A walk around Tower Hamlets Cemetery

Tower Hamlets Cemetery, opened in the 1840s, is one of the less well-known cemeteries in London, possibly because it is the burial place of relatively ordinary people rather than historical celebrities or members of the upper classes which has kept interest high in places like Kensal Green.   However it is one of the loveliest I think for, as with most older disused cemeteries, it provides an area of wilderness in the East End of the city and, surrounded as it is by tower blocks, there is an interesting juxtaposition between the bustling, modern city on the one hand and the quiet solitude of the woodland paths on the other.  I went for a walk around the cemetery in the Winter; it had a kind of stark beauty with the leafless trees, but also made me feel a bit safer since it was a lonely place to walk alone, as a very friendly elderly man pointed out to me.  However the place was evidently well-used by joggers, people walking their dogs and even a family come to look at the gravestones so it was not completely solitary.  According to the very interesting book 'London's Cemeteries' by Darren Beach (Metro Publications, London, 2006) which I recommend for anyone with more than a passing interest in visiting cemeteries, Tower Hamlets cemetery is the largest area of woodland in east London and the decision was consciously taken to develop it into a haven for wildlife after a long period of neglect.  Another interesting fact is that it was bombed copiously during the war and some of the marks from the shrapnel can still be seen on some of the graves.

A view along one of the main paths running around the perimeter of the cemetery, looking towards nearby housing estates

The grander, more imposing memorials are located in probably the most expensive part of the cemetery, conspicuous along the main path

An intricate detail on one of the memorials showing a ship sinking at sea, a common hazard in the age of sail

One of the ponds, home to wildlife in the cemetery (the railway line is in the background)

Memorials emerging romantically from a sea of green foliage

Much of the cemetery is dense woodland

On my journey to reach the cemetery I walked from the centre of London through Whitechapel, Mile End and along to Tower Hamlets.  It was a good long walk and along the way I saw many fascinating traces of the city's history.  For instance just before Mile End there was an attractive 'estate' of almshouses arranged around a green and enclosed with ornate fences and gatehouses.  Upon the gatehouses were carved ships, which suggested to me it was a home for retired naval men or sailors, something like that.

Although it was right on the main road, the little estate looked very peaceful and a step back in time.

Closer to Whitechapel is the Royal London Hospital, a very grand building, which was once the home, in his final years, of Leicester's Joseph Carey Merrick, otherwise known by his 'stage' name of the Elephant Man.


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