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Sunday, 31 October 2010

A Royal Hallowe'en, Ghosts and Cemeteries of the 19th Century

A somewhat supernatural theme to today’s post with it being Hallowe’en. First of all, if you’ve ever wondered what kind of thing the Victorian Royal Family did for Hallowe’en, wonder no more:

From The Times November 4th 1879:
HALLOWE'EN AT BALMORAL. - On Friday night this festival was celebrated at Balmoral Castle with weird effect. The Queen and Princess Beatrice remained interested spectators till the close. Two large processions, picturesquely attired, met on the Castle lawn, and Princess Beatrice lighted a great bonfire. A body of gorgeously dressed figures with a band of music then appeared. Subsequently a witch was tried and condemned, and an effigy burnt. Afterwards there was a “witch hunt”. The Queen took great interest in the proceedings, which closed with drinking Her Majesty's health and singing the National Anthem. The weather was particularly favourable for full effect being given to display.

Which sounds fun, and is a nice little insight I think. Continuing in the “spirit” of all things spooky, another article from The Times, this time from 1885, relating to the rather comical sounding capture of a ‘ghost’ in Derby;

The Times, September 29th 1885:
CAPTURE OF A GHOST. - For several weeks past considerable excitement has been caused in various outlying districts of Derby by a report that a ghost had been observed. It would appear that a number of young men had been acting the ghost, their modus operandi being to envelope themselves in a white sheet at certain times and to appear and disappear with wonderful rapidity. The effect had been to frighten a number of females and children. Many complaints had been lodged with the police authorities and steps had been taken with a view to arrest the ghosts. On Sunday night at about half-past 9 o'clock a young fellow named Frank Gray, a member of the Derby Volunteers, was proceeding along an out-of-the-way place in the town known as Darley-grove, when he noticed some white object hanging partially over an entrance gate to a field. Gray, without hesitation, advanced and, seizing the ghost, called upon him to say who he was. As he would not speak Gray struck him in the face. Thereupon the ghost threw aside the sheet and pulling out a loaded pistol threatened to shoot him. Gray, however, immediately seized the pistol, and, after fully recognizing the ghost, allowed him his liberty. The police were at once informed of the occurrence, the result being that a lad named Christopher Burrows, 16 or 17 years of age, an errand-boy, was apprehended yesterday morning, charged with presenting the pistol at Gray to prevent his apprehension. The chief constable informed the Bench that this sort of thing had been going on for some weeks and that the police had had no end of trouble in the matter. He was not prepared to go into the case that day and applied for a remand, which was granted
One suspects that if this had been a modern story the “ghost” would have been lucky just to get a punch in the face…
Amidst the horror today, and the reading of such classics by Shelley, Stoker or Stephenson that may be going on, if that kind of literature interests you and you wish to get into the spirit of Victorian stories of horror &c then it’s a good idea to check out Lee Jackson's Victorian London website and have a good read through some of the digitized penny dreadful’s in “The Mysteries of London”, a long running series of shocking tales from the 1840’s by G. W. M Reynolds. (The ones about the Resurrectionists are my favourite) A direct link to the Mysteries of London page is here
Also, a new blog entitled "Therein Hangs a Tale - A Historical Compendium of the Dark and Macabre" has just gone online, the link to which is here and also on the front page of this blog. The first posting explores the terrifying phenomenon of premature burial, or being buried alive - an excellent read for this particular holiday!
And finally, some people find them spooky, some don’t, but often they are portrayed in fiction as haunted places, but I find cemeteries - particularly those of the Victorian "Magnificent Seven" in London I have visited to be extremely peaceful and beautiful places, especially when visited at this time of year when the leaves are changing colour, falling and carpeting the ground. 
I have put links to the websites of each cemetery beneath the descriptions, should you wish to know more or plan a visit. Here are a few Victorian cemeteries.
THE SOUTH METROPOLITAN AND NORWOOD CEMETERY was consecrated Dec. 6, 1837 the chapels, by Tite, in the pointed style, are very beautiful; and the grounds are hilly, and picturesquely planted. South Metropolitan / West Norwood 

HIGHGATE AND KENTISH TOWN CEMETERY, consecrated May 20, 1839, lies immediately below Highgate Church. It has a Tudor gate-house and chapel, and catacombs of Egyptian architecture; the ground is laid out in terraces, tastefully planted; and the distant view of the overgrown Metropolis, from among the tombs, is suggestive to a meditative mind. Highgate

ABNEY PARK CEMETERY and Arboretum, lying eastward, at Stoke-Newington,
was opened by the Lord Mayor, May 20, 1840. It was formed from the Park of Sir Thomas Abney, the friend of Dr. Isaac Watts, to mark whose thirty-six years' residence here a statue of the Doctor, by Baily, R.A., was erected in 1845. The Abney mansion was taken down in 1844; many of the fine old trees remain. Abney Park 

WESTMINSTER AND WEST OF LONDON CEMETERY, Earl's Court, Fulham-road, was consecrated June 15, 1840; it has a domed chapel, with semi-circular colonnades of' imposing design. In the grounds is a large altar-tomb, with athlete figures, modeled by Baily, and erected by subscription, to Jackson the pugilist. Brompton (Formerly Westminster & West London 
(All above from John Timbs’ Curiosities of London, 1867)

THE GLASGOW NECROPOLIS, was intended to be interdenominational and the first burial in 1832 was that of a Jew, Joseph Levi, a jeweller. In 1833 the first Christian burial was of Elizabeth Miles, stepmother of the Superintendent, George Mylne.
After 1860, the first extensions east and south were to take up the Ladywell quarry and in 1877 and 1892/3, the final extensions to the north and south-east were constructed, doubling the size of the cemetery. The Necropolis is now 37 acres (15 ha).

50,000 burials have taken place at the Necropolis and most of 3,500 tombs have been constructed up to 14 feet deep, with stone walls and brick partitions. On the top of the Necropolis tombs were blasted out of the rockface.
In 1877 the Molendinar Burn, running under the Bridge of Sighs, was culverted. This burn in which St Mungo was said to have fished for salmon is now underground on its way to the Clyde. Glasgow Necropolis

BROOKWOOD CEMETERY, In 1850 Parliament ordered the closure of the more crowded churchyards in London, and a search was commissioned for a new site of sufficient size and splendour to serve the burial needs of the Metropolis for at least 500 years. To meet these demanding requirements Brookwood Cemetery was created, and, after incorporation by Royal Act of Parliament in 1852, it acquired more than 2,000 acres of land from the Earl of Onslow just 25 miles from the centre of London at Woking in Surrey.
A distinguishing feature of Brookwood Cemetery was the cemetery railway. The London & South Western Railway was engaged to convey coffins and mourners from a private station adjacent to Waterloo down into the Cemetery. At Brookwood there were two stations, one for the Nonconformist sections, the other for the Anglican areas. The funeral trains stopped running after the private London terminus was bombed in April 1941.

Whatever you are doing this evening, be it visiting atmospheric cemeteries, reading Victorian or modern horror literature or dressing up as ghosts and ghouls (beware local would-be heroes!) have a pleasant Hallowe'en!

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