A February Visit to East Finchley Cemetery

The Tate Tomb (you can read more here)

Dear Readers, this week we decided to ring the changes with a walk to East Finchley Cemetery. This is owned in part by Westminster City Council (with the crematorium owned by Barnet Council), and it is a much more manicured site than St Pancras and Islington. Nonetheless, the range of huge Victorian statement trees attracts a range of animals, and there are lots of wilder corners which I find very appealing.

The crows seemed particularly restless and vigilant today, in part because a gang of magpies were cackling their way through the treetops. I’ve seen a family group of the black and white marauders harass a pair of crows until they left they nest, whereupon the magpies started to steal the nesting material (it’s too early yet for them to be stealing anything more precious.

A pair of magpies were indeed setting up home close to the entrance, though whether they’d gathered their own twigs or had stolen somebody else’s was impossible to tell. They are such communicative birds, constantly checking in on one another. They always seem to be up to some kind of mischief.

Award-winning magpie photo (not)


And in another tree there were a posse of parakeets. They have probably already decided where their nest sites will be, being birds who like to plan well ahead.

I found this small memorial garden, rather charming with its low hedges and central statue.

But what really stopped me in my tracks was this flowering quince, backlit by the low winter sun.

Just around the corner there is a natural burial area, full of snowdrops. It’s called the Willow Garden but the new young trees look to me like downy (rather than silver) birch (feel free to tell me I’m wrong). The headstones are simple, natural stones. It’s rather lovely.

And just around the corner from here is another memorial garden for people who have been cremated. The headstones are all of the same shape and size, but they have room for a small engraving which gives you a notion of the person and what they were like in life. I found them very appealing. Here is a selection. It really set me to thinking about what I would have on my headstone. An insect for sure, but which one? Maybe an emperor dragonfly.

In Madagascar, the tombs are the size of a family car, and are often painted with scenes from the person’s life – herding cattle, eating with their family, buying a car. There was a craze for Kung Fu in Madagascar in the 80’s, and so many tombs show the deceased performing some airborne manoeuvres of surprising complexity. So much more interesting than our graves!

My husband rather likes those Roman graves where the carving goes on forever and gives a full eulogy for the person in great detail, extolling their sterling virtues and achievements. I would love to know more about the people buried in both of my favourite cemeteries. We are too modest in the UK! More stories, please.

In another nod to spring, the crocuses are out in some of the lawns. They are such delicate, pale-lavender things. A friend of mine noted that whatever the colour of the bulbs that she planted, after a few years they’re all lilac in colour. I wonder if they revert to type? What’s your experience, readers?

I’d noted the magnificent Tate Tomb (in the first photo) in previous posts about this cemetery, but hadn’t paid much attention to this copper lady before. She is on the tomb of Harry Dwight Dillon Ripley, grandson of a New York railway magnate, and therein hangs a tale, beautifully told on The London Dead website here. Suffice to say that the grieving widow paid the sculptor, Sir William Reid Dick, Ā£500 for the statue, an enormous amount in 1914 (in fact, enough for Reid Dick to get married on).

And on the way out, a couple of other things of note. There is this impressive array of ivy berries for one thing. I love the way that they’re dangling like conkers on a string.

And finally, someone has planted a new monkey puzzle tree. It looks very small and almost cuddly at the moment, but no doubt it will soon be over-topping its neighbours. It’s nice to see a new one after the one that I based my Wednesday Weed article on was cut down. Although they have virtually zilch wildlife value in the UK, I confess to being rather fond of Araucaria, with its peculiar leaves and sculptural quality.

And so, as we head home, we decide to walk down a different road from our usual one, and I see this tree.

Getting closer to it, I notice the extraordinary bark.

A paperbark maple (Acer griseum)! I love the tissue-thin peeling, in all those shades of rose and coral. I think I feel a Wednesday Weed coming on….

5 thoughts on “A February Visit to East Finchley Cemetery

  1. SilverTiger

    Magpies are so intelligent and clever. I do not know how they communicate ideas and plans but they seem able to do so with some precision as this anecdote shows.

    My neighbour left a dish of food out for her cat, Popeye. Popeye was eating his dinner when a pair of magpies came down and started harrassing him. He made a couple of ineffectual dashes at them but returned to his dish each time.

    One of the magpies – I suspect it was the male – started hopping across the lawn dragging a wing as though injured. Popeye, thinking to see his chance, took off after him. While Popeye and the male were playing chase-me, the female came down and tucked into Popeye’s dinner!

    As far as I know, the male never had a turn at the food which suggests that magpies are capable of altruism, at least within the couple. Perhaps, too, they enjoy the fun of outwitting simpleminded cats!

  2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    It’ll be a while before our crocuses emerge, but I just looked back at some pictures from April last year and these images, of ‘wild’ crocuses, (which must have been planted, or self-seeded, years ago), show more white than lilac…

  3. Ann Bronkhorst

    Love the last small gravestone with the child’s drawing used, rather than the others which look to be chosen from an image-bank.


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