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Things to do in Tower Hamlets when you’re dead

Today’s post comes courtesy of Jennifer Cairney – teacher, East End resident and lurker in graveyards – who on a recent walk around Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park was struck by its magical, secret garden quality. It may not have the celebrity internments of other London graveyards but it still has plenty of stories to tell…

‘The tilted gravestones, toppled statues and overturned urns of Tower Hamlets Cemetery park make it look like the aftermath of some marvellous party. The crowded crookedness of the stones is warm and reassuring and the names, nationalities, the eulogies and euphemisms and the length and brevity of the lives inscribed on them tell such a vivid story about life in East London.

Here are long lives lived for civic good, short ones that meant something only to their family, sons lost in action, daughters taken in their sixteenth year…the more you walk, the more you read and the more you hear the chattering and chuckling voices of these people’s living selves.

Bright green ferns and copper beeches line winding paths through these tenements of the dead and old wooden steps lead to the wide circle where black horse with nodding plumes would once have turned their laden carriages.

No one comes to be buried here now. Which is a shame because who would not want, after the hurly burly of London life, to lie in a bed of pale blue irises with Bessie of Mile End leaning over you and the Minton family collapsed at your feet.

Surely this is death – a riotous assembly of all those who are not gone but, as the stones say, gone before…’

Jennifer is not the only person to have been won over by the charms of this overgrown London graveyard. In city centres, cemeteries are like mini natures reserves and the Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park organisation runs regular events and hosts guided walks. You can even follow the cemetery on Twitter.

Comments (5)

  • Kenneth Greenway

    Dear Avocado Sweet.
    What a great lil' piece, thank you.
    Are you able to correct our name please.  We are officially Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and we're the Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.  The word Park has been left off when we're mentioned.
    You can also Like us on Facebook by searching for fothcp.
    Thanks in advance.

  • Sheila Given

    I loved this – in fact, I'm going right back to read it all again, to stare at th stones and to wonder at the lives

  • Sophie Turner

    Nice photos and a very charming narrative! I can highly recommend spending time here listening to the woodpecker pecking, watching the squirrels squirrelling and being thoroughly enchanted by nature surrounding you. And it's only 2 minutes (at most) from Mile End tube station – a haven in the concrete jungle!


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