A Misty Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, what an atmospheric walk we had in the cemetery today! The freezing fog seemed to muffle every sound except the cawing of crows and the screeching of jays. The frost had touched the plants on the more open areas, turning this stonecrop into what looks like a mass of miniature cacti.

We decided to take a slightly different path from the one that we usually do – when there’s no view of the sky it seems perverse to take the route next to the North Circular Road with its constant traffic. So we passed this enormous mausoleum which is the tomb of Ludwig Mond, a German industrialist and chemist who developed a way of extracting nickel from its ore (called the Mond process). He was a benefactor of many scientific institutions, including the Royal Society. The tomb is based on the Temple of Nemesis in Rome, and is Grade II listed.

On we go. I love the underused, overgrown paths through some parts of the cemetery, like ‘Straight Road’ here. To the right, the moss has grown over something. I think it looks rather like a sleeping dog.

A sleeping moss dog?

We pass the grave of poor Percival Spencer, described here as an aeronaut – he was in fact an early adherent of hot-air ballooning. Legend has it that this tomb once bore the effigy of a balloon, but there’s no sign here. Spencer was the third generation of balloonists in his family, and made many cross-Channel crossings. He was the first person to fly a hot-air balloon in India in 1889, and subsequently passed his knowledge on to Ram Chandra Chatterjee, who was the first Indian to fly solo later that month. In the same year, Spencer was the first person to parachute safely in Ireland (one worries somewhat about the unsafe parachute adventures, but history has drawn a veil over those proceedings). After such an exciting life, Spencer’s end was decidedly earth-bound – he passed away from pneumonia at his home in Highbury, aged only 49.

Close by is this splendid headstone – there are a few of these monumental blocks in the cemetery, but none of the others have an artist’s palette on the front. Sadly, the wording is almost gone so I’m unable to tell you who was buried here. My husband thought that the palette was the cartoon figure of a man’s head smoking a cigar, and once you’ve seen it it’s difficult to see it any other way.

Further on I passed this rather cubist piece of tree surgery. I find all the planes and the way that the algae is shading the faces fascinating. The tree itself seems none the worse for the experience, and is already bursting with buds.

Then we pass another very fine mausoleum, this one with gold mosaics and a finely-wrought angel over the door. It’s the tomb of Letizia Melesi who, in 1913, was struck and killed by a taxi cab – this might have been the first road accident. One of the panels at the front shows the poor lady being helped to heaven by an angel while an alarmed taxicab driver gesticulates from his vehicle. The other panel shows Letizia’s husband, Gaetano, praying beside the tomb. All progress comes at a cost, for sure.

Photo One from http://www.mmtrust.org.uk/mausolea/picture_view/214/Melesi_Mausoleum

Photo One

Photo Two from http://www.mmtrust.org.uk/mausolea/picture_view/214/Melesi_Mausoleum

Photo Two

I think I’ve featured William Alexander Lamond before, but I never fail to be impressed by his statue. He looks almost as if he’s just about to step off his pedestal. He died in 1926, aged just 57, but his loving wife, Helena, lived on until 1961 when she was 95. Whenever I pass, he always has a bunch of flowers in his hand. Someone still loves him, clearly.

By now I’m thoroughly chilled to the bone in spite of the thermals, so we head for home.

But what is this, blooming by the side of the path? Did no one tell this plant that it’s the end of December? Well, this is winter heliotrope (Petasites fragrans), introduced from Italy in 1806 and known from the wild since 1835. The little flowers are said to be strongly almond-scented, but there are too few of them, and it’s too cold for them to make much of an impression today. Still, if any bumblebee was foolish enough to stick her furry head outside for a quick nip of nectar, at least her search wouldn’t be totally in vain.

Flower of winter heliotrope

Photo Credits

Photo One from http://www.mmtrust.org.uk/mausolea/picture_view/214/Melesi_Mausoleum

Photo Two from http://www.mmtrust.org.uk/mausolea/picture_view/214/Melesi_Mausoleum

8 thoughts on “A Misty Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

  1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    I thought your ‘dog’ looked like a crouched Gollum in a green coat! And I see there’s a war grave headstone next to your artist’s palette/smoking head. From what I could read he was a young (22 yo) signalman. My dad was a signalman in the Navy. šŸ˜Š

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      My husband is taking pictures of all the war graves in the cemetery – I’ll have to get him to upload them, there are quite a few from the navy.

      1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

        My wife is fascinated by them. Wherever we go she seeks out any of those headstones. As you may recall I’ve posted quite a few images following our trips across Belgium. even in his book my dad never mentioned whether any of his shipmates perished. As far as I know, none of the boats he served on were ever hit.

      2. Bug Woman Post author

        I do remember Mike, in fact I think it was a post about a cruiser that got us talking in the first place! I’ll get my husband to upload his photos, and will see if there are any navy ones…

  2. Ann Bronkhorst

    Percival Spencer’s balloon-effigy, a huge stone sphere, indeed was there, and I remember it well. Don’t know if it was removed by the cemetery staff to forestall an accident or vandalism, or whether it was stolen. The delightful statue of the original Pearly King, beneath a magnificent cedar, was vandalised so often that it was removed for safe keeping. Could go on…and on…

  3. Pingback: A Sunny Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery | Bug Woman – Adventures in London

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