London: The Secret Pet Cemetery of Hyde Park

 

How’s that for a good October post title?!  I have a couple more Ohio posts coming eventually, but you all know that I pretty much live for Halloween, so I can’t resist sharing a couple creepy posts while it’s still October. I have wanted to visit this Victorian pet cemetery ever since I found out about its existence during London Month of the Dead a few years ago, but the tour offered that year was already booked up by the time I saw it (I’ve since learned my lesson and book all my Halloween events in August. Stupid populous London). Last year, I was ready and waiting, but the pet cemetery tours never appeared on the London Month of the Dead website. But this year, this year, I got in. Seems like the Royal Parks finally got smart, and now offer about a dozen tours over the course of October, instead of just one (at the time of writing this post, it looked like one of them even still had some availability).

  

Since the tour is run by the Royal Parks (or their Friends, perhaps) it wasn’t simply a tour of the pet cemetery, but of Hyde Park more generally, so we had to meet by Speakers’ Corner. Good thing there was a guy with a Royal Parks jacket and a clipboard standing there, because otherwise I don’t think I would have spotted our fellow walkers. Unlike most London Month of the Dead events, where most of the attendees are, well, like me, if not much more overtly gothy, because this one was primarily a Royal Parks event, almost everyone else there were older “Friends of the Royal Parks” looking types, all ready to go in their waterproof autumn walking gear. Which probably also explains why the walk wasn’t quite as creepy as I was hoping it would be.

  

We began our tour with the nearby “Animals in War” memorial, which I had somehow never seen before, but it is absolutely lovely. We heard more about the role of animals in WWI, including the guide’s wife’s grandfather’s story, as he had worked with pack animals transporting ammunition to the Front, and this was all very well and good – I like animals and WWI, but it was far more poignant than scary.

  

We proceeded to the area where Tyburn used to be (now Marble Arch), and as he started telling us that over 100,000 people were executed in the seven centuries it was in operation (which, if true, is an absolutely appalling number, but I haven’t found that figure listed anywhere else in my admittedly limited research for this post), I thought, “now this is more like it!” Unfortunately, apart from a brief mention of the “Tyburn Tree,” a triangular gallows that could hang twenty-four people at a time (this was before the long-drop, mind, so it could take up to 20 minutes of slow strangulation for a person to die, with their limbs jerking ghoulishly all the while), the grisliness ended there. Instead, he told us the story of Jack Sheppard, which is interesting, but like anyone who is fascinated by the macabre, I’d heard it about twenty times before, so I do wish he could have shared a less well-known story with us (though perhaps it was new to the respectable types who were on the tour with us).

  

Thenceforth to the monument to the Reformers’ Tree, which was burnt down in 1866 during the Reform League protests. I’d never seen this monument either (I don’t come to Hyde Park much, as I mentioned in the Grayson Perry at the Serpentine post), and I was interested in hearing more about this plaque and what it symbolised, but apart from telling us why they were protesting (men’s voting rights, or rather, the lack thereof for working class men), the guide didn’t say much about it. We then went on to a more wooded area of Hyde Park and heard about stag beetles and their life cycle, which I suppose was rather creepy only because I think stag beetles are gross, but not in a Halloweeny kind of way.

 

But then, we finally came to the part I’d been waiting for. Hiding behind a secret gate next to a very unassuming looking maintenance building, was the pet cemetery. It was started in 1881 by the gatekeeper at the time, a Mr. Winbridge, who allowed some of his friends to bury their beloved dog “Cherry” in his garden (I hope he lived in the most excellent “lodge” (which actually looks like it could be an amazing witch’s cottage) a short distance away which I’ll show you a picture of at the end of the post, but if the graves were in his backyard, it’s more likely that there was some other building there before the ugly maintenance one), and it grew from there to include over 300 graves, including the Duke of Cambridge’s dog, who was run over by a carriage (the Victorian Duke of Cambridge that is, who was a cousin of Queen Victoria. Not the current one). Which is kind of amazing given how small it is (I know pet bodies aren’t as big as human ones, but still. I also think it’s kind of obnoxious that poor Mr. Winbridge had to give up the whole of his tiny garden to accommodate animal bodies, what with the rest of Hyde Park just sitting right there, but maybe he was into that kind of thing. Having a cemetery in his garden, that is, not necrophiliac bestiality).

  

It’s not a scary kind of Pet Sematary pet cemetery, but is actually rather sweet and quaint, and I enjoyed reading the heartfelt epitaphs on many of the tiny graves. The guide made sure to point out the “murder victim” to us, poor Balu, who was “poisoned by a cruel Swiss.” I think the grave inscriptions are pretty interesting, so I’ll include some here so you can read them for yourselves (see my Instagram for even more!). I have to wonder if poor “Tubby” actually was overweight, because he seems to be buried all by himself, even though space was at a premium.  They’re not all dogs or cats either; see if you can spot the monkey and crocodile!

  

  

  

  

So did the pet cemetery live up to expectations? Absolutely! I thought it was fantastic, though I’m still not sure if it was worth the 15 quid it cost to go on the tour. Perhaps if the rest of the walk had measured up to it, I would have felt that it was better value, but though our guide was certainly competent, the content of the walk was utterly lacking the scare factor I would have liked from a cemetery tour. What with Tyburn being right there, and with the park itself dating back to Henry VIII’s reign, I’m sure there must be plenty of murders and ghost stories associated with it that the guide could have told us, instead of the not at all spooky subject matter he offered us. I might have been reasonably satisfied with it at another time of year (actually, that’s a lie; for me, eerieness never goes out of season), but not as an October walk!  I suppose it was worth doing just to see the cemetery, but I think the price is high for what you actually get (though I suspect the majority of the other people on our tour were probably perfectly satisfied with the tour’s lack of creepiness).  3/5 for the walk, but the cemetery itself is practically perfect. Oh, and here’s the “witch cottage” I mentioned earlier; I’d be very happy to move in and tend the pet cemetery and scare children away if they need someone to do that kind of thing.

19 comments

  1. I am so grateful for the month of October and all of these fantastically creepy posts! I love going through old cemeteries, looking at names, dates, etc. It amazing to see the names pets from so long again. My personal fave from your photos is “Muffin” and “Tubby”…

    1. I love old cemeteries too, and this one was especially interesting because I got to see how pet names have changed over the years. People would still probably name a dog “Muffin” but probably not “Tubby” and definitely not “Scum!” I actually feel quite bad for poor Scum.

  2. As you were talking above about fashions in dog names changing, I’m not sure I’d want to be calling Titsy these days.

    I didn’t know that’s where Tyburn was or what the Tyburn tree was. I imagined a big tree. You live and learn!

    1. Yes, there’s Titsy too! Oddly enough, I went to Hever Castle today, and on the way there, there was a sign for what looked like a stately home called “Titsey Place.” So I guess it was quite a popular word!
      Yes, there’s a plaque near Marble Arch showing where the Tyburn Tree stood, and I don’t think you’re alone in thinking it was an actual tree. Tyburn is actually why Speakers’ Corner is where it is, because it has its origins in the tradition of making a final speech on the gallows. Which is really kind of depressing, but interesting too!

  3. I said “Oh wow!” out loud as I read this title. October perfection!
    First of all, the Animals in War monument is so beautiful. I love the graceful horse statue with its hoof on the step and the engraved “They had no choice.” That’s some powerful stuff.
    And the sweet little pet tombstones just kill me. I think my favourite is “dearest Scoop” and poor little side note “Also Brown Bunnie.” And I’d love to know more about Bibi the crocodile, and how she came to be such a dear companion. I’m not knocking crocodiles, I just want to know how it all went down.
    And c’mon with that cottage – how does this exist?! It IS the perfect witch’s cottage.
    … Now, I don’t know if it’s actually some witchcraft, or the little pet ghosts acting up, but you’ve some spooky action going on in the photo of the Victoria Lodge. It definitely looks like that woman’s top half is a few feet away from her body.

    1. It is a really lovely memorial. I didn’t even know it was there! You can tell which animals people pet for luck by the wear marks on the statues; clearly everyone rubs the ears of the horses and scratches the nose of the dog, so I did too!
      I would love to know the story of the crocodile too! I think John Quincy Adams had a pet alligator, so I guess it’s a similar idea, but I find it difficult to believe a crocodile (or alligator) could be domesticated in any way. But who knows, maybe they were!
      It might be ghosts…or maybe just bad photoshopping. It’s October, so it could go either way really.

  4. I love this post. You are very funny, your writing wry and evocative and kind of a blast. I SO would have taken this tour when I was in London earlier this year, but, of course, never heard of it. I got a vicarious kick from your vivid blog. Thanks! Beautifully done.

    1. Aw shucks, thank you! Very kind of you to say all that! If it makes you feel any better, I think they are only offering tours of it in October this year, so you probably couldn’t have gone even if you did know about it sooner.

  5. Shame the walk wasn’t creepy enough…. I’ve never heard of the Pet Cemetery but am intrigued, definitely one to remember next time we hit London.

    1. Thank you! I’ve spent all day binge reading ghost stories (with breaks to watch Hocus Pocus and What We Do in the Shadows) because while I will read them any time, they’re so much more effective in October!

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