Wednesday, April 9, 2014

An Accidental Resting Place; Hyde Park Cemetery.

An old photo of the Hyde Park Pet Cemetery from the late 1800's.
One of London’s eight royal parks, the 350-acre Hyde Park draws Londoners to its lawns, fountains and gardens. The park is also the site of an ancient pet cemetery, final resting places of 300 pets, complete with small, inscribed headstones.

The final resting place to 300 pets hides inside the city park.

Tender inscriptions to dearly departed pets still mark the burial spots for hundreds of beloved animal companions buried between 1881 and 1915.

It all began with the burial of a Maltese terrier named 'Cherry', owned by friends of the park gatekeeper at the time. The tiny cemetery stayed open to burials until space ran out at the beginning of the 20th century. Most of the headstones had inscriptions like "Darling Dolly – my sunbeam, my consolation, my joy" and "Prince, “He asked for so little and gave so much" to the touching "In memory of our darling little Bobbit. When our lonely lives are over and our spirits from this earth shall roam, we hope he’ll be there waiting to give us a welcome home" and display testimony for the Victorians' love for their dogs and cats. There is also at least one monkey and several birds remembered here as well.

The cemetery sits inside Hyde Park's 350 acres – which have been open to the public as park lands since 1637 – tucked away by the gatekeeper's cottage. Today the cemetery is managed by the Royal Parks, and is only visible through fences unless a special visit is arranged.

The accidental pet cemetery.

The pet cemetery began by accident as a kind favor by the lodge-keeper, Mr. Winbridge, in 1881 and carried on through to 1903, eventually reckoning with over 300 graves.

‘Cherry’, a Maltese Terrier was the first and she belonged to the children of Mr. & Mrs. J Lewis Barned dignitaries of London. They frequently visited Hyde Park and became friends with the Gatekeeper at Victoria Lodge who also sold them lollypops and ginger beer. When 'Cherry' died the family was so grief stricken that they decided to approach Mr. Winbridge and his employer to ask if they could lay Cherry to rest in his back garden, since they had enjoyed such good times together in the Park. 

Permission was granted and Cherry was laid to rest in a resplendent ceremony. A tombstone bearing the inscription “Poor Cherry. Died April 28. 1881,” was constructed in his memory. The idea caught on with other locals and very soon it unofficially became a pet cemetery.

After Cherry, more pets were buried here.

Many of London’s dogs met their end when they were crushed under the feet of the horses that used the carriageways in the park. Such was the fate for “Poor Prince”, a Yorkshire terrier who belonged to the actress Louisa Fairbrother, wife of HRH Prince George, Duke of Cambridge. Prince was Louisa’s constant companion but was sadly killed by the wheel of a carriage near Bayswater Gate, and actually died in the Lodge. His gravestone read simply “Poor Little Prince” with no dates. Nonetheless, the incident was recorded in the Dukes diary on the 29th June 1882, making Prince the second dog to be buried there. Another of Mr. Lewis-Barned’s dogs buried there was Kaiser, who died in April, 1886, and a third was Zoe. The tombstone of the later contained the inscription “Alas Poor Zoe. Born October 1st. 1879. Died August 13th. 1892. As deeply mourned as ever dog was mourned, for friendship rare by her adorned”.

Over the following years the Pet Cemetery grew as Mr. Winbridge utilized more and more of his garden for the pet cemetery. He even took responsibility for the proceedings of the burials when the owners were left too affected by their pet’s death. The cemetery was laid out in neat, uniform rows with the majority of the headstones being of the same design with leaded letters being used to denote the epitaph. Each grave was sectioned off with tiles allowing the families an area to decorate with flowers.

The inscriptions were funny and emotional.

The inscriptions on these tiny tombstones are captivating and display unbridled emotion from their owners, an etiquette that was unusual and generally not encouraged in the restrained and prudish Victorian era:

“To my dear Moussoo – there are men both good and wise who say that dumb creatures we have cherished here below shall give us kindly greeting when we pass the golden gate”

“Darling Dolly – my sunbeam, my consolation, my joy.”

“To our gentle lovely little Blenheim, Jane – she brought the sunshine into our lives, but she took it away with her.”

These pets live on at Hyde Park in London.

Time has faded the memory of these devoted pets. Some owe their importance to the role they played in the beginnings of the cemetery, others due to their infamous owners. Some like ‘Topper’, a disreputable fox terrier, belonged to the Hyde Park Police Station and worked the park. He would turn out with them on inspection and was frequently sent down for punishment due to his disgraceful behaviors! Topper eventually died of old age on 9th June 1893. The majority, however, were simply loyal and affectionate companions and loyal friends of the prominent society who lived on the fringes of the park.

You can yourself either peek through the park fence or get a lofty view from the top of a double-decker bus when you’re nearing Lancaster Gate tube station. But, blink and you’ll miss it entirely.

Nancy Burban 2014

1 comment:

  1. I think this is one of the most touching posts on pet loss I've read, Nancy. You know firsthand how much Courage the Brave Dog's death in October of last year hurt me and Nathan; it's somehow comforting to know that the animal companions of people living over 100 years ago were just as treasured and adored. Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention - and the photographs are wonderful!


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