As you enter the formal gardens at Knebworth, please take a moment to visit the eternally slumbering residents of its pet cemetery which is nearby. Although not signposted it does appear on the Knebworth map.Most stately homes have one if you know where to look and they give another insight into the lives of the owners and the animals who shared their lives however briefly.
However, although Knebworth House has been the home of the Lytton family since the 1400’s it wasn’t until the 19th century that the family’s pets were formally interred in their own private resting place.
There are varying dates as to when the cemetery came into being. Apparently it started in 1825. but the official Knebworth map has it as dating from 1852. The cemetery not only contains the beloved pets of the Bulwer-Lytton family but also those of their tenants. All are equal in the small well tended graveyard.
But I’m sure that most visitors don’t notice it. It nestles in front of the yew hedge which is known as the Iron Hedge. Yew is traditionally associated with places of burial and death such as churchyards and there are supposedly many traditions associated with this. It’s also seen as a symbol of everlasting life as yew trees have been known to live for centuries. Most of the epitaphs are laid flat so can easily missed by the casual passer-by but a closer look reveals some marvellous memories.
As with other pet cemeteries, it’s the touching epitaphs that I find most interesting as well as the names that owners give their pets.
Beau was Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s cherished pet dog
There is a small monument to ‘The first of the Tibetans’, Chumbi and Ruby. It goes onto say that they were both found in the Chumbi Valley in 1929. It also adds, sadly, that Chumbi was ‘Lost on the Great North Road 1929.’ and that Ruby ‘Died at Knebworth in 1929’. There is also an inscription around the base of the monument. It reads ‘May the love they had and gave help them even beyond the grave.’ Short lives but much missed.
I visited Wrest Park on a beautiful summers’ day and it is one of the most beautiful stately homes and gardens that I’ve visited. Located at Silsoe, near Luton in Bedfordshire, its 90 acres of formal gardens are impressive and contain features such as the elegant Long Water and the Chinese Bridge.
For over 600 years it belonged to the de Grey family. It was Edward IV (1461-83) who made Edmund Grey the first Earl of Kent. The formal gardens and Long Water were created during the 18th century by Annabel Benn with the 11th Earl of Kent, her son Anthony, and his wife Mary. These were all the rage at the time and the celebrated Capability Brown, amongst others, helped design them.
In the 1830’s, Thomas Earl de Grey, a keen amateur architect decided to rebuild the house in the fashionable French style but retained the garden layout instead of replacing it with the style of the day. He later became the first President of the Royal Institute of British Architects or RIBA. Since 1900, like most stately homes and country houses, Wrest has had mixed fortunes. It was sold in 1917 and in 1948 became the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering and later the Silsoe Research Institute. Historic England, previously English Heritage, now own Wrest Park and have embarked on a 20 year restoration programme of the house and grounds.
The de Grey family’s dogs’ cemetery is a distance from the house and near the Long Water. A grassed pathway bordered on each side by saplings leads you to a secluded glade. A statue of a dog, the Dog Monument, made from Ketton stone rests on a stone pedestal surrounded by 16 headstones. They are no longer in their original positions and the cemetery was officially Grade II listed on 10 January 1985.
According to the guidebook, the area was first recorded on a 1735 surveyor’s plan of the gardens. It was a square clearing at the end of a straight path leading from the Lady Duchess’s Walk. The cemetery itself dates from 1829 when Earl Grantham, later to become Earl de Grey, erected the Dog Monument. The headstones date from 1830-1860 and the dogs commemorated are:
Douban who died 24/11/1876 aged 17
Freuah who died in 1878 aged 10 and belonged to Countess Cowper
Una who died in 1891 and was the favourite dog of Lady Florence Cowper
Little Dick – the favourite dog of Lady Amabel Cowper
Lancey who died in 1875
Nissy who died in 1816
Tottie who was a favourite dog
Pet – a favourite dog
The de Grey family’s love of their dogs can be seen in an 1865 photograph in the guide book. Lady Amabel Cowper, the youngest daughter of Anne Florence, dowager Countess Cowper is standing on the terrace at Wrest with three of the family’s dogs who look like terriers. One dog is obediently posing, lying at her feet, another is on his hind legs with his back to the camera looking up at her and a third, a small dog, is perched on her shoulder. I did wonder if the one on her shoulder was Little Dick whose headstone records that he was her favourite dog. Some of the stones are now partly illegible but the cemetery is still a poignant place to visit. Two of the dogs, Dandy and Little Dick, are further commemorated as statues on two sculptures of the de Grey children.
However, dog cemeteries weren’t a Victorian invention. Instead they date back to the ancient Egyptians who created vast cemeteries containing 1000’s of mummified dogs. These were linked to the cult of the jackal headed deity Anubis. He was the god of embalming and the guide of the dead. The City of Dogs was known as Hardai or Cynopolis to the Greeks. The early Chinese emperors also established a palatial canine necropolis near Beijing in which the marble tombs were lavishly decorated with precious stones and metals such as gold and lapis lazuli. It makes the Victorian version look very modest in comparison. However, dog cemeteries were also seen as symbols of oppression by Russian Communists who denounced them. According to them, the ruling classes were lavishing money on these while their workers starved.
Dog cemeteries were most popular during the 19th century once Queen Victoria had established one at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. You can still find them at these houses:
Glamis Castle, Scotland
Haddo House, Aberdeenshire
Himley Hall, Stourton
Polesden Lacey, Great Bookham, Surrey
Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire
Sandringham, Norfolk (where the Queen buries her corgis)
There may be others out there – I’ll have fun looking for them – but this is what I found on a quick look round the web.
Whatever your opinion of dog or pet cemeteries, I’ve always found them very touching. The incumbents were obviously much loved and someone missed them enough to erect a stone in their memory and to record their passing. RIP little ones you are not forgotten.
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