Wildlife in Cemeteries – no 9 – The Goth Moths are coming!

Six Spot Burnet moth Brompton Cemetery July 2018
©Carole Tyrrell

As we prowled the side paths bordering Brompton Cemetery’s celebrated Courtoy Mausoleum  on an Exploring Butterflies day in June of the this year, we also discovered roughly half a dozen caterpillars. They were  unconcernedly munching away on wildflowers or ambling along grass stalks. Usually caterpillars are always so well hidden and camouflaged, especially in long grass, but there they were.

These two attractive specimens  would develop into day flying moths whose presence and colouring were very appropriate to a cemetery.  In fact they could almost be known as the Goth Moths.

Cinnabar moth caterpillars Brompton Cemetery June 2018
©Carole Tyrrell

These stripey beasts feasting on ragwort are the caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth.  When they transform into moths their colouring is very dramatic in scarlet and black:

Cinnabar moth in all its glory shared under Wiki Creative Commons
©Charles J Sharp Sharp Photography

The other caterpillar was nearby as it quietly made its way along a long stem of grass.  In my opinion, it was another prettily patterned one, which will eventually become the Five Spotted Burnet moth.

Six  Spot Burnet caterpillar Brompton Cemetery June 2018
©Carole Tyrrell

This is another dramatically coloured moth in red and black and it gets its name from the number of red spots on its black wings and one appears at the top of this post.

As Goths like to roost in cemeteries and are known for their black clothes which are often contrasted with bright colours such as scarlet and purple it seemed entirely appropriate to find two examples almost named after them.  It was also great to see caterpillars doing well in such an urban environment so obviously the cemetery’s management plan of leaving areas uncut and left to grow wild is working well for nature in 2018.  Long may it continue!

Mating Six Spot Burnet moth Brompton Cemetery July 2018
©Carole Tyrrell

 

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

 

 

Advertisement

By a candle’s flickering flame  – a visit to Brompton catacombs July 2017

The Western catacomb which runs along the western wall of Brompton Cemetery which faces out onto the railway.
©Carole Tyrrell

Shadows move on the coffins and walls. Above you the glass orbs set into the high ceiling admit a little light into the depths but you prefer the intimate illumination of the flame.  It reflects on the brass fittings and the patterns of the nails on the coffin on the shelf beside you. Your loved one now rests eternally in Brompton catacombs as you sit by the head of the coffin in its space or lochulus.  Family news, world events: you talk to them as if they were alive with your voice the only sound in the silence. Then you open the book that you have brought with you at the bookmarked page, and then read the next chapter of what was their favourite novel.  It’s almost like having your own private mausoleum.

Finally, almost reluctantly, you close the book, after having marked next week’s chapter and pick up the candleholder.  As you walk towards the cast iron entrance gates, your footsteps echo behind you and the candle finally goes out as you open them.   The sun outside temporarily blinds you as you pull the gate closed and then lock it with your own key. The symbols of eternity and mortality on them remind you of the other world behind.  Then you ascend the flight of steps and return into Brompton Cemetery and the noisy world again.   You have been ‘communing with the dead’ as our guide, Nick, explained.

Brompton Cemetery isn’t holding an Open Day in 2017 due to the ongoing restoration project but, instead, on 15 July they held catacomb tours. These are not usually open and I haven’t visited these for some time so eagerly took up the opportunity. It was a drizzly day so it was good to be under cover. The catacombs have the most magnificent cast iron doors featuring snakes, downturned torches, an ouroboros and a winged hourglass – all symbols of mortality and eternity. You know that you are entering the realm of the dead once you step inside.

I have visited several catacombs located in large London cemeteries and what has always remained with me is the special and unique atmosphere that each one has: Kensal Green, Highgate, Brompton and the Valhalla that is West Norwood. One of Nunhead’s catacombs has now become the Anglican chapel crypt and is only open on certain days.

Catacombs never became popular in England and most of the coffin spaces available were destined to only have dust as an occupant. These are known as loculi or loculus in the singular. Even Highgate was unable to sell all theirs in the Egyptian Avenue and I would have thought that they would have been snapped up. However, there is reputed to be a cemetery in Cheshunt which is doing a roaring trade in selling them as they have an Italian and Greek community who view catacombs differently.

There is another set of catacombs under Brompton’s western colonnades with an identical set of doors on the other side of the circle but these have remained unused.  The other Western catacombs on the boundary side were never used and when reopened were crammed floor to ceiling with spoil which took a year to remove.

We were visiting the Eastern colonnade crypt and a flight of steps led to the iron doors.  As Nick said imagine six pallbearers carrying a coffin on their shoulders down them on a wet day.  The coffin would have been triple lined: wood, lead, wood so a heavy load indeed.  Brompton, unlike other catacombs, such as West Norwood or Kensal Green, didn’t have a chapel above the catacombs with a handy hydraulic catafalque to transport the coffin down into the darkness.

Nick indicated an interment in the first chamber behind the doors. This was sealed in with a plaque and epitaph dedicated to Captain Alexander Louis Ricardo of the Grenadier Guards.  For me, it was a reminder of the still unsolved Victorian Charles Bravo murder.  Captain Ricardo was Florence Bravo’s first husband who died young from alcoholism in Cologne. I noticed ferns growing from a family vault beneath him and wondered about damp as a perennial problem.

Lit candles had been placed on the coffin shelves to light our way which added to the ambience.  Victorians were fascinated with the idea of an afterlife and seances and mediums were big business. Sir William Crookes of the notorious Katie King case is also buried in Brompton.   Nick added the Victorians were a heady mix of hardheadiness and sentimentality.

 

The glass inserts that allowed some light into the catacomb have long gone and been bricked up.  Brompton’s original owners, The Westminster and West London Cemetery Company initially offered 4000 loculi for sale but of these only 700 were sold. So if you have a hankering for going underground they still have at least 3300 spaces available. Nick informed us that the last request for a catacomb space was in 1926.

 

English catacombs were based on the ones in Rome. Cremation was illegal until well into the 19th century so it was either under or over ground burial until then. Catacombs at Brompton were also called upon as a temporary mortuary when necessary. A visitor noticed that one coffin was just under the roof above four other coffins stacked on shelves and asked how the cemetery workers got it up there. Nick indicated the pulley blocks that they could have used to lift it up and manoeuvre it into place. Quite a feat.

 

Nick indicated the plumber’s diaper mark on the exposed side of one coffin which indicated that he had sealed it properly and there would be no leakages.  He also pointed out the wreaths, somewhat desiccated by now, that mourners often left by the coffins, and there was a small elegant urn containing ashes placed on a shelf next to one.

 

Our visit lasted 30 minutes and we filed out towards the light of the outside world again leaving Brompton’s catacomb’s incumbents to eternally sleep on.

 

The attractive colonnades of Brompton are above the catacombs and have plaques on their walls. These were to enable friends or other relatives without keys to pay their respects to the deceased at the plaque.  These are reputed to be affixed directly above the departed’s place within the chamber.

 

A word of caution for anyone considering visiting a catacomb for the first time: if you feel uncomfortable about seeing coffins, and a lot of people do, then don’t visit or think carefully about it first.

Please note:  Photography is not permitted in the Brompton catacombs.

©Photos and text Carole Tyrrell

 

 

 

Cosy cats and an Egyptian deity of the underworld – creating the Brompton Cemetery animal app.

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!

© Text and images Carole Tyrrell

Symbols and Symbolism in Brompton Cemetery – Saturday 8 April 2017

Hand holding Lily of the Valley at Brompton Cemetery
©Carole Tyrrell

If you’re in London and near Brompton Cemetery around 2.30pm on Saturday 8 April 2017 then you are cordially invited onto the Symbols and Symbolism tour.

If you’ve ever wondered what the symbols often found in Victorian cemeteries actually mean and the fascinating background to them then this is the tour for you!

Some of the symbols which will be discussed on the tour have featured on this blog but there will be others as well.

The details are below – cost will be £5 per head – so let’s hope for decent weather on the 8th!

The Brompton Butterfly surrounded by an ivy wreath.
copyright Carole Tyrrell

The Friends of Brompton Cemetery invite you to 

Symbols and Symbolism in Brompton Cemetery – a guided tour Sat 08 April 2017 : 2.30pm – 4.15pm.  

on the meaning of Brompton Cemetery’s

symbols and the lost language of Victorian death.

Meet near front entrance to chapel

Cost £5

for further details and to book contact 0207 351 1689/email: info@brompton-cemetery.org.uk

Address:  Brompton Cemetery, Fulham Road, Kensington, London, SW10 9UG

Transport links:  Tube West Brompton, Earls Court. Buses: 74,14,211,190,328,430,C1, C3.

Website: http://brompton-cemetery.org.uk.