Cemeteries, although perceived by some to be dark and morbid, can serve as an immense source of inspiration and provide a very real connection to the past. And it is in just such a place that I spent my Saturday afternoon…The cemetery in question was to be found in Bedford.
It opened in 1855 and reminders of Victorian gothic art and architecture are dotted all over, from the monuments themselves – obelisks, angels, Grecian urns and Celtic crosses – to the buildings, including the cemetery chapel and the gatehouse. For such a small town, people from all over the world ended up being buried there, and it makes you wonder about their stories, especially how come it was this small town where their story reached its conclusion.
It is also interesting to see how inscriptions on the stonework changed over time. Sometimes only the names of the deceased are recorded, perhaps alongside the date of their birth and death, whilst other gravestones bear witness to the manner of the death, such as an accident or as a result of war. Other information includes where they lived in life, not just the name of the town or village, but the exact address, as well as who their close family were…Finally, it is the names themselves that perhaps, alongside the skilled stone-masonry, which draws the most fascination. Some certainly sound exotic to our modern ears. The one that I found most unusual was Hepzibah…A quick Google search says that the name means ‘my delight is in her’ in Hebrew.
A walk in a Victorian cemetery can tell us a lot about contemporary attitudes towards death and the departed. Although there is no doubt that they are places whose primary function centres on sadness and grief, there is beauty and light here too. Landscaped grounds, gently twisting paths that are lost to sight behind a carefully placed tree, benches for you to sit and stay a while…it’s as if they were trying to create their own little Eden, a place for the living as well as the dead…