The First Cemetery Walk of 2021

Dear Readers, our first walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery this year saw us getting some glorious weather for a change – this week it has felt as if the sun hasn’t really risen above the horizon, so some brightness was most welcome. The birds seemed to feel it too – this ring-necked parakeet was uncharacteristically obliging as s/he posed in this horse chestnut tree and munched the buds. I see that Defra are talking about culling parakeets, but only in areas where they are new. They are well-established around here, so hopefully they’ll be safe. Personally, I think that with everything else that’s going on, shooting a few parakeets should be low down on the agenda but there’s  no stopping some folk.

Elsewhere, the ash trees were a-twitter with goldfinches, who kept up a constant babble of contact calls that could be heard even over the traffic noise.

There were redwings everywhere, and they were being shy, as usual.

I must have counted twenty blackbirds, probably newly arrived from cooler parts of the continent – although it was long thought that blackbirds didn’t migrate, it’s now known that they often rear their young in one place, and over-winter somewhere else, with one bird spending every summer in a Devon garden and every winter in the south of France. In the winter the birds are much less aggressive and territorial, especially where there’s plenty of food, but they also seem shyer. Not one stood around long enough for a photo.

Fortunately, the moss is a lot more obliging, and on some of the older graves there is a whole miniature ecosystem.

I can just imagine all the tiny creatures slithering and creeping through the ‘jungle’ in search of safety, or prey. And look how the sun catches the moss sporophytes (the ‘flowers’ of the moss).

We have been walking different paths over the last few weeks, and every trip I find another new interesting grave. How about this one, for example?

Gillian Elinor was a bit of a late starter, having given up education to look after her children. However, she was nothing if not determined – she did her A-levels part time, followed by a degree in English and Art History at Birkbeck, followed by a Masters in the USA. Her first teaching job was at the Polytechnic of North East London (now UEL) where she started, at the age of 40, with a one day a week appointment. She stayed for 20 years, for the last 5 of them holding the post of Head of the Arts Department at the University of East London, and devoted many years of her life to the subject of women in the arts. She brought the African and Asian visual arts archive to the university, and was a founder member of Feminist Arts News and was heavily involved in the  Women Artists Slide Library. In 1987 she was joint editor of Women and Craft, published by Virago. She was also involved in the Women’s Art Group in Education, which sought to disclose how few women there were in academic posts.

In her later years, Elinor moved away from the visual arts and became more interested in poetry. Her headstone is an elegant and rather beautiful tribute to her dedication to the recognition of the talents of women, so many of whom are still unsung.

My husband is particularly interested in the war graves in the cemetery: there is a ‘proper’ war graves area, but many are scattered about, often hidden amongst the trees, although all of them have bright, well-scrubbed new headstones, dating from the hundredth anniversary of WW1. This week we found this one; the graves of those who were in the Navy when they died often have more details than those from other services, as in the one below.

A little bit of research shows that Able Seamen Dennis Watts died of ‘illness’ after the war, on 9th March 1946. H.M.S Orlando appears to have been a shore-based HQ on the Clyde in Greenock, sometimes also known as a ‘secret facility’. The trail goes cold at this point however (unless I want to shell out another £180 a year for Ancestry.com). What a sad loss of a human being, though, at only 22 years old.

And this one actually brought me to tears.

George W. Dell was killed at the land-based centre H.M.S Christopher, which was again in Scotland, and was a base for training personnel to use the anti-submarine and patrol boats which were on constant watch around the coast. There are no details, but the lad was only 19. We can only imagine the sorrow with which his parents, back in Barnsbury, Islington, received the news.

That heartfelt message ‘Just one of many – but he was ours’ echoes down the years. I’m sure that the people who are losing their loved ones in the pandemic are just as intent that those that they’ve lost shouldn’t just become another statistic, but should be remembered as the unique individuals that they were. When I read that Joe Biden is planning a remembrance event for 19th January in the US, the day before his inauguration, it makes me think how much we will need something similar when this is finally under control.

But finally, I had never noticed this very elegant little figure before. I am not sure if she is the Virgin Mary, or another saint, but I love how precise and neat she is, with that air of austerity that I usually associate with Japanese sculpture. I think she will be someone that I’ll look out for on future visits.

And finally finally, here are a few more goldfinches, because you can never have too many 🙂

 

 

8 thoughts on “The First Cemetery Walk of 2021

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      They really can, Anne….this one is especially interesting, it reflects the changing demographics of North London and is always full of surprises!

      Reply
  1. SilverTiger

    I like the pictures of the parakeet. They move so fast and keep so busy that they are hard to photograph. I usually only succeed it catching them in silhouette in the distance!

    Reply
      1. Bug Woman Post author

        That was also a most obliging parakeet! Yep you can get some great shots in St James’s Park. They used to have spectacular starling murmurations over the islands too, but no more, sadly.

  2. Lynn D.

    I often walk in the Pioneer Cemetery here in Salem, Oregon. It has many graves of the Methodist Missionaries who first visited this area. One thing I have been curious about is that I hardly ever see graves from around the time of the last pandemic. I’d be curious to know if you’ve found the same to be true. Were victim’s given special burials to avoid contagion? I also rather randomly collect postcards (more for the messages than the pictures) and I’ve never found any mention of “Spanish” flu. Perhaps it was too serious a subject for a postcard.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Very interesting, Lynn! I sometimes wonder if the soldiers who died after the end of WWI (and who were buried as servicemen) actually succumbed to the flu rather than their wounds, though of course it could be both. Thanks for reminding me about this, I’ll keep an eye open and see what I can find out.

      Reply

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