There’s no Symbol of the Month this month as it’s shadowsflyaway’s 4th birthday!
Yes, it’s been 4 years since I started this blog and it’s been a joy to share my enthusiasm for symbols and other cemetery related stories with you.
I thought that I might have exhausted the supply of symbols on which to write about but no I always find a new one and undoubtedly there are still more out there waiting for me.
I always look forward to exploring a new cemetery or churchyard as there’s often a new gem for me to discover. Recently I have been poking about in medieval Kent churches and discovered a devil’s doorway, windows with eyes and a fine selection of 17th and 18th century names in a list of churchyard burials. Sadly, I don’t think that Beardsel, Chariot or Sundial are going to rediscovered but you never know…..and also some of the finest memento mori.
But mostly I’ve enjoyed letting the dead speak to me through the symbols they chose to have as their lasting message to the world.
This photo was taken in the churchyard of St Peter & St Paul in Seal, Kent. The view from the back of the churchyard looks out onto the North Downs and it was literally a view to die for (sorry couldn’t resist that one)
So let’s drink a toast, mine’s a lemon and lime flavoured water, and let’s see where we go in shadowsflyaway’s 5th year!
Yes, dear reader, it was three years ago in 2015 that I began this blog. A complete novice, I set it up in order to talk about primarily funerary symbols which are my main interest and to promote my work in progress which will be a book about them. One of my great pleasures in life is exploring cemeteries, graveyards and cemeteries to find new symbols to write about. But a word of warning, remember to take a camera with you and take photos of the graves around the one that you’ve chosen otherwise they can be difficult to relocate. I feel that symbols are the deceased’s final message to the world. It can either be a way to say goodbye or a message of comfort to those left behind. However, I can only speculate on the reasons for their choice.
But, while writing this blog, I’ve also become interested in the living residents of cemeteries – the wildlife. Often cemeteries are locked up at night and are usually quiet places which enable wildlife to flourish. There are often wild areas where the grass is left uncut and these can be a vital lifeline in an urban green space. They can support many different varieties of wildflowers, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, dragonflies and also foxes and birds. At a recent Brompton Cemetery Exploring Butterflies day 13 species of Butterflies were found. It’s interesting how people use cemeteries as one man enthusiastically recommended Brompton Cemetery’s plentiful supply of blackberries for his smoothies!
So, thanks to my readers and visitors for staying with me over the last 3 years. I hope you’ve enjoyed my posts, photographs and theories on particular symbols. There’s plenty more to come including exploring what remains of the Necropolis Railway at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey, a return visit to Chaldon Church to look at the churchyard memorials and also to the place where my interest in cemeteries began, St Lawrence’s Hospital burial ground also in Surrey and a Roman necropolis surrounded by back gardens in Italy.
And as always there will be Symbol of the Month. It’s always fascinating to undertake the research for these as there may be several different interpretations of meaning and it can also led into other directions.
So please come with me through either the cemetery gates or perhaps the lychgate to a churchyard and let’s explore together. There’s a symbol over there that I haven’t seen before and although I’m not sure what it means now I soon will…..
There is a murderous tradition associated with Mayday or May 1st. For on this day the Jack or Jack in the Green must be slain and his body torn apart and thrown to a waiting crowd. Of course it an also happen on May 7th if that’s the date that the Mayday bank holiday falls on.
Jack’s murder marks the coming of Summer as he is also seen as the Green Man or the embodiment of Nature. There are also associations with Puck. Mayday also coincides with the Celtic festival of Beltane which is a fire festival. It burst forth with abundant fertility although Beltane is one of the names for the god of death. But there’s no blood spilt in Jack’s murder. Instead his large, tall body is formed from leaves and flowers which is why he’s known as Jack in the Green . You’ll find him being pulled apart at various locations within the UK.
According to The Living Myths Celtic Year website
‘Beltain is the origin of pagan May Day festivities such as that of the Padstow Hobby Horse, and maypole dancing, of the ‘Queen of the May’, and of ‘well dressing’ – decking holy wells with flowers, as still practised in some rural communities.’
The tradition carried on in England as, according to the Hastings Jack in the Green website:
‘In the 16th and 17th centuries in England people would make garlands of flowers and leaves for the May Day celebration, they became increasingly elaborate. Works Guilds would try to outdo each other, in the late 18th century this became a matter for competition, milkmaids in London carried garlands on their heads with silver objects on them, but the crown had to go to the chimney sweeps. Their garland was so big it covered the entire man. It became known as Jack in the Green.’
The Jack has a conical or pyramidal framework on which the greenery is entwined with a man inside to ‘walk’ it along streets and in procession. Mayday celebrations were often rowdy, drunken affairs with the Maypole as a very obvious phallic symbol in a festival dedicated to fertility. It, the May Queen and the Jack are the only survivors. I found this 17th century image of a Jack on Wikipedia.
As you might imagine it was the Victorians who called time on Jack in the Green declaring it unruly and raucous (surely not). They replaced the merry stumbling prance or stagger around the Maypole with a smaller one for children to skip round. Then most of the celebrations vanished apart from the May Queen and well dressing in some regions.
But you can’t keep a good Jack down forever and in the 1980’s he was slowly brought back to life.
In 1983, the Hastings Jack in the Green was revived by Mad Jack’s Morris Men. They take their name from Mad Jack Fuller with their symbol being that of his pyramidal mausoleum in Ditchling churchyard which is also known as the Sugarloaf.
The festival is a 4 day event in the town culminating in a parade of giant figures and the releasing of Jack before he takes centre stage in the procession along the High Street and onto West Hill. The Jack stands in waiting on his own stage with his attendants, known as ‘bogies’ or Green Men as morris dancers and singers take to the centre stage. Here is a selection of images from the Hastings Jack in the Green from 2012 and 2018:
Morris dancing has been around for over 600 years and there are several regional variants. He wears a beautiful crown of flowers on top. The costumes have become more ornate and decorative over the years since I first came upon the celebration by chance on a visit to Hastings in 2001. Then it was within the grounds of Hastings Castle and I sat and listened to Maddy Prior singing as the sapphire sea below glittered under the afternoon sun. The Hastings Mayday also coincides with hundreds of bikers descending on the town but there’s not trouble as they are much more interested in buying insurance or bathrooms.
The final event is the slaying of Jack and he is walked to the stage surrounded by his entourage and spun round to the sound of massed drums. Then the ripping apart of him begins in earnest and sprigs and branches of evergreens are tossed out to the eager crowd as having a piece of Jack is meant to ensure you good luck for the coming year.
I am indebted to Sarah Hannant’s invaluable book Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids – a Journey through the English Ritual Year for the information on my local Jack in the Green which takes place around Deptford. There Jack’s slaughter takes place on May 1st regardless of whether its’s a working day or not. The group are still known as Fowlers Troop and their version took place from roughly 1906 until 1924 when the police stopped it. Again it was associated with chimney sweeps. A local photographer of the time, Thankfull Sturdee, (now there’s a name) took photos of the 1906 Jack and his work can be found on the Fowlers Troop website and also in Lewisham Borough photos archives.
I saw it in 2017 and it followed a route through Greenwich which includes several pubs. Outside each one there was morris dancing and singing and two old sea dogs relating various tall tales. The Jack is very tall, roughly 3m, decorated with flowers at the top and has to have a guide to lead him forward as it must be difficult to see his way. I followed them through the wet grounds of the former Royal Naval College and enjoyed seeing the looks of amazement on car drivers and casual bystanders faces as we passed by. Sadly, I missed the killing of Jack as I lost them at the Rose and Crown. Here is a selection of photos from the 2017 Deptford Jack – look at the size of the Jack!
A Jack in the Green is an event worth seeing as it’s always very lively and there’s a pub or two involved if that’s what you fancy. It’s a celebration of English culture, albeit slightly watered down these days, and an acknowledgement of the changing of the seasons.
So support your local Jack!
There are several Jack in the Greens in the UK:
Brentham, North Ealing, Guildford, Kuntsford, Oxford, Rochester, Whitstable, Bristol, Carshalton, Central London at Conway Hall, City of London, Highworth, Wilts, Ilfracombe, Knutsford, Oxford,,
This Halloween the London Dungeon’s offering a new temporary attraction based on a long defunct Victorian mode of funerary transport – the Necropolis Railway! The London Dungeon’s renamed I their version The Death Express and has promised that it will be their ‘scariest attraction yet’. It features a tormented train conductor (nothing unusual there especially if they work on Southern Railway….) and visitors will be on a train carriage with the dead people, coffins and mourners.’ Characters will be on board to tell scary stories and you are advised not to look at the windows…
The actual Necropolis Railway lasted for 87 years from 1854 to 1941 and transported mourners and their dearly departed from a dedicated station at Waterloo station in London to Brookwood cemetery near Woking.
With the usual heady mixture of Victorian enthusiasm and optimism the London Necropolis Company (LNC) envisaged that Brookwood Cemetery would be able to accommodate all of London’s dead for centuries to come and they were also very keen to achieve a monopoly on the capitals’ burial business. However, although the LNC had planned for the Railway to carry between 10,000 and 50,000 bodies per year it never achieved that and it slowly began to decline.
However the true horror of the Necropolis Railway was, that even in death, the Victorian class system was strictly observed with first, second and third class fares, segregated waiting rooms and carriages and even the coffins were also kept rigidly apart. There was even a fare charged for coffins. Although the London Dungeon may have their own way of punishing fare dodgers – perhaps for eternity……
The trains were also divided by class and religion with separate Anglican and non-conformist (effectively non-Anglicans) with separate First, Second and Third class compartments within each. I doubt that the London Dungeon will be offering this particular form of heritage memorabilia but you never know……
However, it was the Luftwaffe that dealt the final blow on the night of 16-17 April 1941 when an air raid permanently damaged the London terminus and the service effectively ceased. After the end of the Second World War what remained of the railway was sold off for office space with the track being removed during 1947-19.48. However there is one Necropolis Railway building still standing and it’s located at 121 Westminster Bridge Road. This was the first class entrance to the 1902 terminus.
And yet the Necropolis Railway refuses to be shunted into oblivion. Andrew Martin wrote a best selling novel called strangely enough, The Necropolis Railway, in 2015 a theatre company mounted a production based on it in the Waterloo Vaults and it also appeared in a dramatic train crash in an episode of TV’s Ripper Street.
Brookwood Cemetery is well worth a visit and traces of the railway track bed can still be seen within the grounds and the Friends of Brookwood Cemetery run tours of the railway route during the year. The two stations North and South are both now long gone
The Death Express runs until November 8 2017.
However, despite the London Dungeon’s reputation for spine-chilling scares there was one distinct advantage of the Railway in its heyday – you were always assured of a quiet carriage…….
Yes shadowsflyaway is two years old this month! I’ll just blow out the candles on the birthday cake…
When I started shadowsflyaway in July 2015 I had no idea if anyone would read it although I invited a few like-minded people to view it. But sometimes putting something out into cyberspace with no idea of who, or if anyone, is going to look at it can be very liberating.
But some of my readers and followers have been with me from the start so thank you for staying with me and the blog.
And also welcome to my new followers and readers – it’s great to have you on board!
I really enjoy writing and researching shadowsflyaway as well as taking the photos to accompany the posts. I never know where the research might take me from a simple symbol to an unsolved Victorian murder. I know that Symbol of the Month is very popular and there’s many more out there for me to write about and discover. As a tour guide leading a recent Symbols tour within Brompton Cemetery it was a privilege to share my passion with other enthusiastic people face to face.
Shadowsflyaway started out to support my proposed book on symbols which is still an ongoing project. But the blog has taken on a life of its own and has also encompassed other aspects of cemeteries such as wildlife etc.
So raise your glasses,mugs or cups and let’s drink a toast to you for your support and to the next year of shadowsflyaway……now let me take you by the hand and we’ll explore that shadowy, overgrown part of the local cemetery as I’m sure there’s an interesting symbol under all that undergrowth……trust me I know these things.
Cemeteries are often great places to find wildlife. If you’re lucky you might see a bright little robin or blue tit flitting amongst the memorials as well as foxes, cats and the odd dog out for a walk with his owner. The beginning of summer also heralds the arrival of insects such as butterflies and grasshoppers.
But app designer, Simon Edwards and I, were exploring Brompton Cemetery to find animals of the stone or granite variety either carved or perched onto tombstones. Simon, a GP by trade, had the same enthusiasm as me and we began near the chapel.
The weather couldn’t have been better and my way down to meet Simon I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker land on a memorial and then take off again before I could get my camera out. I had a few suggestions as to where we might find some interesting examples and Simon already had some on his phone and so we began. We also included insects and birds. However once you start looking for carved wildlife it suddenly catches your eye whereas you might not have noticed it before. The afternoon became a treasure hunt as we found cats, a polar bear, a butterfly and a carving of an Egyptian deity amongst others. If you want to find out how many we found you will have to try the app at:https://ticl.me/West-Brompton/headlines/13317/view
However the most popular animal motif was undoubtedly the dove. They were everywhere – both in 2D and 3D versions whether portrayed flying downwards or perched on a cross until eventually we decided that we were both ‘doved-out’. Undoubtedly the best ones were the one on Susannah Smellie’s memorial near the chapel and the one on the headstone dedicated to a 6 month old baby near Hannah Courtoy’s imposing mausoleum.
The app is intended to give you a pleasant way of spending an afternoon exploring the cemetery and finding the graves on which they are and perhaps wondering more about the people who chose them. Don’t forget to let Simon or me know if you find any that we’ve missed!
I’ve really enjoyed researching, writing and posting my entries – it’s been wonderful to have an opportunity to immerse myself in history again and to meet other interesting cemetery enthusiasts via cyberspace. Please keep sending your comments.
So let’s raise a glass, cup or mug and celebrate and revel in being taphophiles. After all everyone has to have a hobby….without cemeteries where would all those eager Pokemon Go enthusiasts go?
This photo was taken in West Norwood Cemetery near the Columbarium – every time I visit there is is always a glass jar or vase containing fresh flowers placed on the shelf. I thought it looked appropriate.