Although very much a controversial figure to some, the red fox or Vulpes Vulpes, its Latin name, has increasingly moved into towns and other urban areas. Like Marmite, you either love them or loathe them. I think you can guess which side I’m on.
However, as the concrete sprawl reaches out further and further their habitat grows smaller and they move into our territory as we moved into theirs.
About 10 or 15 years ago it was unusual to see foxes in towns but now it’s almost commonplace. Increased access to ready food sources such as takeaways etc mean that they know when a quick meal is easily available.
I myself have seen dozing foxes very close to railway lines and once had the privilege of seeing a vixen shepherding her little cubs, still in their dark brown coats, along a tram platform in SE London.
I saw this particular fox in a large central London Victorian cemetery over 2 weekends in October 2015. He didn’t seem to be too bothered about being in the presence of nearby humans and I managed to get up reasonably close to him.
But, on the second weekend, he did start becoming agitated about being pursued by photographers. I really felt sorry for him when a small dog started chasing him whilst barking furiously and, as he ran for shelter, hearing the dog’s owner say loudly ‘That fox is a coward’ Presumably if the fox had turned and retaliated then he would have been seen as the aggressor.
Urban nature can be very random. Earls Court was only 10 minutes walk away and the busy Kings Road a short bus ride from one of the entrance gates. To see a fox so near to the centre of London was quite a surprise.
The skull and crossbones symbol is a ‘memento mori’ which is Latin for ‘Remember that you have to die’ or ‘Remember that you are mortal.’ It’s a reminder of the temporary, transient nature of human life. We are all born to die and should try to make the most of life.
The skull and long bones crossed together are the survivors after death along with the other bones as they are the body parts that survive after the flesh has gone. It originated in ‘The Danse Macabre’, a medieval European allegory, in which the universality of death invites everyone, from all walks of life, to dance along to the grave. They are often accompanied by a pope, emperor, king, child, or
labourer as key symbols and people. It was intended to remind people of the fragility of their lives and that earthy glories were i n vain. Skeletons lead them to their death. The images of the Danse Macabre were not only reminders of the ultimate fate for us all but they were often humourous as well. But its most powerful theme is of death’s indiscriminate nature. In the Danse, Death wears many faces, as he brandishes his scythe, sounds the death toll bell or plays a violin – he is a friend as well as the inevitable.
The skull and crossbones was also a reminder that, on the Day of Judgement, the bones and skull would attach themselves together and the deceased would be able to walk again.
This symbol has appeared in other, more ancient cultures such as the Mayans. This example comes from Mexico.
The skull and crossbones was also appropriated in the 18th century by sea pirates and rechristened as The Jolly Roger. This emphasises the skull’s eternal wide open grin. There are also military connections and also counter culture with Hells Angels etc claiming it for their own. According to blogger, Amy Johnson Crow, there is also a Christian connection as she claims that the crossed long bones resemble the Christian cross.
The skull and crossbones is one of the most potent and universal symbols that has come down through the centuries. It will always remind us that the skull looking back at us reveals our own ultimate fate. Sources:
‘Death’ Richard Harris, Wellcome Collection
An Illustrated encyclopedia of traditional symbols, J C Cooper, Thames & Hudson, 1978
UT Southwestern Digital Services website
Text and photos copyright Carole Tyrrell unless indicated otherwise.
In the golden light of a late August afternoon, accompanied by the distant gentle clack of bowls and footballers shouts, I entered the tranquil walled garden behind Preston Manor. The black iron gate set into the 13th century wall gave no clue that this was no ordinary garden. Outside the traffic of London Road roared past but in here all was peaceful.
Flagstone paths border and cross the space meeting in the middle where a sundial stands proudly. A wisteria arch curves gracefully over one path and must look magnificent in season. The colourful flower beds are a riot of plants; agapanthuses, roses, daisies and ferns, amongst others, are a feast for the senses. Water lilies decorate a sunken pond and it’s a popular location for weddings. But, if you stroll past one wall and look closely amongst the foliage, then you will find a group of poignant memorials.
The little tombstones are lined up against the wall and commemorate the pets, chiefly dogs, of the Manor’s previous owner, the Thomas-Stanfords. They date from the 19th century and into the Edwardian era. The touching epitaphs celebrate the lives of obviously well-loved pets. ‘To the memory of my Dear and Faithful Dog, Pickle,’ Little Rags, Tatters, Beauty, ‘Jock, Stout of Heart and Body’, Queenie, Punch, Faithful Little Jimmy and Tiny; the animals seem to come to life before you as you read their dedications.
copyright Carole Tyrrell
A local newspaper article of the 1930’s describes some of them in vivid detail. Tatters’ epitaph is brief and to the point. Little Rags was a Scots terrier with hair which swept the ground which must have given him the appearance of a walking wig and Fritz was a dachshund who barked at any man, friend or foe. A doctor prescribed nerve pills to quieten him but nothing could stop Fritz’s performances. A dog whose bark was worse than his bite and the male household staff must have worn ear-plugs!
Peter, a Scotch terrier, lies beside Fritz and is remembered by the words ‘In Memory of Dear Peter Who was Cross and Sulky but Loved us.’ Peter’s speciality was to bite anyone wearing a white apron whether they had tasty tit-bits or not. When his owner disguised herself as a maid, he failed to recognise her and bit her as well!
Lady Thomas-Stanford’s favourite dog was Kylin, a Pekingese. In a painting, Kylin is guarding a dog biscuit and looks a real character. One of her favourite pastimes was to throw a biscuit into the air, watch it go the length of the hall’s polished oak floor, race after it before putting one paw on it and skid along the slippery floor. When Kylin finally came to a halt she would guard it before beginning the game again. However, It might not have been so amusing at 3am when the house was quiet….
Perhaps the saddest memorial is to Soot who ‘for 9 years was our Faithful Friend and Playfellow, who was cruelly poisoned. Died as consequence on July 17th, 1884’. Soot had an eventful life. He was a black poodle with a distinguishing white patch on his chest.. One day he was stolen and a dog with a similar appearance but no white patch, was traced to Leadenhall Market. However, the finder plucked a hair from the dog’s chest and discovered that it was only black at the tip. A few more hairs from the chest were examined and all were found to be dyed as the roots were white. So the dog was definitely Soot and was brought home in triumph. He then lived a happy life until his untimely death.
The last dog is Peter, who was ‘A True Scot’. He was a black Scots terrier who always followed Sir Charles, carrying his stick. Peter was always very mindful of his responsibility with the stick and would refuse to indulge in any activity that might lead to him dropping it and failing in his duty.
My Old Cat Bruce is the only feline in the line of weathered memorials but at the other end there are several modern stones. One could almost expect an inscription of ‘Dunmousing’ above them but these are for municipal mogs from the public sector. ‘George the Pavilion Cat’ was a very fortunate cat in having that whole enchanting folly to explore and guard. ‘Fred the Town Hall Cat’ is now on permanent retirement as he lies next to the flint walls.
There’s no mention of the cemetery in the opening hours information but locals are very proud of it. Interestingly there is a small pets cemetery corner at Henry James’s former home,Lamb House, in Rye Sussex and at Great Dixter, a dachshund shaped metal memorial marks the spot of a departed pet.
As you leave the garden, there is Preston Manor to explore, if it’ s open. Although not an attractive building and now owned by the council it does have the reputation of being haunted. Perhaps by a phantom Pekingese eternally playing her dog biscuit game or Fritz lying in wait for an unsuspecting male visitor. Across the grass is the medieval St Peter’s Church. Its churchyard is atmospheric to say the least and is also reputed to be haunted. In contrast to the loving inscriptions in the pets cemetery, it contains one of the most gruesome memorials I’ve ever read. A plain stone, set into one of the walls, reads ‘Beneath this path are deposited portions of the remains of Celia Holloway who was murdered in Lovers Walk in the parish in the year of Christ 183- aged 32 years.’
After reading that you’ll no doubt want to walk into Brighton town centre to explore the Lanes or to look at the rusting birdcage that was once the West Pier concert hall and now lies marooned and alone out to sea.
All photos copyright Carole Tyrrell and are scans from film prints
First published in Friends of Nunhead Cemetery News
Anyone who has ever enjoyed the pleasure, and the company, of a pet animal will understand why there are pet cemeteries. It isn’t always possible to bury them in a back garden and some will want a memorial, an acknowledgement that their pet is much missed and was much loved. I still miss my little tabby cat, Twinky, who was run over and killed during the day while I was at work. She ended up being buried in a neighbour’s back garden which was very kind of him but I did miss the chance to say my final goodbye.
Pet cemeteries’ little memorials may seem mawkish but a pet becomes part of the family and part of your life. One of the saddest and most poignant postings I have seen on Facebook was from an urban explorer who had been exploring and photographing an old, abandoned house and had found two small coffins under a bed. Both coffins had nameplates on and, by the names,
the explorer knew that they couldn’t be children. She opened them and discovered the small bodies of the owner’s dogs. It seemed very sad that the owner had loved these pets so much that she had kept them with her until the end and, now, except for the explorer’s chance encounter, no-one would know they were there and they would be swept away when the house was demolished.
The Ancient Egyptians mummified and buried cats who they considered to be gods (and cats have never forgotten this) and Ashkelon in Israel has the largest dog cemetery in the world. The largest animal necropolis in the world at Hartsdale, NY, with 70,000 burials and began because of a sympathetic vet.
In 1899, the Cimetiere des Chiens in et Autres Animaux Domestiques, opened in Asnieres-sur-Seine near Paris. Its oldest grave is a dog from Napoleon’s Grande Armee and burials continue up to the present day. In 1958, it interred its 40,000th burial which was an anonymous stray dog who died outside the cemetery gates. The Cimetiere isn’t just for dogs though as it also contains cats, horses, a monkey, a sheep and 16 year old hen. It’s definitely on my list to visit as a visitor has described it as uplifting and joyful to be amongst these well-loved pets who obviously had very good lives.
I have visited several pet cemeteries: Preston Park, Brighton, Wrest Park and London’s Hyde Park and I was struck by the poignant epitaphs. The animals had names, characters and had been much loved. There’s also the odd little memorial in a stately home or a garden.
I found this little marker in a corner of the lovely gardens at Great Dixter, Sussex, UK. What a wonderful place for a dog to go walkies in!
Gone for (a very long)walkies….Cimitiere des Chiens at Autres Animaux Domestiques, by Marion Houghton, Friends of Nunhead Cemetery News,
No 129, Sep-Nov 2015