a generation only slightly less spoilt than my children. My mum, just one generation back, would eat chitterlings, hearts. brawn, kidneys, liver & black pudding. I continue to (uneasily) consume the last two.

The adjacent plot has been developed into a nice new market selling such grim stuff but also more photogenic vegetables.


“But, why, with all the glories of Rome to choose from, do you write about an old dump?” Well, it’s because it surprised me. Since I’d not been to Rome for many years there must be many other surprises lying in wait. The famous bits are so over-exposed that they’re hard to see clearly. The baroque churches I find heavy & bombastic (though making the Caravaggios they house look shockingly original and authentic).

There were, oddly enough, no other tourists the morning we went to Testaccio and, though it’s being gentrified quickly enough, the sequence down from Piramide retains the raw incongruity of Edgelandia.


Pets’ Cemetery

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 18, 2014 by cliffdean


Saturday: We spent a few hours in the unvisited western end of Brede High Woods, taking in Scots Pine & Oak plantations, Sweet Chestnut coppice (the pines’ understorey regenerating well in spite of deer browsing but new growth on chestnut stools chewed right off) and on into strange Alder-dominated ex-field soggy with orange, iron-rich springs. Not many birds though, the main interest being the number of Marsh Tits (always singletons but at frequent intervals).


While searching for Hawfinches, we spent some time, beneath dripping trees, having an anthropological look round this acre of mossy little graves. Are pets’ cemeteries a purely British phenomenon? Anglophone at least?


Many attest to the near-human status of dogs in some households. We were told by a passing dog-walker that one says “Safe in the arms of Jesus.”)


…while others are more clearly defined by pet-type names (Buzz, Flame) and signified by paw-prints (inaccurate, looking if anything like Badgers’ and one with only three toes; you’d think the monument-maker could have checked).


A rank of watchful, concrete, grave-guardian Alsatians..(or are they Corgis?)…reminiscent of Roman statues.



Otherwise the decorations are mostly Rabbits or Squirrels (a couple of Badgers) – prey items to accompany the Loved Ones into the afterlife, like Egyptian tombs.


But gnomes? Do dogs catch gnomes? The iconography just hasn’t been thought through.


A series of cats is remembered in photos, as in Catholic cemeteries, blurred and bled-out by now by the damp.



People have pet Prawns??

Merry Cemetery

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 23, 2014 by cliffdean


From Victorian gravestones it often possible to glean insights into the life of the deceased: straight documentation such as residence or profession or eulogies attesting to their admirable character and achievements. In Catholic countries, enamel photos are often attached to the stone or niche, all too often taken in the subject’s declining years rather than reminding us of their one-time youth and (maybe) beauty except in the case of those who failed to make it past that stage.


Modern gravestones are too often restricted to names and dates, the metaphorical flesh of the lives denoted following the physical into oblivion.


What pleasure then to visit this celebrated grove of brilliant wooden monuments in Maramureş, N Romania, where villagers of Săpânța speak from beyond the grave thanks to the genius of Stan Ioan Pătraş who, from 1935 onwards, carved hundreds of biographical images accompanied by verses in the first person.


Men are shown at work – mostly engaged in agriculture,







But also as professionals, priest or party official,


…or doing what they liked best.



The inscriptions are warm-hearted and witty, though not always respectful.


It’s not surprising in this traditional community, that women are portrayed in domestic roles.



It’s a pleasant place now, but seems to have suffered more than its fair share of violent deaths, all too many in road accidents (provoking sentiments of outrage in the poems), but some in warfare, recalled in one horrible depiction of the wanton decapitation of an innocent farmer.






When he began his carvings, Pătraş cannot have imagined that they would one day attract thousands of visitors to his village. What surprises me is that no other communities have followed suit, perhaps in locally distinctive styles.


All over Romania new churches are being built and old ones improved or renovated. Săpânța is in the process of raising a slender, lofty wooden spire.


A day with The Dead

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 13, 2013 by cliffdean


Apart from the fresh grave of poisoned Litvinenko, where the scent of fresh lilies hangs heavy in the green gloom, Highgate West is perfumed with wild garlic. But where Stoke Newington meets the Hasidic heartland of Stamford Hill the odour creeping through the grand Egyptian gates and in among the tilting tombs is that of frying take-aways. While the only way into Highgate West is to pre-book a tour, you can pay £4 across the road to pay your respects to Douglas Adams, Max Wall or Karl Marx.



If you go down to Abney Park, however, you can pass straight through, during daylight hours, with dog-walkers, pram-pushers, explorers and drinkers.


I’d never heard of it until the other week even though it’s one of the Magnificent Seven. I’d never heard of those either. It’s not consecrated ground. People of all kinds of religious persuasion are interred here, a lot of non-conformists, dissenters and abolitionists as well as music hall performers, inventors and air-raid victims.


I have a number of questions about the monuments:



1) Urns: the models were clearly classical. Greek vases could have been found in any number of private collections and the British Museum had been in existence for some time. I had always assumed that these represented cremation urns but the guide this time assured us that they were more like canopic jars, the shroud drawn aside to let the spirit pass. I don’t buy this: canopic jars look like jars. Or cats.



2) Angels: it’s easy enough to visualise the models for urns but what were the prototypes of these elegant Victorian angels? They don’t look classical or gothic, more renaissance. But were they based on particular sculptures? And was there an influential Victorian monumental mason who popularised these figures?

Who were the human models for the lovely faces? We know in one case – a lady in Abney Park, who died in 1930 and whose face is the angel’s.


3) Hands: Clasped, various interpretations according to which is upper, but I’d never previously noticed the male/female sleeves as seen here:


Then there are pointing index fingers – up to Heaven:


or down (but the finger is snapped off in this case. The arm has struggled from the tomb in order to indicate the vital text:


This trip was organised by Friends of Hastings Cemetery (who were eagle-eyed for any Hastings connections and found several mentions on the London graves).


PS: I forgot the bird lists. W Highgate: B, BC, BT, GC, GS, LT, MG, R, SI, TC, WP, WR and maybe TO too, but it could just have been some distant Urban Whooping. Abney Park: BC, BT, C, D, GS, LB, MG, R, RI, WR.