Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow in Brompton Cemetery

Now that snow has come to Central London again how I wish I was there to see it! But I’m not and instead I thought I would show how beautiful a cemetery can look when it’s covered in the white stuff. These were taken during the last big snowfall, the so called Beast from the East, in Feb 201 and feature Brompton Cemetery looking a little mysterious as the snow fell and fell and fell……

Brompton Cemetery in snow Feb 2018 ©Carole Tyrrell
View over Brompton Cemetery from a side path Feb 2018 ©Carole Tyrrell
View of colonnades Brompton Cemetery Feb 2018 ©Carole Tyrrell
View of Brompton Cemetery chapel Feb 2018 ©Carole Tyrrell
The Italian Boy as I call him, Brompton Cemetery Feb18 ©Carole Tyrrell
Snowy view from sidepath Brompton Cemetery Feb 2018 ©Carole Tyrrell

Wildlife in Cemeteries No 8 – the dark side of the Snowdrop

As we are still in lockdown, I thought that I would repost an earlier blog about a flower that is traditionally associated with cemeteries and churchyards. This is the time of year when they start to  make a welcome appearance as signs of Spring and this year, especially, I think that we need to know that better days are coming.

Snowdrops in St George’s churchyard, Beckenham.
©Carole Tyrrell

Imagine yourself in a gloomy medieval church on the festival of Candlemass. You, and your fellow parishioners, have each brought your candles to be blessed by the priest and, after the procession which will fill the church with light, they will all be placed in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary.   Candlemass marked the end of winter and the beginning of Spring and the blessing is to ward off evil spirits.  It traditionally falls on February 2 and is shared with the Celtic festival of Imbolc.  And in the churchyard outside you can see green shoots forcing their way up through the hard winter earth.  The snowdrop’s milk-white flowers show that spring is on its way as they begin to emerge into the light.

The placing of the lit candles in front of the Virgin Mary’s statue gave the snowdrop one of its many other names – Mary’s Tapers.  But there are many others such: Dingle Dangle, Candlemas Bells, Fair Maids of February, Snow Piercer, Death’s Flower and Corpse Flower.

Snowdrops, Brompton Cemetery, January 2018
©Carole Tyrrell

 

The snowdrop’s appearance has also inspired many comments . According to the Scottish Wildlife Trusts website they have been described as resembling 3 drops of milk hanging from a stem and they are also associated with the ear drop which is an old fashioned ear ring.  Anyone who has seen a group of snowdrops nodding in the wind will understand what they mean.   The snowdrop’s colour is associated with purity and they have been described as a shy flower with their drooping flowers.  However, the eco enchantments website reveals that the flower is designed in this way due:

‘to the necessity of their dusty pollen being kept dry and sweet in order to attract the few insects flying in winter.’

Snowdrops have been known since ancient times and, in 1597, appeared in Geralde’s ‘Great Herbal where they were called by the less than catchy name of ‘Timely Flowers Bulbous Violets’.  Its Latin name is Galanthus nivalis.  Galanthus means milk white flowers and the nivalis element translates as snowy according to the great botanist, Linnaeus in 1753.   In the language of flowers they’re associated with ‘Hope’ and the coming of spring and life reawakening.

However, yet despite all these positive associations, the elegant snowdrop has a much darker side. Monks were reputed to have brought them to the UK but it was the ever enthusiastic Victorians who copiously planted them in graveyards, churchyards and cemeteries which then linked them with death.  Hence the nickname name ‘Death’s Flower.’

They were described by Margaret Baker in the 1903 ‘Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore and the Occult of the World’ as:

‘so much like a corpse in a shroud that in some counties  the people will not have it in the house, lest they bring in death.‘

Snowdrops, St George’s Beckenham.
©Carole Tyrrell

So that’s where the ‘Corpse Flower’ nickname came from.

Snowdrops are also seen as Death’s Tokens and there are several regional folk traditions of connecting death with them. For example in the 19th and early 20th centuries it was considered very unlucky to bring the flower into the house from outside as it was felt that a death would soon occur.  The most unlucky snowdrop was that with a single bloom on its stem.    Other folk traditions were described in a 1913 folklore handbook which claims that if a snowdrop was brought indoors it will make the cows milk watery and affect the colour of the butter.  Even as late as 1969 in ‘The Folklore of Plants’  it was stated that having a snowdrop indoors could affect the number of eggs that a sitting chicken might hatch.  A very powerful plant if these are all to be believed – you have been warned!

It’s amazing that this little flower has so many associations and legends connected with it but I always see it as a harbinger of spring, rebirth and an indication of warmer days to come.

But the snowdrop also has a surprise.  This came courtesy of the Urban Countryman page on Facebook – not all social media is time wasting!  If you very gently turn over a snowdrop bloom you will find that the underside is even prettier and they also vary depending on the snowdrop variety.

Here is a small selection from my local churchyard and one from Kensal Green cemetery.

So don’t underestimate the snowdrop – it’s a plant associated with life and death but watch out for your hens and the colour of your butter if you do decide to tempt fate…..

 

©Carole Tyrrell text and photos unless otherwise stated

References:

http://www.plantlore.com

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/naturestudies/bright-in-winters-depths-why-the-flawless-flower-of-candlemas-is-ajoy-forever-8483967

http://www.flowermeaning.com/snowdrop-flower-meaning

http://www.ecoenchantments.co.uk/mysnowdropmagicpage.html

https://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/2014/03/natures-death-tokens/

 

 

 

 

Names from the Necropolis – No 1 in an occasional series.

 

The Bellchambers headstone, St Mary’s, churchyard, Rverhead, Kent
©Carole Tyrrell

 

Pottering about cemeteries, burial grounds and graveyards as I do while undertaking research can often lead to  unexpected discoveries.  As  I search for symbols and epitaphs, and the occasional wildlife, I often find unusual names recorded on headstones and memorials,  They’re often names that you don’t see every day and so, if you’re a writer like myself, cemeteries can often provide inspiration for naming characters especially if it’s a historical piece.

So here is a small selection from St Mary’s churchyard, Riverhead, near Sevenoaks, Kent that I saw earlier in February 2019 on a lovely Spring like day, Crocuses and snowdrops clustered around the headstones and seeing a name like Mercy Bellchambers on a headstone felt really appropriate.  Now that’s a name really crying out to be used in a historical novel…..

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

Wildlife in Cemeteries No 8 – the dark side of the Snowdrop

Snowdrops in St George’s churchyard, Beckenham.
©Carole Tyrrell

Imagine yourself in a gloomy medieval church on the festival of Candlemass. You, and your fellow parishioners, have each brought your candles to be blessed by the priest and, after the procession which will fill the church with light, they will all be placed in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary.   Candlemass marked the end of winter and the beginning of Spring and the blessing is to ward off evil spirits.  It traditionally falls on February 2 and is shared with the Celtic festival of Imbolc.  And in the churchyard outside you can see green shoots forcing their way up through the hard winter earth.  The snowdrop’s milk-white flowers show that spring is on its way as they begin to emerge into the light.

The placing of the lit candles in front of the Virgin Mary’s statue gave the snowdrop one of its many other names – Mary’s Tapers.  But there are many others such: Dingle Dangle, Candlemas Bells, Fair Maids of February, Snow Piercer, Death’s Flower and Corpse Flower.

Snowdrops, Brompton Cemetery, January 2018
©Carole Tyrrell

 

The snowdrop’s appearance has also inspired many comments . According to the Scottish Wildlife Trusts website they have been described as resembling 3 drops of milk hanging from a stem and they are also associated with the ear drop which is an old fashioned ear ring.  Anyone who has seen a group of snowdrops nodding in the wind will understand what they mean.   The snowdrop’s colour is associated with purity and they have been described as a shy flower with their drooping flowers.  However, the eco enchantments website reveals that the flower is designed in this way due:

‘to the necessity of their dusty pollen being kept dry and sweet in order to attract the few insects flying in winter.’

Snowdrops have been known since ancient times and, in 1597, appeared in Geralde’s ‘Great Herbal where they were called by the less than catchy name of ‘Timely Flowers Bulbous Violets’.  Its Latin name is Galanthus nivalis.  Galanthus means milk white flowers and the nivalis element translates as snowy according to the great botanist, Linnaeus in 1753.   In the language of flowers they’re associated with ‘Hope’ and the coming of spring and life reawakening.

However, yet despite all these positive associations, the elegant snowdrop has a much darker side. Monks were reputed to have brought them to the UK but it was the ever enthusiastic Victorians who copiously planted them in graveyards, churchyards and cemeteries which then linked them with death.  Hence the nickname name ‘Death’s Flower.’

They were described by Margaret Baker in the 1903 ‘Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore and the Occult of the World’ as:

‘so much like a corpse in a shroud that in some counties  the people will not have it in the house, lest they bring in death.‘

Snowdrops, St George’s Beckenham.
©Carole Tyrrell

So that’s where the ‘Corpse Flower’ nickname came from.

Snowdrops are also seen as Death’s Tokens and there are several regional folk traditions of connecting death with them. For example in the 19th and early 20th centuries it was considered very unlucky to bring the flower into the house from outside as it was felt that a death would soon occur.  The most unlucky snowdrop was that with a single bloom on its stem.    Other folk traditions were described in a 1913 folklore handbook which claims that if a snowdrop was brought indoors it will make the cows milk watery and affect the colour of the butter.  Even as late as 1969 in ‘The Folklore of Plants’  it was stated that having a snowdrop indoors could affect the number of eggs that a sitting chicken might hatch.  A very powerful plant if these are all to be believed – you have been warned!

It’s amazing that this little flower has so many associations and legends connected with it but I always see it as a harbinger of spring, rebirth and an indication of warmer days to come.

But the snowdrop also has a surprise.  This came courtesy of the Urban Countryman page on Facebook – not all social media is time wasting!  If you very gently turn over a snowdrop bloom you will find that the underside is even prettier and they also vary depending on the snowdrop variety.

Here is a small selection from my local churchyard and one from Kensal Green cemetery.

So don’t underestimate the snowdrop – it’s a plant associated with life and death but watch out for your hens and the colour of your butter if you do decide to tempt fate…..

 

©Carole Tyrrell text and photos unless otherwise stated

References:

http://www.plantlore.com

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/naturestudies/bright-in-winters-depths-why-the-flawless-flower-of-candlemas-is-ajoy-forever-8483967

http://www.flowermeaning.com/snowdrop-flower-meaning

http://www.ecoenchantments.co.uk/mysnowdropmagicpage.html

https://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/2014/03/natures-death-tokens/

 

 

 

 

Wildlife in cemeteries No 7 – dragonflies and damselflies

With gossamer wings which turn into tiny rainbows under the sun’s rays as they pose on trees and tombstones and incredible acrobatic flying displays dragonflies and damselflies are regular visitors to my local churchyard.  And 2017 has been an incredible year for spotting them.

I don’t think that a chucrwarden in St George’s, Beckenham, believed me when, in 2016, she found me trying to capture a Southern Hawker  which was conveniently posing on a  lofty yew branch..   But this year, I have seen so many in there that it did become a regular part of my day to walk through and look for them.

I would watch in amazement at their aerodynamics and speed as their 4 wings whirled furiously like helicopter blades as they flew at speed.   However, they would also fly at a more leisurely pace around and around before, tantalisingly, they would veer off into the foliage of trees to vanish from sight.  It would often be the bigger dragonflies such as Southern Hawkers that I would see on the wing but also as the summer moved on, Common Darters began to appear.

Often a dragonfly would obligingly land on a tombstone or lower branch and I noticed that they were particularly attracted to evergreens such as yews.  This might account for their attraction to cemeteries and graveyards.

Here’s a selection of my favourite images of dragonflies and damselflies from both cemeteries and churchyards:

This is a Southern Hawker from 2016 and was seen it in St George’s churchyard, Beckenham.

Southern Hawker on yew, St George’s churchyard Beckenham August 2017
©Carole Tyrrell

This is a male Emperor from Kensal Green cemetery, London in July 2017. I spotted him/her flying around above The Meadow section which is left uncut around the monuments and tombstones during the summer to encourage wildlife such as butterflies, In some parts it’s very damp underfoot hence the dragonfly I thought. It evaded my attempts to photograph it until, near the entrance as I was leaving, it landed temporarily on an ivy clad monument.

Male Emperor, Kensal Green cemetery July 2017
©Carole Tyrrell

These are two damselflies from Beckenham Cemetery’s Garden of Remembrance pool from July 2017. From July –August it is a magnet for red and azure damselflies.  They look almost like tiny, coloured sticks floating on the breeze and I caught these two ovipositing i.e. laying eggs.  The upright one is laying the eggs and the other is holding it steady.

Damselfiles ovipositing (laying eggs) Beckenham cemetery June 2017
©Carole Tyrrell

Again from St George’s but from 2017, I waited patiently until this beautiful male Southern Hawker landed and helpfully rested on a tombstone.  It stayed there for a few minutes until it got fed up and flew off again.

Male Southern Hawker on tombstone, St George’s churchyard, Beckenham August 2017
©Carole Tyrrell

This is a Common Darter and I saw several over the summer this year in the churchyard. For some reason they were particularly attracted to the pink granite monuments – a cool surface on a hot summer’s day?

Common Darter on pink granite monument, St George’s churchyard Beckenham August 2017
©Carole Tyrrell

I enjoy looking out for them and on one occasion last year the angle at which the dragonfly was perched on a yew branch and the way in which the sun shone through its wings made them look as if they were made from burnished copper.

So do look up when you’re next visiting a cemetery or churchyard on a warm summer’s day and you might be surprised.  I’m looking forward to what the summer of 2018 might bring already!

©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

Wildlife in Cemeteries no 6 – a summer Sunday saunter

A wonderful and colourful display of hollyhocks over a grave in a clearing behind the Anglican chapel at Kensal Green Cemetery.
©Carole Tyrrell

Summer is when you can really appreciate the wild corners and places within cemeteries.  Often spaces between tombstones and monuments will be left unmown or unscythed which allows grasses to grow tall.  The rapidly expanding bramble stands are good hiding places for foxes to hide in or use to travel between.   Already ripe, plump blackberries are dessert for hungry birds and jam makers.

Wildflowers begin to stud the grass and undergrowth with bright dots of colour as they bud and begin to flower under the summer sun’s rays.  These create dazzling combinations of colour as they grow together. At Kensal Green one area near the closed catacomb terrace is designated as a meadow.  I stood inside it in early July of this year, almost waist high in grass and flowers,  surrounded by flitting butterflies and day flying moths, leaping grasshoppers and even a large blue Emperor dragonfly.  The latter was a complete surprise.  There was even a pair of courting Small White butterflies as well.  I just felt so happy to be there with the sun on my face and nature getting on with itself regardless of me.

Ragwort, a bright yellow plant which is rampant at the moment, divides opinion in some quarters. It  has been described as a weed and a wildflower.  Butterflies love it but it’s poisonous to cattle and horses.  I counted 8 Gatekeepers on one Ragwort flower head munching away quite contentedly.  The cemeteries that I explored teamed with wildlife and sometimes unusual or uncommon specimens.

I am a Citizen Scientist (not the most catchiest of titles I must admit and it sounds somewhat po-faced)which means that I go about recording wildlife and what I see on my urban ramblings for various websites including irecord and the LondonButterflyProject. Cemeteries are highly recommended by the latter organisation as great places in which to find butterflies and now, I go to a cemetery or graveyard first, in order to do my count.

So here’s a gallery of what you might find on a sunny afternoon wander through a marble orchard.

NB: Be careful and take care if walking through or exploring areas of long grass and wildflowers as monuments can be camouflaged by them. So wear appropriate footwear – not flips-flops – and watch out for kerbstones and the edges of graves so that you don’t trip over them. Also, due to subsidence monuments can also be at odd angles so again take care.

©Photos and text Carole Tyrrell

©Photos and text Carole Tyrrell

Lotta – the dachshund with the waggiest tail…….Knebworth House’s pet cemetery

Henna. ©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell
A poignant tribute to Henna.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

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

A better view of Beau's epitaph. ©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell
A better view of Beau’s epitaph.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

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.

© Text and photos Carole Tyrrell

Here is a selection of the epitaphs: