I found out about Hyde Park’s best kept secret through an outdated blog post, which popped up after I searched for ‘interesting cemeteries london’, as I am wont to do on occasion. At the time the blog stated that the cemetery was not generally open to the public, but was accessible on the odd occasion. Like the privately owned, hidden church in my hometown of Norwich, I resigned myself to not ever being able to gain access to this spooky hidden gem. The cemetery wasn’t (and still isn’t) listed on the Hyde Park website as part of the history or memorials to visit. People had commented on the blogpost that they had never been inside but had been able to peek over the iron railings. I decided I would do this the next time I was in the area (which I never am because there are no pubs near that corner of Hyde Park).
About six months later I was browsing the events for Month of the Dead in London, planning suitable entertainment for my birthday, and discovered that the little cemetery was open for tours during the month of October. I immediately bought two tickets and knew I was going to have one of the best birthdays.
On the day the tour had to be edited due to bad weather. It had planned to include the memorial to animals in war and the spot of the Tyburn Tree (where hangings took place for over 650 years). We didn’t see either of these monuments, both odd in opposite ways, but I was assured that the pet cemetery would still be open. Our tour group was a wonderfully eclectic bunch – an American tourist, a gay couple, a young steampunk photographer (complete with high lace-up boots and googles on his hat) and then my tattooed friends and me. My friend told the tour guide it was my birthday (something I haven’t thought of doing since I was about eight years old) and she wished me happy birthday. When we reached the lodge, which houses the cemetery in its tiny garden, the guide said the birthday girl could unlock the gate. I think I was more excited than when I was eight.
The key was reassuringly old. A hefty, iron skeleton key which turned satisfyingly in the lock of the metal gate. It crossed my mind more than once how it might feel to take the key home, knowing I could visit the little graveyard whenever I wanted. The metal gate and railings that surrounded the miniature garden of rest had been covered in cane matting, presumably to prevent people seeing in from the pavement outside. We walked a few steps of the path along side the lodge and the rows of little headstones greeted us as the garden opened. The sun had come out at some point and made the cemetery perfect for photos. It was clear to see why only small groups were allowed, there wasn’t enough room to move between the stones for more than a handful of careful people.
The cemetery was clearly popular in it’s time, as wee markers stood up against one another, with some marking more than one pet’s passing. I took photos of my favourites, most likely with a stupd grin on my face, as I couldn’t believe I’d actually managed to get inside. Smut and Microbe were two that made me smile, as well as Tim (I love it when people give pets human names. It’s not as amusing the other way round though). Only in a pet cemetery could you find markers with ‘Scum’ and ‘Danger’ written on them. There was also a pet rabbit, a very fat cat and possibly a crocodile buried there. I could have spent a long time reading each headstone, but eventually we had to leave. I wondered who lived in or used the lodge and if it ever came up for sale…
After the Pet Cemetery, which was going to be hard to top, we visited the crematorium where Bram Stoker rests. After discovering which part of the large and winding building his casket was in, we discovered it was ‘closed for maintenance’. I think it was closed because it was the week before Halloween and they predicted vandalism. I just wanted to say hi and let him wish me a happy birthday. We saw Marc Bolan’s memorial, and then got lost in the japanese garden of rest. After finding our way out of the garden and into a taxi, we had drinks in a couple of supposedly haunted pubs in nearby Hampstead. We didn’t see any ghosts, or hear any of Black Bess’ hoof clops, but we had some nice beers and some suitably spooky cupcakes.
I’ve already been sent suggestions for next years birthday gravecrawl.