Wildflowers and wild animals – a spring saunter through West Norwood Cemetery

A lovely display of tulips along path.
©Carole Tyrrell

Nature has decided to burst forth now that the sun’s out and suddenly everything’s out at once.     West Norwood Cemetery basked in a warm glow and its two terracotta mausoleums; the Doulton and the Tate,  seemed to be glowing.  I walked along the path from the entrance towards Ship Path and realised again how beautiful a cemetery can be in spring as new life appears amongst death.

I admired the groups of brightly coloured red and yellow tulips as they gracefully lifted their cups to the sun as in homage and a perennial Spring flower, garlic mustard, clustered around the base of a hedge around a memorial.  I’ve seen plenty of it already this year and wondered if it was an omen of future weather.

A queen wasp flew indecisively above one group of primroses as if unable to choose which one to land on and so evaded my camera. A Queen wasp is one of the 7 signs of Spring as they awake from their winter slumber. Multi-coloured carpets of primroses were everywhere between monuments and memorials and butterflies were on the wing obeying the imperative being to mate.

Orange Tips, Holly Blues and the odd Brimstone, the first butterflies of the year, impressed me with their speed and acrobatics.   One Holly Blue dived under a spreading rug of plants that covered last year’s forgotten or discarded horse chestnuts and dead leaves.    There has been a lot of clearing going on in West Norwood and it was like rediscovering it again as I found memorials and monuments that I had never previously seen as they’d been hidden under ivy, brambles and other vegetation. The clearances have made it much easier to get to the back of Captain Wimble’s exuberant and magnificent tomb to admire the still crisp carving of one the ships on which he sailed. But more about him and his indomitable wife in a later posting.  It is the reason that the grass path that runs past it is named, strangely enough, Ship Path.

Captain Wimble’s magnificent tomb – you’d never guess that he was a nautical man would you? It’s a shame that the stone model of a ship has lost its mast but there are carvings of 3 of the ships in which he sailed around the monument’s sides.
©Carole Tyrrell

In one clearing two drifts of wood anemones stood proud and nearby was a large patch of lesser celandine – another Spring time flower.  I’ve also seen so much of it this year and again is it an omen of a hard winter to come or a hot summer….

Another view of the wood anemones as they looked so impressive against the background of dead leaves.
©Carole Tyrrell

A flash of russet behind a group of headstones caught my attention and I saw an adult fox selecting a good place in a patch of foliage as his mattress in which to have an afternoon kip. After he tucked himself in he then spotted me and got to his paws and limped off with difficulty.  He appeared to have a bad problem with one of his front paws and I felt guilty for having disturbed him.

There is a part of West Norwood Cemetery which backs onto a small row of houses and so the occupants household pets, cats,  come into explore.  There’s often a good selection of them on a sunny afternoon; using the cemetery as an extension of their garden while checking each other out, going on the hunt or as their playground.  After having disturbed the fox, I caught sight of a fluffy back and white cat on his rounds trotting along a grass path.  I tried to keep a discreet distance as he passed Mrs Beeton’s modest memorial and the top of Ship Path.  However, as I galumped along, he began to pick up speed.  He trotted, more quickly now, across the main path in front of the catacombs and then leapt gracefully onto the wall above them. He looked back as if to say ‘Too late!’ and then vanished over it.

Nervous cat by railings – I tried not to come too close.
©Carole Tyrrell

A grey cat near the houses was quite timid and I didn’t want to come too close and frighten him away completely. I took a couple of photos from as close as I dared and moved on.

So many dandelions this year and there was a fine spread of them in between memorials. After all the recent murky weather it was encouraging to see their bright splashes of colour.

Bluebells, at their most effective when in great drifts in woodland, were clinging together in a patch opposite the crematorium.  It was just as if Mother Nature had brought everything into bloom at the same time instead of one after the other.

As I ate my lunch whilst admiring the crimson blossom on a tree nearby I could hear an old lawnmower in the distance.    As I got up and came around to explore another large cleared area I saw a descendant of the Doulton family mowing the grass around the mausoleum.  Terracotta always looks at its best in the sunshine and today it looked almost on fire.

 

A small statue of a praying child was almost being enveloped by lesser celandine and there’s been plenty of it everywhere I went this year,

Child angel statue surrounded by copious lesser celandine – it’s been everywhere this Spring – a hard winter or a good summer? We shall see.
©Carole Tyrrell

I descended from the columbarium admiring the speed of butterflies as they whizzed around tantalizingly out of reach of my camera.  It was then that I encountered the fox again. He lay draped over a grave like a fur stole and raised his head as I passed.

The fox again! Still trying to have an afternoon nap.
©Carole Tyrrell

A cuckoo flower was half hidden in the long grass near another glorious display of brilliantly coloured tulips.

As I walked I thought how lucky I was in to be in this oasis with the busy world kept at bay outside its magnificent Gothic gates.    I passed the Stonehenge inspired monument to John Britton which still looks as if it’s just landed from the opening scenes of 2001 and then to one of my favourite memorials in West Norwood or maybe any cemetery.

It’s a real gem and is the unashamedly Art Nouveau headstone dedicated to Amelia McKeown.  Its modest size and poignant dedication have always impressed me and the primroses beneath it emphasised its deep blue colouring.  This had been a chance discovery a few years ago when the main entrance had been closed for building works and visitors had had to enter via a side gate. Sometimes the road less travelled can bring the unexpected to your notice.

As I left the cemetery, feeling that I’d had almost a Spring walk in the countryside with some attractive monuments, I noticed the Unknown Mourner still grieving in a rose garden.  The elderly lawnmower and the sparse cars of visitors were behind me and I was back out onto the slow moving traffic of Knights Hill and Norwood High Street again. I nearly turned round and went back in again…….

 

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

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First churchyard butterfly of 2018!

The first Comma butterfly of 2018!

Seen in St George’s churchyard Beckenham on 14 April 2018 as it obligingly posed on a headstone.

Butterflies love churchyards and cemeteries as there’s often plenty of undisturbed wild flowers and long grass for them to feed on. And this was the first really warm day in ages!

©Carole Tyrrell text an dphotos

Symbol of the Month – The Celtic Cross

The Surrey Celtic Cross Brompton Cemetery
©Carole Tyrrell

Stylised animals, sinuous snakes, Celtic knots and traditional strapwork, flowers, angels and even a cat! The decoration on Celtic crosses within cemeteries can be varied and interesting. But it wasn’t until I was exploring Brompton Cemetery with an apps designer that I really began to look at them more closely. He spotted the Viking style animals on Margaret Stevenson’s cross near the Chapel and we were soon seeing spirals and the more emblematic strapwork known as Hiberno-Saxon art or Insular art amongst others.

Celtic Crosses first appeared within cemeteries during the Celtic Revival of the 1850’s and it has since become a worldwide emblem of Irish identity.  The Revival has also been described as the Celtic Twilight and the Cross is seen as its lasting contribution to the western world’s funerary art.  The Celtic Cross has been known in Ireland since the 9th century and in mainland Britain since medieval times.

It’s a form of the traditional cross but with the addition of a nimbus or ring.  The latter is seen as a symbol of eternity as it has no beginning or end. The addition of the nimbus has been attributed to St Patrick who is reputed to have added it to a Christian cross, extended one of the of the lengths to form the stem and then placed it on top of a stepped base. It was this combination of a pagan symbol and a Christian one that became the Celtic Cross. It has also been described as the ‘sun cross’ by those who interpret the nimbus ring as a representation of the sun. The four arms have also been interpreted as representations of the four elements; air, earth, fire and water as well as the stages of the day or the four fixed compass directions.

The more traditional, intricately patterned bands known as strapwork are known for the unbroken lines that make up any piece.  There have been 8 basic designs that have been identified and claimed to be the basis of nearly all of the interlaced patterns in Celtic decorative art. Hiberno-Saxon art is also known as Insular art and examples appear in the Books of Kells. Here are four examples from West Norwood Cemetery.

It was in Brompton that I noticed two examples with single spirals on them. A spiral on a Celtic cross is generally drawn clockwise to represent either the sun or the direction of running water.

Detail of spiral on Celtic cross in Brompton Cemetery, Sadly the epitaph is now illegible.
©Carole Tyrrell

It is one of the most ancient symbols known to mankind.   A double spiral is more difficult to create and has been seen as a depiction of universal balance such as yin and yang or night and day.  The triple spiral or triskele is the most difficult for obvious reasons and has several meanings attributed to it. But the one that I thought was the most appropriate in a funerary context was the triskele being seen as a representation of three worlds: the spiritual, the earthly and the celestial.  The word Triskele is reputed to have come from the Greeks and it’s one of the most complex Celtic symbols.

 

Also in Brompton, I discovered a Celtic cross with decoration that ended in snakes heads which is interesting as snakes which were revered by the Celts. They saw them as a representation of rebirth as they shed their skins and then live again.  Notice also the Celtic knot in the centre of them.  These have been found in Scandinavia and Western Europe as well as appearing within Celtic insular art. They are supposed to represent eternity or the never ending cycle of life with the closed ends signifying unity.

A Celtic knot with snakes entwined around it from Brompton Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

Stylised Viking inspired animals and a Celtic knot on a Celtic Cross.
©Carole Tyrrell

So the next time you visit a cemetery or churchyard look out for the Celtic Cross and see what you find. It’s not only Celtic inspired decoration that appears on them. These two examples are from my local churchyard – one features traditional strapwork and the other has a lovely and unusual angel with beautifully carved feathery wings and the nimbus is almost like a halo.

 

This is the Mills memorial from Nunhead Cemetery and features beautifully carved passionflowers, a deeply significant symbol in the language of flowers, and also the IHS in the centre of the cross.

This lovely example is the Mills memorial from Nunhead Cemetery. It features beeautifully carved passionflowers and IHS at the centre of thet nimbus.
©Carole Tyrrell

 

And finally, again from Brompton, one with a cat in its centre which is possibly a pun on the name of the family commemorated – Cattenach.

The Cattanach Celtic Cross from Brompton Cemetery. A probably pun on the surname with the cat at the centre of the nimbus.
©Carole Tyrrell

©text and photos Carole Tyrrell

 

Further reading and references

 

https://www.claddaghdesign.com/history/celtic-symbols-what-they-mean/

http://ireland-calling.com/celtic-symbol-spiral/

https://www.ringsfromireland.com/Article/67/Celtic-Crosses

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_cross

https://www.myirishjeweler.com/uk/blog/irish-celtic-cross-history

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_knot

https://www.gotquestions.org/Celtic-cross.html

http://irishfireside.com/2015/02/03/history-symbolism-celtic-cross/

 

Downturned torches, a garland of roses and a pair of Aladdin lamps – creating a Symbols app in Brompton Cemetery

Closer view of the small boat on the Mccaig monument.
©Carole Tyrrell

It was a, shall we say, bracing February day in Brompton Cemetery.  The snowdrops were clinging together for warmth along the main avenue and a drift of daffodils near the soon to be completed café thought better of coming out in bloom. But I, and the apps designer, local GP Simon Edwards, didn’t let this spoil our fun.  We had previously worked with together on the Brompton animals app and it was good to have another pair of eyes with me.

Our aim was to devise an app that gave a good selection of symbols within the cemetery, both common ones that can also be found in other cemeteries and others that were perhaps unique to Brompton. There would be a brief comment on each one by yours truly and there was also the opportunity to see me in person. You’ll have to make up your own mind about whether I’m attempting fruitlessly to hide behind a Celtic Cross or draping myself elegantly around it.

Brompton opened in 1840 and, due to the 19th century anti-Papist movement. crosses, Christ statues or angels were not popular. Instead other cultures and civilisations and other older cultures and influences were used as inspiration.  These included Classicism from ancient Greece and Rome, the Celtic and Egyptian Revivals, Biblical quotations and references, the language of flowers as well as animals and insects.

Stylised Viking inspired animals and a Celtic knot on a Celtic Cross.
©Carole Tyrrell

Simon was also looking for additional images for the Brompton animals app and soon found a group at the top of the Stevenson Celtic cross. These are supposedly based on Viking animal images but although, when we looked more closely, it was difficult to make out exactly what kind of animals they were.  Brompton’s Celtic crosses are very interesting due to the variety of decoration on them from spirals, traditional Celtic strapwork, flowers and even a cat.  I will be writing about them in next month’s Symbol of the Month.

But soon we were exploring the alpha and omega, the Chi Rho, shaking hands, downturned torches, and flowers amongst others.

Among Brompton’s more unusual symbols are the two Aladdin style lamps on the Cornwell headstone, the polar and cub on the Hills one in the modern burials section and the small stone boat tied up at the base of the cross on the McCaig monument.

So if you feel like taking a self guided Symbols tour around Brompton Cemetery then please click on this link:

https://ticl.me/West-Brompton/headlines/13447/view

Have fun and let us know what you think of it!

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated