|Start: Kensal Green Underground Station||Duration: 2 Hours|
|Best of Times: Daytime.||Worst of Times: Evenings|
The Cemetery is open daily From 10am to 4pm, although the tour will take around two hours so it is worth arriving before 2pm.
Kensal Green Cemetery’s Phone Number is 020 8969 0152.
All Souls Cemetery, Kensal Green was founded in 1832 under the auspices of the general Cemetery Company, and was the first of the great Commercial cemeteries to be opened in London. Today, it is the oldest surviving English Cemetery to remain in private ownership. Charles Dickens chose it as the resting place for his beloved sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth, and many of his literary acquaintances are buried at Kensal Green. Indeed so many of the 19th century’s great and good are buried here that to stroll amongst its seemingly endless lines of gravestones and memorials is like wandering through a Who’s Who of 19th Century society. Since many of the memorials were erected and composed whilst the ultimate occupants of the graves were still alive, they stand as a timeless illustration of how important some of those buried here were considered in their lifetimes, - or more to the point, how important those occupants considered themselves. It is a fascinating, though slightly chilling experience, to stand by the graves of so many people whose names dominated Victorian Society.
Leave Kensal Green Station, go left onto College Road, right along Harrow Road and cross over the crossing. Veer left off the crossing and follow Harrow Road until, some distance along on the right, you arrive at the Doric gateway that spans the entrance to the cemetery. Once inside the traffic is immediately reduced to a distant murmur, and an amazing vista of wild and untamed woodland, punctuated by memorials and tombs fashioned in every possible architecture style, stretched before you.
Continue ahead along the asphalt path to turn first right, then right again along North Avenue. Follow it left and, just after the seventh tree along on the right pause by the grave of Mary Scott Hogarth.
Mary Hogarth (1820 - 1837) was the beloved sister-in-law of Charles Dickens died on 7th May 1837 and Dickens was utterly bereft at her loss. At the time he was working on Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist, and he was unable to complete the next instalment of both. Rumours began to circulate that the talented young writer, Boz (the name under which Dickens was writing), had gone insane, or even that he had committed suicide. He and his wife, Catherine, had in fact gone to Hampstead to recover from the shock of Mary’s death.
Dickens took immediate charge of the funeral arrangements for Mary, and it was he who paid for her grave here at Kensal Green Cemetery and it was he who composed the epitaph that, although now somewhat weathered, can still be discerned on the tombstone ‘Young, beautiful and good. God in His mercy numbered her among His angels at the early age of seventeen,’
His obsession with his dead sister-on-law, however, seems to have bordered on the downright morbid. There is no doubt that he wished to be buried in the same grave as her, and when her brother, George, died in 1841, it was with great reluctance that Dickens relinquished his claim to lie in the grave when he died. ‘It is a great trial for me to give up Mary’s grave,’ he wrote to his great friend, John Forster, ‘the desire to be buried next to her is as strong upon me now, as it was five years ago.. And I know…that it will never diminish…I cannot bear the though of being excluded from her dust…’ However, wiser and less morose minds seems to have prevailed and Dickens renounced his right and so the tombstone also bears a memorial inscription to George Hogarth.
Continue along the pathway. A little further along, more or less opposite the chest tomb of John Campbell, go left past the small clump of bushes, behind which is the slanting, grey ledger tombstone of the artist Daniel Maclise (1806-1870).
DANIEL MACLISE was born in Cork, Ireland, and was of Scottish and Irish descent. He studied at Cork, before coming to London to study at the Royal Academy Schools, where he exhibited from 1829. Between 1835 and 1837 he began to make his name providing portraits of famous figures for Fraser’s Magazine. He became a close personal friend to Charles Dickens and it was Maclise who, in 1839 painted the full length portrait of the then 27-year-old author that can now be viewed in the National Portrait Gallery. Dickens described it as a ‘face of me, which all people say is astonishing;’ whilst William Makepeace Thackeray observed that ’a looking glass could not render a better facsimile…’ Only the right George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) demurred by deploring the ’keepsakey, impossible face.’ When Mclise died in April 1870 Dickens paid a moving tribute to him in what would prove to be his last speech (Dickens himself died in June 1870), given at the annual Royal Academy dinner. In that speech he said of Maclise that he was the ‘greatest and most modest of men.’ Interestingly, Maclise had been offered the Presidency of the Royal Academy in 1866 but had turned it down.
Walk past Maclise’s grave and pick your way through the neglected and overgrown tombs, to turn left along the grass track. Go past the holly bush, and on arrival at the draped stone urn over the grave of Catherine Ann Smithson turn right. Make your way through the graves and keep going ahead over the asphalt roadway. Having crossed another grassy track you arrive at a holly bush that overhangs the white flat gravestone of:-
CHARLES SHIRLEY BROOKS (1816-74).
An English novelist, playwright and journalist, Brooks was born in April 1816. The son of a London architect, he was articled to a solicitor in 1832 and remained there for five years. In 1853 he became Parliamentary Reporter for the Morning Chronicle, and was sent by them as special commissioner to investigate the subject of labour and the poor in southern Russia, Egypt and Syria. These investigations were published first as letters to the editor, and then in 1856 as a separate volume entitled The Russians of the South.
Brooks was for many years on the staff of the Illustrated London News, to which publication he contributed weekly articles on the politics of the day, and the two series entitled Nothing in the Papers and By the Way.
He joined Punch magazine in 1851, and submitted weekly satirical summaries of the Parliamentary debates, entitled The Essence of Parliament to the magazine. Following the death of editor, Mark Lemon, in 1870, ‘dear old Shirley’ as his friends affectionately dubbed him, was appointed editor of Punch.
A prolific letter-writer, Brooks ws blesed with an astonishing memory. He was also brilliant as an epigrammatist, was a great reader and an amiable companion. He was in his element with a group of children, reading to them, sharing their fun and always remembering their birthdays. He died in London, on the 23rd of February 1874.
Brooks was a great admirer of Dickens, although he strongly disapproved of the way that Dickens treated his wife, Catherine up to and following their legal separation. At the time, Brooks wryly observed that Mrs Dickens had been ‘discharged with good character.’
YOUR LONDON WALK THROUGH KENSAL GREEN CEMETERY CONTINUES TO THE GRAVE OF WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY.
Continue ahead, bearing right onto the rough earth path. The moment that wall on your left gives way to railings, turn right to the low-railed, white tomb of William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63).
Thackeray’s funeral took place in crisp, clear winter sunshine on 30th December 1863, and it was estimated that close on 2,000 mourners came to Kensal Green to pay their last respects to the man who, according to Anthony Trollope, ‘kept his heart strings in a crystal case’. Dickens, who had only just been reconciled with Thackeray shortly before his death, appears to have taken the death particularly hard. According to one account Dickens stood by the graveside with ‘a look of bereavement in his face that was indescribable. When all others had turned aside from the grave he still stood there, as if rooted to the spot, watching with almost haggard eyes every spadeful of dust that was thrown upon it’.
Two graves along to the left, the inscription now illegible, is the grave of Thackeray’s life-long friend and principle Punch cartoonist, John Leech (1817-64).
Leech also provided illustrations for A Christmas Carol and for successive of Dickens’s Christmas books. In September 1849, whilst holidaying with Dickens on the Isle of Wight, Leech was knocked over by a giant wave and suffered a concussion that left him in constant pain and unable to sleep. Dickens, however, came to his rescue and used his newly learnt art of hypnotism to send Leech into a ‘magnetic sleep’ which cured him of his affliction. When Leech died suddenly in November 1864, Dickens was deeply affected by the loss. ‘This death of poor Leech’, he wrote to his friend, John Forster,’ has put me out woefully’. For several days Dickens was unable to work upon the book he was then writing Our Mutual Friend.
Continue along the path, keeping the railings to your left, and just before you draw adjacent to the gas works, turn right onto the grass track and keep ahead past the pink marble obelisk to the Bentham family. Having crossed a second grass track, pause at the second grave on the right where lie buried the great Victorian engineers Sir Marc Isambard Brunel (1769 - 1849) and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 - 59).
SIR MARC ISAMBARD BRUNEL. In 1825 operations began for building the Brunel-designed tunnel under the Thames, an unprecedented scheme that was made possible by his specially designed Thames Tunnel Shield, which excavated the earth in front of it as it went and literally cut its way through the river’s subsoil. The project was halted a number of times but fortunately the shield held. These stoppages, however, placed a severe strain on the endeavour’s finances, and at one point the operation was halted for seven years and the tunnel bricked up. When it started again a much larger shield was used. It is worth noting that at its lowest section construction took place a mere 14feet below the river bed!
The Thames tunnel finally opened in 1843. As a reward for his labours Marc Brunel was elected to the Royal Society and knighted, in 1841, for his services to the construction of the Thames Tunnel. In the first four months more than a million people passed through the long awaited tunnel. The first trains used the tunnel in 1865. It had a total length of 1,506ft.
ISAMBARD KINGDOM BRUNEL. Sir Marc’s son, Isambard, was responsible for the design of numerous bridges, steamships and railways, such as the Great Western, which passes close by the cemetery and the noise of its trains shattering the silence, act as apt though thundering epitaph to the great Victorian engineer!
Sir Henry Hawkins.To the left of the Brunels, beneath a pink ledger tomb, lies Sir Henry Hawkins, Baron Brampton, one of the 19th century’s most respected legal advocates (lawyers). He was called to the bar in 1843, at the age of twenty-six and spent the rest of his illustrious career in and around the legal area of the Temple, situated just off Fleet Street.. His most famous case was that of the Titchbourn Claimant in 1873, when he appeared for the prosecution against Arthur Orton, an Australian butcher who claimed to be Roger Titchbourn, heir to a vast fortune and title. The complex case dragged on for 188 days and was at the time the longest criminal trial in history. At the end of it Orton was found guilty of perjury and sentenced to fourteen years’ imprisonment. It was following this sensational trial that Hawkins was made a judge, and then in 1899 he was created Baron Brampton.
At the end of the path go left onto the asphalt surface, and on arrival at the junction, take the left fork along the gravel footpath, South Branch Avenue. Pause seven graves along after the holly bush on the left where you will find a memorial to Sir John Rennie (1794-1874).CONTINUE YOUR LONDON SIGHTSEEING TOUR OF KENSA GREEN CEMETERY.
With your back to Rennie’s memorial, cross over to pass to the right of the Derville mausoleum, and keep going ahead towards the large mausoleum with a light brick door, which can be seen in the distance. When you reach it go left along Central Avenue pausing onn the right to admire the four-poster bed canopy of:-
William Mulready (1786-1863).
Mulready was the son of an Irish leather breeches maker who rose to become a prominent and respected artist and prolific illustrator. His children’s works included The Butterfly’s Ball and The Lobster’s Voyage to the Brazils. He also designed the first pre-paid one penny envelope. His elegant tomb shows him lying on a stone mat of woven straw, beneath which are carvings that depict scenes from his life. The face of his effigy was carved from his death mask, and gives the impression that he has merely fallen asleep.
Continue ahead along Central Avenue to pause at the next left turn by the strikingly ornate, though slightly timeworn tomb of Andrew Ducrow (1793-1842), which is guarded by two somewhat weathered sphinxes.
This incredible Egyptian style mausoleum cost £3,000 (around £150,000 by today’s standards) to build and decorate. It commemorates and equestrian showman of astounding ability whose skill and daring captivated his audiences. ‘The creatures were but the air on which he flew’, wrote one critic. Ducrow had the tomb designed for his wife when she died in 1835. Her burial didn’t exactly go smoothly and scenes of confrontation marred her laying to rest. Ducrow was angered to find the ground full of water and showed his distaste by calling the priest a ‘swindling old humbug,’ before marching off with the cemetery keys. Ducrow himself died in 1842, a few days after his favourite horse, John Lump. Stone depictions of his hat and gloves lie at the entrance to his mausoleum, whilst his modest epitaph reads, ‘This tomb erected by genius for the reception of its own remains’.
Continue ahead and pause by the sixth grave on the right by the tomb of :-
Dr Frederick Salmon (1785-1868), who was the founder of St Mark’s Hospital, which was originally called ‘The Infirmary for the Poor Afflicted with Fistula and other Diseases of the Rectum’. Salmon operated on Charles Dickens for a fistula, which given the operation was carried out without anaesthetic , must have been a harrowing experience indeed. When Dickens described the ordeal to his friend William Macready, Macready confessed to suffering ‘ agonies as he related all to me, and [I] did violence keeping myself to my seat. I could scarcely bear it’.
Further along on the right is a memorial to:-
George Cruikshank (1792-1878), cartoonist and illustrator of Oliver Twist. Although originally buried here at Kensal Green, Cruikshank was later exhumed and re-interred at St Paul’s Cathedral.
He was a leading caricaturist of his day and his long career spanned both the Regency and Victorian periods. His work depicted the social and political changes of the era. He first met Charles Dickens on 17th November 1835 and the two men became close friends. As illustrator for Sketches By Boz and Oliver Twist, Cruikshank’s depictions of ‘Oliver asking for more’, and of ‘Fagin in the condemned cell,’ are probably two of the most memorable illustrations from all Dickens’s books. However, in later life, Dickens took exception to Cruikshank’s zealous support for the temperance movement, and their friendship was permanently severed. When Dickens died in 1870, Cruikshank reportedly observed that, ‘One of our greatest enemies is gone’, and in a later letter to The Times he claimed that it was he, and not Dickens, who had come up with the idea, plot and characters of Oliver Twist.
Continue along Central Avenue and take the next path left, pausing at the next junction on the right where, almost hidden by a tall tree, is the urn-topped obelisk of:-
Dr John Elliotson (1791-1868).
Charles Dickens became acquainted with Elliotson in 1838, at a time when the good doctor was losing the confidence of his medical colleagues owing to his intense interest in hypnotism. Dickens, however, was fascinated by the subject, and under Elliotson’s tuition, he too became proficient in the art of mesmerism. Elliotson later became the Dickens family doctor and was described by the novelist as being ‘one of my most intimate and valued friends’.
YOUR TOUR OF KENSAL GREEN CEMETERY CONTINUES WITH A VISIT TO THE GRAVE OF THOMAS HOOD.
With your back to the Elliotson tomb take the left path, passing the tomb of the Paul family. A little way along on the left is the pink, marble memorial to:-
Thomas Hood (1799-1845).
Thomas Hood was a writer and journalist who wrote humorous prose and verse throughout the 1830’s and 1840’s. Hood’s major serious work, however, was the narrative poem The Song of the Shirt which he published anonymously in the Punch Christmas issue of 1843. A morose denunciation of the northern mills where women were forced to work extremely long hours, for very little pay, it contained such melancholic lines as ’O God! That bread should be so dear, And Flesh and Blood so cheap!’ It proved a powerful attack on worker exploitation and was immediately reprinted in The Times and other newspapers across Europe. It was printed on broadsheets, cotton handkerchiefs and was highly praised by many of the literary establishment, including Charles Dickens. It is hard to imagine today of the impact that a single poem could have. It is this poem that is referred to on Hood’s Kensal Green memorial which bears the inscription ’He sang the Song of the Shirt.
YOUR LONDON TOURS CONTINUE WITH A VISIT TO THE GRAVE OF JAMES LEIGH HUNT.
Retrace your footsteps, Just before the Elliotson tomb, turn left. Go past the barrier. Turn right and take the second turning right along the grass track where, just before the second tree on the left, is a pedestal memorial to:-
James Leigh Hunt (1784-1859).
James Leigh Hunt was born in Southgate, Middlesex on 19th October 1784. His father was a clergyman who ran into financial difficulties and ended up in a debtor's prison. As a young men Hunt acquired an interest in both politics and poetry and in 1808 - with his brother, John, - he founded The Examiner, a Sunday paper which became one of the most popular publications of the age, and in whose pages Hunt was able to espouse his liberal views, whilst at the same time championing the works of the likes of, amongst others, Keats, Shelley and Byron. The journal also gave support to Parliamentary radicals.
In 1812, the Morning Post published a sycophantic article about the Prince Regent, in which it addressed him as “…the glory of the People...You breathe eloquence, you inspire the Graces—You are an Adonis in loveliness." This loyalist hyperbole (which earned the paper the epithet of the “Fawning Post”) proved too much for the radical sensibilities of the two Hunt brothers, who responded with a blistering attack on the Prince Regent in the pages of The Examiner”. They called him “..a corpulent man of fifty…a violator of his word…a despiser of domestic ties …who has just closed half a century without one single claim on the gratitude of his country…” The brothers were called upon to apologise and to refrain from further attacks. They refused to do so and as a consequence were prosecuted for libelling the Prince Regent. Found guilty they were given two year prison sentences and fined the colossal sum of £500 each. Leigh, however, continued to edit The Examiner from his prison cell, which he transformed into a gentleman's parlour, and where he was visited as a hero and martyr by the likes Byron, Moore, Keats, and Lamb.
When Hunt first met Charles Dickens in 1837 he wrote of his impression to John Forster, who at the time was the literary and dramatic critic at The Examiner , ‘What a face is his to meet in a drawing room! It has the life and soul in it of fifty human beings’.
In later life Hunt seemed to have followed in his father's footsteps and was prone to perennial financial difficulties, a problem that was partly assuaged when he was awarded a Civil List pension of £200. Dickens also organised two financial benefits to help Hunt with his money problems. However, Dickens could not resists using Hunt as the model for the impecunious Harold Skimpole in Bleak House. At first Hunt didn’t recognize himself in the portrayal, but when it was pointed out to him it caused him a great deal of distress and embarrassment.
Continue along the grass track and go left when it intersects with the loose-stone pathway. Just before it changes to asphalt and climbs towards the Anglican Chapel, go right down the grass path where the third grave on the left is that of:-
JOHN FORSTER (1812-1876).
Born in Newcastle in 1812, Forster first trained as a lawyer, before in 1833 he began writing articles for The Examiner. He became friendly with Dickens, whom he first met in 1836, as after 1837 proofread the manuscripts of virtually everything that Dickens produced. Dickens modelled the character of Mr Podsnap on the personality of John Forster, whose personality could most certainly be pompous, snobbish, rude, loud and overbearing. He was, however, a loyal friend to Dickens and following the authors death, in 1870, it was Forster who became his primary biographer with his masterful tome The Life of Charles Dickens.
Backtrack and go right towards the Anglican Chapel beneath which, in the catacombs that can only be visited on the first Sunday of each month, lie the remains of the great 19th century actor manager William Mac ready (1793 -1873), and surgeon, medical reformer and founder of The Lancet Thomas Wakley (1795-1862). Just before the chapel - just before the men’s toilet - go left and walk past the cloisters.
Go down the steps, and turn left. On the right you will find the grave of George Charles Todd Nailer. Just behind it, the inscription virtually obscured by the drooping branches of a large tree, is the grey, granite headstone of
ALFRED WIGAN (1814-78)
In August 1857 Charles Dickens was causing a sensation on the London stage with his performance as Captain Richard Wardour in Wilkie Collins’s play The Frozen Deep. The production was about to transfer to Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, and Dickens was worried that his daughters and sister-in-law, Georgina, who had been playing the female roles on the smaller London stages, would be unable to cope in the larger arena. Thus he approached actor and playwright, Alfred Wigan, and asked if he would suggest suitable actresses. Wigan introduced him to the actress Mrs Ellen Ternan, the matriarch of a veritable acting dynasty that included her daughters Fanny, Maria and Ellen. Dickens became smitten with the youngest daughter, Ellen, and it was meeting her that led to the breakdown of marriage. It is highly likely that the two became lovers and she remained his close confidante until his death in 1870.
Go back to the main path and turn left (the cloisters and chapel will be to your right). Turn left along West Centre Avenue to alive on the left at the red, granite, monument to Blondin..
Blondin’s real name was Jean François Gravelet (1824-97), he took the name Blondin from the owner of the circus in which he first worked. Blondin was probably the best known tight rope walker of all time. He especially owed his celebrity and fortune to his idea of crossing Niagara Falls on a tight-rope, 1100 ft. long, 160 ft. above the water. This he accomplished, first in 1859, a number of times, always with different theatrical variations: blindfold, in a sack, trundling a wheelbarrow, on stilts, carrying a man on his back, or even sitting down midway to make and eat an omelette!
Blondin first appeared in England in 1862 at the Crystal Palace, where he walked across a tightrope 180 feet above a concrete floor, whilst pushing a wheelbarrow in which sat his five year old daughter, who scattered rose petals over the crowd below,. The press and audience were aghast at such obvious danger to a child and the Home Secretary intervened to stop him repeating the performance. Blondin altered his act to cook an omelette, turn somersaults and stilt walk across the rope instead.
Blondin continued to amaze audiences until he was in his 70’s, later developing a cycling act on the tightrope! He died at his home at Northfields, in nearby Ealing in 1897, at the age of 75.
Five graves after Blondin’s, turn left along the grassy track, passing a series of mausoleums that more resemble garden sheds than tombs. Four graves after the broken and leaning column on the right you will find the solid, pink and grey ledger tomb of:-
ANTHONY TROLLOPE (1815-1882).
Although chiefly remembered today for his Chronicles of Barsetshire (1855-67), and for famously satirizing Dickens as ‘Mr popular sentiment’ in his first successful novel The Warden (1855), Trollope was a life- long civil servant in the post office whose legacy to everyday life in Britain was the introduction of the pillar (mail) box.
Backtrack past Blondin’s grave and just before the two large mausoleums on the left, turn left down the narrow grass path, where a little after half way along on the left is the grave of:-
WLIKIE COLLINS (1824-89).
Collins was a prolific author whose best remembered works today are The Woman in White and The Moonstone. Despite his unusual appearance - Charles Dickens once quipped that Collins’s head was ‘triangular with a knob on the middle’ - Collins was an enthusiastic and successful womaniser who, in addition to numerous one night stands, also maintained two mistresses and several illegitimate children in separate households. Collins became one of Dickens’s closest friends and their friendship appears to have deepened around the time that Charles Dickens marriage was breaking down in 1857/58. Collins’s libertine lifestyle made him the ideal companion for Dickens over this troubled period, and he began to eclipse John Forster as Dickens closest friend. Their relationship cooled considerable around 1867, possibly because Dickens ( who was twelve years older than Collins) was jealous of Collins’s success with The Moonstone and the play No Thoroughfare.
Although Collins wrote a further fifteen novels his ill-advise decision to switch from writing mystery and suspense novels to writing books with a social message led to a severed decline in his popularity. At the same time his health began to suffer and, to ease the pain of both gout and neuralgic problems he took ever-increasing amounts of laudanum. One of his servants is even said to have died when he helped himself to half his master’s usual dose of the opiate. Collins himself died in 1889 at the age of sixty-five.
Keep ahead along the path. Turn left after the leaning tree and, at the end of that track, go left along the rough, gravel path where at the end on the right, surmounted by a very slender urn, is the tomb of:-
William Harrison Ainsworth (1805-1882).
Ainsworth was born in Manchester on February 4th 1804. His father, Thomas Ainsworth, was a lawyer with a great knowledge of criminal history. He would regale his son with tales of audacious robberies and daring highwaymen. Ainsworth’s first major success, and probably his only remembered work today, was the novel Rookwood in the pages of which he transformed the psychopathically unsavoury 18th century highwayman, Dick Turpin, into a swashbuckling hero. Indeed, the image that most people have today of Turpin as bold, resourceful and noble historical figure is due to Ainsworth’s depiction of him.
Rookwood was a resounding success and Ainsworth became a literary giant of the 1830’s. At his nearby house, Kensal Lodge (this very built up part of London was then little more than a country village some distance the metropolis) Ainsworth entertained the leading young authors and writers of his day and in so doing made himself the most noted literary hosts of the age. He provided a meeting place for such talented writers as Dickens (to him he was an early mentor) and Thackeray, as well as such fashionable young men as Benjamin Disreali and D'Orsay. It was through Ainsworth that Charles Dickens, then an struggling and relatively unknown short-hand reporter, met the publisher Richard Bentley, his future biographer, John Forster, and also George Cruikshank.
Continue ahead, turning next right to walk up the slight incline. Just before the path sweeps right, go left along the grass track. Go right onto Oxford Avenue, and exit through the green gates. Keep going ahead, turning right again onto Harrow Road. Go over the crossing, bearing right then immediately left into College Road where the walk ends back at Kensal Green Station.