Alongside the busy Bayswater Road, on the way down from Marble Arch, there is a secret place behind one of the gate lodges. It’s protected by an iron railing and thick hedges and the casual passer-by wouldn’t know what lies behind them. But this is a special place where 300 much loved pets sleep in an eternal slumber. Curio, Ruby Heart, Prince and Ba-Ba are just some of the names of the family pets that are commemorated on the Lilliputian tombstones. This is the tiny Victorian Hyde Park Pet Cemetery.
It was a burial space for the local residents and their beloved animals It’s mainly dogs that are buried here as they often fell victim to the Park’s horse riders hooves. However, there are also three small monkeys as well as several cats and birds. The first burial, Cherry, a Maltese terrier, was in 1881. Cherry belonged to the Lewis-Berned family who lived nearby. They were frequent visitors to the Park and knew Mr Winbridge, the lodge gatekeeper. Mr and Mrs Lewis-Berned approached him after Cherry had died of old age and enquired if Cherry could be buried in what was his back garden at the lodge. He and his employer agreed and Cherry’s tombstone reads ‘Poor Cherry. Died April 26 1881.’ Word must have got round as, before long, other local families were also having their deceased pets interred in the lodge’s back garden and it soon became an unofficial pets cemetery. There is even a royal dog there. This is a Yorkshire terrier which belonged to the wife of HRH Prince George, the Duke of Cambridge, who lived in Mayfair. ‘Poor Prince’ was crushed under a carriage wheel and actually died in the Lodge. The subsequent burial was recorded in the Duke’s diary on 29th June 1882 and made Prince the second incumbent in the cemetery. In contrast, there were also low-lifes in there and I am indebted to the London-In-Sight blog for the background information on a police dog, Topper, who is buried within the cemetery. He was obviously a dog with attitude and was described as being: ‘insufferably vulgar, a snob of the lowest kind and most contemptible, a bad strain in him which seems to have run through very line of his character.’ He died of over-eating. I have to admit that I would have liked to have met Topper to see if he lived up to his description. When you first enter by the side gate the first thing that really impresses you is how many of them there are in the little garden and how poignant some of the epitaphs on the small headstones are. Who has owned a pet, loved it dearly, and not wanted to commemorate its life and passing like other family members? The little plots are arranged in rows, each with an area bordered by rope edge tiles to allow the families to place flowers if they wished.
We visited the cemetery as part of a tour arranged by London Month of the Dead and had roughly thirty mins inside which didn’t leave much time to explore the epitaphs. I can only show a few of them here. But it was a good introduction to the cemetery. So next time we may book an hour long tour. We didn’t find Cherry’s grave despite looking for it. . One of our guides did point out that at the time of the first burials the average expectancy of a working man was forty or less.
The gate was locked behind us as the little residents slumbered on. Access is limited for obvious reasons and needs to be booked via The Royal parks website; http://www.royalparks.org.uk. Tickets cost £50 +VAT for a visit lasting one hour for up to 6 people. Text and photos copyright Carole Tyrrell
Sources and further reading:
Barking Blondes – Will you book a grave plot for your dog? The Independent blogs 18/01/14
Fun London Tours – The Victorian Pet Cemetery of Hyde Park, 20/10/11
London-In-Sight blog, The Pet Cemetery of Hyde Park, 06/10/10
Below is a selection of the epitaphs