Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Pet Cemetery of Hyde Park

Most people are not aware of Hyde Park’s Pet Cemetery, and of those people I have not heard of one who has been lucky enough to actually make it inside. For nestled within the bushes of Victoria Gate Lodge’s garden on Bayswater Road and behind the fortifying iron gates of the Park’s perimeter, you will find the enchanting and pint-sized Pet Cemetery. It all began totally 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.
First came ‘Cherry’, a Maltese Terrier. Cherry belonged to the children of Mr. & Mrs. J Lewis Barned, who resided at 10 Cambridge Square. They frequently visited Hyde Park and made good acquaintance with the Gatekeeper at Victoria Lodge who also sold them lollypops and ginger beer. When Cherry died of old age there was much grievance in the family and they decided to approached Mr. Winbridge and his employer to ask if they could lay Cherry to rest in his back garden, which was seemingly appropriate 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 cemetery.
Dogs especially met their end as they were often 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 and resident of number 6, Queen Street, Mayfair. 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 granted more and more of his garden as a 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 cordoned off with rope edge tiles allowing the families an area to decorate with flowers.
I’m not really one to question what somebody chooses to call one’s pet, but some of the names are absolutely hilarious. (-’Pupsey’, ‘Scam’, ‘Chin Chin’, ‘Smut’, ‘Drag’, ‘Tally-Ho’, ‘Freeky’, ‘Scum’, ‘Pomme de Terre’, ‘Fattie’, ‘Sir Isaac’, ‘Ruff’ and the slightly worrying ‘Nigger’) However, what really gets to me is the sentiment conveyed. The inscriptions are captivating and display raw 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.”
“My Ba-ba – never forgotten, never replaced.”
“The very lovable little Yorkshire of Florence G. Vary – these little lives, so short in years are as the flowers that bloom awhile, are gone and we are left in tears. In faith and hope of reunion.”
“Here lie two faithful creatures, Snap and Peter. ‘We are only sleeping master.’ ”
“Memory of Jim – a little dog with a big heart.”
“Wee Bobbit – so lonely without our darling sweetheart”
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, who 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 on account of his disgraceful habits! 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.
Today the cemetery is managed by the Royal Parks.

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