A Wander round some Cemeteries

Walks correspondent JOHN GOODIER highlights the amenity value of some cemeteries in East London

This year there has been a particular interest in cemeteries, so 1 thought a walk round some cemeteries would be of interest.

St Patrick's Cemetery, Leyton
St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cemetery, Leyton

The first is St Patrick's Roman Catholic Cemetery in Leyton, opened in 1868 in response to the rapidly growing population of Catholic immigrants. One enters to a host of images of Christ, the saints and angels, mainly in white marble. The area of war graves in their standard form stand out in contrast to the typical graves here. Just a few trees interrupt this vision. In an area close to the railway, it appears that the ground level has been raised to permit new burials above the earlier graves. St Patrick's has run out of space for new burials. Worth looking out for is a very modern mausoleum from 1963.

West Ham Cemetery, a local Burial Board site from 1857, shows its Anglican and non-conformist origins in the absence of representations of people and angels. The trees are part of the design. There is a small are of standard roses to commemorate those cremated. Next door to this cemetery is a Jewish Cemetery of the United Synagogue from 1857, with the large block-shaped grave stones and spectacular Rothschild mausoleum.

On the way to our next site we can pass through Forest Lane Park. This is a new park in a new housing development. It has woodland and a large pond for biodiversity. There is a separate pond-dipping pond that is raised so children can dip without lying on the ground. There is some grass and seats and a separate young children's play area.

Adapted for Cremations

Manor House Cemetery is a private cemetery from 1874. It includes a crematorium opened in 1955 and incorporating parts of a bombed chapel. There is an extensive area of roses and flower beds. There is also an area for displaying the floral tributes. This custom stated in the late 60s when cremation was becoming more usual and there needed to be a way of moving on groups of mourners via a different route to the next party arriving. There is the usual variety of grave markers in the cemetery area, but a recent addition is an area for SANDS burials. (Still and Neo-natal Deaths). This is becoming a feature of cemeteries, and usually a more permissive attitude to toys and photos is allowed in such areas. The City of London Cemetery is only about 20 minutes' walk away but that needs a full visit.

Woodgrange, a private cemetery, is a sad story. It became neglected and the chapel was becoming a ruin and it was much over grown. A private Muslim cemetery is adjacent to it. More recently much of Woodgrange has been cleared and is now a Muslim Cemetery. There is now an office at the gate and the war memorial is now visible. So we have lost some history but gained a working cemetery.

Our journey takes us past another Jewish Cemetery, also for the United Synagogue. Unfortunately the owners feel they have to be kept very secure so even a view through the gates on the route I took is not possible.

Sporting Options

A series of small parks takes us to our last cemetery. The first is Plashet Park, which is mainly given over to sports. There are some good trees and two formal gardens: an old one at the north and a new or reconstructed one at the south. As this is by the register office, it should find itself in lots of wedding photos.

Priory Park is an irregular park in Upton Park. It has lots of play equipment and areas of grass. I visited the park on a local history walk, when I was also shown the memorials at West Ham football stadium to those whose ashes are scattered there and the Bobby Moore Statue at the crossroads.

Plaistow Park is also mainly for games but the main western entrance has a pool with an overflowing bowl fountain, which is working, set in a circle of rose beds and a circle of bedding.

A slight detour allows us to So along the Greenway to the East London Cemetery, another private cemetery. One of the chapels, dating from 1900 was converted to a crematorium in 1954, so there are lots of standard roses. There are also a waterfall and small secluded gardens and the start of places to have standard engraved plaques. Another new idea is grave space and grave cover available for lease. It is the more traditional graves that are worth the journey; a dartboard and a lifelike statue of the deceased lady complete with handbag are a couple of good ones. There are three war memorials. The one in the entrance with gun, sword and cap in iron stands out. The largest monument is to those who died at the launch of HMS Albion in 1898, when a wave destroyed a small bridge that people were standing on.

Next door is Memorial Park, a First World War memorial that once had a cycle track. Sports fields were an appropriate memorial, given the poor health of many of the young soldiers who fought in the first war. When I last saw it about 10 years ago, it was a flat grass field. In 2005 it gained ‘Grassroots’ – a community centre and café. It has an accessible roof that is grassed over. There is an adventure playground, and amphitheatre for teenagers and a young children's play area. In 2009 it gained improved soccer and rugby facilities and changing rooms.

Thames Iron Works Memorial

The park was once the playing field of the Thames Iron Works, and is where West ham Football Club started. There is a commemorative sculpture consisting of 11 iron posts with long hammers that can be used to strike the iron. They are laid out with reference to construction lines of HMS Albion and so are a memorial to both the victims and the iron works.

Multifunctional Spaces

A few final thoughts on the various sites. The parks are all multifunctional, even if there is, as is the case in densely urban areas, an emphasis on sport. The various cemeteries have gained and still allow a variety of grave markers. Both types of site have meanings that are personal and which are shared.