Nunhead Cemetery is being tarted up


12:24 PM 8th April 2012 Easter Sunday Nunhead Heights

Yesterday, I had a walk in Nunhead Cemetery and was angered to find the place in an extreme state of repair. (See photo)


Nunhead is famous for two things: Ayres, the Baker, and Soper, the Fishmonger, which are always spoken of together, and for its dead cemetery.

I have been to the bakery once and the fishmonger never as they are the wrong side of Nunhead. Nunhead is divided in two:  My bit – Nunhead Heights – and the other side down the hill – Nunhead Green or Nunhead Village. Blocking the two is the other reservoir – the one without the golf course on it – and the Cemetery.

In the 1950s [ ? ] the company that owned both the Nunhead Cemetery and Highgate Cemetery in north London went bankrupt. Highgate is where Karl Marx is buried. The cemeteries were left to splendid ruin and overrun with weeds and trees. Headstones fell down and paths went unmended. The two cemeteries morphed from Victorian neatness to spooky Gothic wildness.

Nunhead Cemetery was special because it was dead cemetery.

Every aboriginal Nunheader I have met has a story of getting up to no good in the unprotected mausoleums and in the dense brush and forests above the graves in the Cemetery. It must have been truly beautiful. It was almost completely beautiful when I moved to Nunhead ten years ago.

On my lastest visit, I saw the new paved path they put through those woods, the widened and detangled paths, the more and more mowed bits, the headstones being remounted and new bodies being buried everywhere.

Imagine rebuilding the Coliseum? Or resurfacing the Pyramids?  Or Keith Richards having plastic surgery?

A bit of the decayed wild is being protected but so much of the rest is being either repaired, cleaned or buried over. It is still an amazing place and worth the visit but it needs to be protected.

Highgate Cemetery has had minimal reconstruction – from what I can see from the photos – I don’t go north of the river often – but then again it is owned by a voluntary organisation – The Friends of Highgate Cemetery. We have Friends of Nunhead Cemetery but they don’t own it.

Nunhead Cemetery is owned by Southwark Council.

The big problems with any government are they learn tomorrow what everyone else knows today and by then it is too late.  I think I’m quoting Mark Twain here.

Last night I saw Kenneth Williams on a Parkinson from the 1970s railing against what they did to the Elephant and Castle in the 1960s. I take that desolate roundabout wasteland for granted – but once it was an lively place.

Burials are so yesterday only the Council doesn’t know it. Especially burials in close-in “inner-city suburbs” like Nunhead and in the lovely dead Nunhead Cemetery.

The second is that government cannot leave well enough alone.

They need to tart up and fancy and put in paved paths where trails once did nicely. Health and safety or just spending the money they have. But most of all – governments need to do something. They need to repair.

And a possible third reason is that they make a lot of money from burying people.

The irony is that Karl Marx is buried in Highgate Cemetery and not in government-owned Nunhead Cemetery. He’d be comfortable resting in Nunhead Cemetery – seeing government at work – repairing what doesn’t need repair and burying a treasure alive.

Disagree? Post a comment.


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