Monday, October 29, 2007

London Journey: Part Sixteen

October 14, 2007 Chelsea & The Old Brompton Cemetery

Halloween is approaching, but not really so that you would notice it. Certain pubs are advertising “fancy dress balls” on the night. The Tower of London is offering after dark ghost tours, and certain party shops are crammed with decorations. I think I’ve passed one house with a pumpkin (although they are for sale in the supermarkets.)

I don’t really know what position Halloween occupies in the British Isles, or how it is celebrated in the United Kingdom. I have to say that it feels very much like an American import…but I could be wrong.

Bobbi and I discovered the Old Brompton Cemetery almost by chance while we were walking from our flat to the Chelsea Embankment

This cemetery is one of the great Victorian burial grounds which ornament the outskirts of the metropolis. The most famous of all, of course, is Highgate Cemetery, setting for certain scenes in Dracula, and known in the 1970s for the scandal of the Highgate Vampire—Russell of NYCity Stories took in Highgate, and I suggest a visit to his blog if you want to learn more about this place.

Brompton is a less infamous, but is still a massive, and (forgive the pun) hauntingly beautiful cemetery.

I have to say, however, that for all the talking in the guide books about London’s claim to being “the most haunted city in the world”- the overwhelming feeling in Brompton is not one of supernatural menace, despite the incredibly gothic decorations of the mausoleums, crypts and tombstones, but rather one of extreme peace.

The cemetery is filled with wandering paths, and it is easy to stroll up and down the rows of monuments for hours. (An interesting fact, which I learned from Wikipedia, is that Beatrix Potter lived near Brompton, and that many of the names of her characters- Nutkin, McGregor, etc. all originated on the tombstones she saw here.)

Because I was so longing for the chill of Halloween, I tried my damnedest to make the place feel creepy, but I just couldn’t do it. The scenery was appropriate....

and the soot-black crows posed very obligingly on the tombstones….

but despite everyone’s best efforts, I could not summon up a single goose pimple here-

I never felt like anyone was watching me from beyond,

nor felt the icy hands of death clutching at my coat…

….maybe it was the pigeons.

…or the squirrels?

We continued our walk down to Chelsea. I was very anxious to see this part of town. The Movie A Man for All Seasons (the version with Paul Scoffield and Orson Wells, NOT the modern remake with Charlton Hesston) has always been near the very top of my list of favorites.

The open credits of the film run over some beautiful photography, representing the river Thames as it winds through rural farms, fields, and marshlands toward Sir Thomas Moore’s home in Chelsea. The river landscape is dominated by water rushes, and aquatic birds...just as it must have been in the 1500s, during the reign of Henry VIII.

Of course, Chelsea is now a part of the greater metropolis of London, and without street signs, it would be very hard for a stranger to know when he had entered the borough. Still, I was quite keen to see what had become of Thomas Moore’s river bank, and when I learned that there was a stature of him near the sight of his home, I knew I had to go down and see it..

Chelsea is an amazing place, and is chock full of the little blue circles that indicate buildings of historical significance. Long after Moore’s time, the borough became a mecca for artists and writers.

A stature of James Whistler (looking a little less grim than his Mother) gazes out over the Thames.

And houseboats moored at the bank bespeak of an enchanting way of life

Double Decker’s cross the Battersea Bridge- drawing the eye of the observer to the fact that the River’s face is far different that the one Moore knew.

Or perhaps not….after all, in some sense, he still here.

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