West of the River

 

ladbroke grove

portobello road

I rarely go far into West London, but this weekend I decided a trip to somewhere different was well overdue. Intrepid university friend Emma and I therefore met up at Notting Hill in the unexpectedly tropical heat, and had a pleasant stroll through the market on Portobello Road, stopping to browse at some of the stalls until we had enough of the crowds and branched off onto a side street. We popped into an interesting looking, wonderfully musty smelling church, went into an excellently serviced public toilet (worth remembering if you’re visiting Portobello Road for the day) and thoroughly enjoyed marvelling at the beautiful, colourful architecture that makes up so many of the streets and squares in the area. 

kensal green canal

We then headed off towards Kensal Green, walking through the stately streets of Lancaster Gate, Ladbroke Grove and along the canal that was full of brightly painted narrow boats, until we reached the gate of Kensal Green Cemetery. It is my mission to make it around all of the ‘Seven Sisters’ cemeteries in London, and to date I have only managed three, which isn’t a very good tally. Highgate will always be my favourite, thanks to its romantic air of neglect, but Kensal Green is a very close second. I much preferred it to Brompton, which is rather conventional in its layout and contains few interesting monuments. Kensal Green is actually the oldest cemetery in London, having been founded in the 1830s, and is still very much in use today.

kensal green tomb

 

kensal green cemetery

The large chapel buildings and colonnades are rather dilapidated, and made from a weathered stone that looks rather Southern European, especially in the sunlight. There are a fair few areas of mainly modern graves, but there are also several clusters of fantastic Victorian graves that have a real air of Highgate about them; crumbling angels intertwined with vines, elaborate mausoleums in Egyptian and Gothic style, and a range of urns, broken columns and weeping women, all of which would be familiar to those of us who haunt cemeteries for fun. I was most fascinated by the grave of Wilkie Collins, one of my favourite Victorian authors, and also that of Princess Sophia, daughter of George III, who was not afforded a spot in a traditional Royal burial ground due to having had a child out of wedlock. I couldn’t find the grave of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, which was a shame, but it is in there, so if anyone wants to go and find it and send me a picture, I’d be grateful! 

putney bridge

After a thorough explore, Emma and I parted ways. I headed off to Putney to meet my former flatmate, and as usual, wondered why I have never lived in such a beautiful part of London as I revelled in the gorgeous view across Putney Bridge. We were out partying in Fulham on Saturday night, but on Sunday morning I arose bright and early and caught a bus that took me on a lovely journey through the streets of West London and all the way to Regent Street, from where I walked to the National Portrait Gallery to see the new exhibition on Virginia Woolf. It is absolutely marvellous. I was fascinated by every exhibit and marvelled at the photographs that have been unearthed; they reveal a very different side to the Virginia popularised by the rather romanticised images taken of her when she was in her early twenties. It was very moving to see the final two letters written before she died, where her tiny handwriting expresses her terror of having to face yet another breakdown. The sheer variety of exhibits is wonderful; from copies of the newspapers Virginia and her siblings created as children to first editions and manuscripts of the novels, this is a must see for any Woolf enthusiast. I already can’t wait to go back again; it was the perfect end to a lovely London weekend.

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12 comments

  1. Wonderful descriptions of ur cemeteries but I am struck by their youth… Many gorgeous burying grounds here in the States are of a similar age and the statutory equally refreshing and impressive . Did we olonials really catch up? Please visit some equally moving venues the next time u are in the USA

    1. Oh, there are plenty of burial grounds in the UK that are hundreds of years old – but these are all connected to churches. Cemeteries, unconnected to local churches, were a new invention in the early 1800s in response to the lack of church yard space. I had the fortune of seeing some amazing graveyards in the US when I lived there – the Dutch ones are particularly impressive!

  2. Lovely post! I haven’t visited that part of London in years but you’ve made me want to go back. The colonnades may be a little run down but they seem an excellent place for a little respite after the bustle of the Portobello Road.

  3. I loved this post so much, the first pic is simply gorgeous in its vibrancy.

    And that exhibition on Virginia Woolf is making my mouth water…

  4. Lovely, indeed, Rachel, and I felt as if I was with you every step of your journey.
    I love old cemeteries and know I would enjoy any of the seven sisters.
    How I wish I could see the Virginia Woolf exhibit. I love you enthusiasm, dear one. Please, never stop writing.

  5. Funnily enough I went to Kensal Green Cemetery last Sunday to find IKB. I took a photo but only with my phone, I’m happy to share it with you if you’d like though! It’s such a fascinating place.

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