On 21 May 2015 the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery or FONC held their 30th Open Day. The weather was kind and a record number of visitors flocked to see the many attractions including Birds of Prey, the Bug Hunt, musical performances in the ruined chapel and free guided tours throughout the day amongst others.
But the undoubted highlight was the well known firm of undertakers, Francis Chappell’s , glass sided hearse and 2 magnificent Belgian Black horses . They are celebrating their 175th anniversary in 2015 as they began business in 1840. This was a particularly auspicious year as Nunhead Cemetery also opened and Queen Victoria married Albert.
Visitors were soon admiring the horses, even before their extravagant black feather plumes were attached, and the horses seemed to enjoy the attention. After being coupled up to the hearse the Chappells driver took them for a short drive to the front of the chapel and then stayed there for a while to give visitors a photo opportunity.
This was too good to miss for the group of Goths who were also enjoying the Open Day and they were soon using the hearse as a backdrop. They really set it off with their elaborate costumes and accessories. I know that Goths have a reputation for always dressing in black but they do also have splashes of colour in their costumes.
Then the hearse was driven back to the horsebox and a well deserved break for the horses.
Glass sided hearses only came back into fashion during the 1970’s and 1980’s after having fallen out of favour after the 1840’s. They were reintroduced by an East End undertakers firm, Thomas Cribb, and I can recall seeing one at the City of London cemetery in the 1990’s emblazoned with Thomas Cribb’s insignia and being very impressed as I’d not seen one before. As a result of the hearses falling out of fashion, the traditional funeral horse, the Belgian Black, was in danger of dying out. But Cribbs purchased a pair and the rest is history.
FONC are pleased to announce that Francis Chappell will attending the 2016 Open Day on Saturday —- May 2016 with 8 magnificent Belgian Blacks so that they can have a longer drive around Nunhead Cemetery – An impressive sight not to be missed!
Copyright Carole Tyrrell