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John Clarke

Historian of Brookwood Cemetery

The Victorian Cemetery

British and Commonwealth War Cemeteries by Julie Summers

The Victorian Cemetery

by Sarah Rutherford

Published by Shire Publications, 2008

ISBN 9780747807018

Price £5.99

Buy at amazon uk

This booklet follows the usual Shire format providing a clear, concise outline of the Victorian Cemetery. Shire has revamped its house style and the booklets are now perfect bound with flat (if thin) spines, rather than the more spartan stapled spines used in the past. Its 64 pages are packed with no less than 114 illustrations (74 of which are in colour) and a wealth of information.

Sarah Rutherford is a Kew-trained gardener and is head of English Heritage’s Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. She traces the background and development of the Victorian Cemetery in six sections. An introductory chapter provides a definition of the subject, outlines the character of the cemetery, and clarifies some of the terminology used. The background to and rise of the Victorian Cemetery is then described. In the section “Creating the Garden Cemetery” many of the great Victorian cemeteries opened down to c.1850 are illustrated and described. The work of John Claudius Loudon follows, before moving onto “the Great Garden of Death”, another survey of the later Victorian Cemeteries through to 1901. This section includes mention of chapels, monuments, planting, railways, people, and cremation. The final section considers the role of these cemeteries today. There is a useful bibliography (including websites) and a list of suggested places to visit.

Given the limitations of the Shire format an incredible amount of information (and illustrations) has been incorporated at a very reasonable price. The author draws on a wide range of examples from across the British Isles. However the same format means that many of the illustrations, including some panoramic views, are squeezed onto the page; yet others are expanded to fill the page. The font size used is small, presumably to fit the text into the 64 pages. It seems odd that over two pages are devoted to the use of railways (when only two cemeteries actually used them); whilst cremation covers just half a page, even though five crematoria are mentioned. There may have been scope to comment on the differences between the landscape of the cemetery and that of the crematorium, both being contrasting approaches to the Victorian management of the disposal of the dead. A few mistakes have crept into the text, such as Woking Crematorium being erected in 1889 (it was 1879); and that Brookwood includes ‘striking avenues of great monkey puzzles’, presumably an oversight for wellingtonias.

Overall I enjoyed reading this booklet. It is attractively produced and priced, and should encourage more people to become interested in the richness and variety of our Victorian cemeteries.

Copyright © 2009 by John M. Clarke All Rights Reserved