Kensal Green Cemetery: being dead in style

eternal insomnia

Just down the road from where I’m staying in north London, the Kensal Green Cemetery houses the mortal remains of many eminent Victorians. Like Highgate Cemetery, which I visited in 2011, it’s one of the “magnificent seven” garden-style cemeteries in London. And just as at Highgate, the groundskeepers’ gardening style is permissive in the extreme, favoring unpruned trees and shrubs and rampant ivy.

breast-feeling angel

It’s a great place to meditate on the ephemerality of all things. Many of the graves and mausoleums are in a state of near-collapse, and 100-year-old sculptures and stonework have eroded in alarming ways.

goofy roof

One of the interesting things that happens with age is that the worst sort of kitsch comes to appear almost graceful.


Even in just a decade or two, genteel decay can transform a brightly painted, mass-produced Virgin of Guadelupe statue into a unique, almost transcendent work of art.

leprous angels

One tomb appeared to be guarded by the angels of leprosy,

sightless angel

while other guardian figures had apparently gone blind from staring at the sun

ivy headache

or green with grief.

Sir Casement

Nature has not been equally unkind to all. Sir William Casement’s sarcophagus with its retinue of four servile telamons supporting an absurd entablature still seems to be in fine shape.

royal engineers

Nor is nature the only inflicter of indignities upon this cemetery’s many and varied memorials.

ivy ghosts

Even the struggles of groundskeepers to preserve some stones from the ravages of ivy leave a mark in the form of ivy ghosts,


and other upkeep efforts provide unintentionally ironic commentaries on the whole memorializing business.

George etcetera

A few of the cemetery’s older inhabitants appear not to have required much embellishment beyond their bare names,

cemetery blackbird

though it seems narrow-minded of them not to have at least provided a perch for birds.

death's door

In the end, the profusion of maimed angels and architectural mash-ups didn’t really manage to distract us from the bald fact of the sealed door beyond which no living thing can pass.

5 Replies to “Kensal Green Cemetery: being dead in style”

    1. Oh wow, I forgot that. Time being relatively short, we made the decision to focus on the older stuff, so didn’t spend as much time looking at the more recent graves.

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