My Mother’s Voice

Alzheimer’s being the conniving thieving bitch that  it is, my mother wasn’t herself in the final years of her life. The  woman I visited in the Alzheimer’s special care unit was a stranger wearing my mother’s skin but not much else, like the invasion of the body snatchers had taken place, month after month beneath the surface, until one day we looked and the woman we knew was gone, replaced by some alien being. An imposter. Intruder alert. Intruder alert. She died back in 2012. Don’t worry; I won’t be getting maudlin on you.  My real mother–not that stranger in a wheel chair, head nodding on her shoulder–is who I want to think about today.  My real mother —Enid Maude Good nee Hayden, a prim, old-fashioned name, perhaps the only thing about her I didn’t love— was British-born and had a lovely London lilt to her voice her whole life even though she left England in the mid-1950’s. I suppose at thirty, her vocal patterns were already frozen in place.  Sounding like a cross between

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Above Ground on the London Underground—Day 21: The Magnificent Seven

 Central Avenue, Bromton Cemetery    
IMAGE CREDIT  © The Royal Parks 
I’m taking a virtual walking tour ‘above ground’ on the London Underground. Using my Tube guide & my fitbit® device, my goal is to walk 10,000 steps a day roughly following along the Underground route, reporting back here on Fridays with my findings. Here are the days that came before. We're in the vicinity of the Piccadilly Line. This is Day 21.

The Magnificent Seven. Not to be confused with the 1960 movie starring Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and Robert Vaughn, the Magnificent Seven is a group of London cemeteries built over a decade in the middle of the 1800’s. And one of those cemeteries, Brompton, is just up Cromwell Road from where we left off last week at LAMDA in Hammersmith.

In the first half of the19th century, London’s population doubled from 1 million to 2.3 million, and with that growth, came the overcrowding of the city’s burial grounds, typically small graveyards attached to parish churches. Coffins were stacked on top of each other, the top level just inches under ground. Bodies were routinely moved and dismembered to make room for the newly dead. According to Lee Jackson, author of Dirty Old London, neglectful gravediggers left body parts to rot, and sold chopped up coffins to the poor for firewood. There were reports of rats ravaging the dead, bacteria getting into the water supply and causing epidemics. 

Something had to give. That was the atmosphere, foul-smelling, potentially epidemic-causing, that gave birth to the Magnificent Seven. Luckily for the upper middle classes and generally well-to-do, a bill was enacted by parliament encouraging the creation of cemeteries that did double duty as parks, much like the beautiful Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, thus the Magnificent Seven were born: Kensal Green was first in 1832, followed by West Norwood in 1836, Highgate Cemetery (1839), Abney Park Cemetery (1840), Nunhead Cemetery (1840)—we visited Nunhead when we were in Peckham a few weeks agoTower Hamlets Cemetery (1841) and the cemetery we’re visiting today, Brompton, built in 1840. 

Today, while still a working graveyard, Brompton is managed by the Royal Parks. You’ve likely been to Brompton before by the way; the cemetery has appeared onscreen in Golden Eye, Wings of the Dove, Sherlock Holmes and Johnny English. 

image credit: Kal Pacha

The Friends of the Park offer a two-hour long tour every Sunday in May through August, and twice monthly tours from September through April. Tours can also be had by arrangement during the week. Technically I’m a bit early which is a shame, because while I can still walk all over the grounds, and view the ornate monuments, elaborate and opulent tributes to those interred there, I won’t be able to tour the catacombs. And I would really, really love to visit the catacombs. How deliciously creepy they are, at once gorgeously gothic and alive with decay, almost as though they were created for Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction or a concoction from the mind of a Hollywood set designer.

The Catacombs at Brompton   Image Credit: The Bohemian Blog 

Still, there’s plenty to see outside.  

© The Royal Parks 

The cemetery contains over 35,000 monuments including that of the family Nutkins, possibly the inspiration for Beatrix Potter who lived nearby. Supposedly, there’s also Mr. McGregor, Mr. Brock, Mr. Tod, Jeremiah Fisher and even a Peter Rabbett, impossible to check, although with that vast amount of graves, the odds are in its favor. 

While there are park benches where one might sit and enjoy a bit of a picnic, and while I did stop at Tesco to pick up some fruit and cheese and a soft roll, and while people walk their dogs and ride their bikes down the Central Avenue, I am not quite comfortable enough to sit a spell and munch. You know what they say, it’s a lovely place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. 

I’ll finish my 10,000 steps a day, and then, quick as a bunny before it gets dark, I’ll hightail it out of there.

Visit The Friends of Brompton and the Brompton Cemetery websites to find some of the more famous people buried there including suffragette Emmeline Parkhurst. 

Oh, and have I ever told you? I decided long ago on cremation. I'm

having my ashes scattered into the Pacific Ocean, where my spirit can float free. Just so you know.

The Brompton Cemetery 
Fulham Rd, London SW10 9UG
Phone: +44 20 7352 1201

Counting the Fitbit Steps

    Day 1-120:                                          165,690 steps/74.7 miles

    Day 21:  To Brompton Cemetery           6975 steps/3.1 miles
                  At Brompton                            3375 steps/1.5 miles
                                                                 10,350 steps/4.6 miles

    Total Imaginary Miles to Date  176,040 steps/79,3 miles

    Read last week’s post: Day 20

    Linking, as I do every Friday,  with Joy’s British Isles Friday


    1. Would like to find the other 20 days.

      1. Thanks so much Tea! Is it TayUh or Tee, by the way???
        There’s a tab at the top of the blog but I’ve also added the link to the blurb under the main picture. Thanks so much, I should have thought to do that myself.

    2. Fascinating! I loved the pictures. I have often noticed what nice places cemeteries are for walking, but like you, I find it hard to enjoy walking in one. Taking an imaginary walking tour is a great idea for getting your steps in, too!

      1. Those imaginary steps don’t quite whittle the waistline in the way I want though. :(

    3. I can feel ancient breath through your photos. It's so exiting.

      1. Thnx. While I didn’t take the photos—but I hope to go in person and do so soon—and I can’t take credit for their excellence (I hope I’ve credited appropriately) I spend a fair amount of time googling around for the right images. I’ll take credit for being a decent researcher!

    4. That is right up my alley. I love old graveyards and looking at the various stones and artwork. You gave me a history lesson here too! This might be my favorite post....but you have had so many others that are appealing!

    5. What a beautiful cemetery! We have an enormous one in St. Louis from about the same timeperiod for some of the same reasons.


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