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Bluebells At Bow Cemetery

April 26, 2018
by the gentle author

With a few bluebells in flower in my garden in Spitalfields, I was inspired make a visit to Bow Cemetery and view the display of bluebells sprouting under the tall forest canopy that has grown over the graves of the numberless East Enders buried there. In each season of the the year, this hallowed ground offers an arcadian refuge from the city streets and my spirits always lift as I pass between the ancient brick walls that enclose it, setting out to lose myself among the winding paths, lined by tombstones and overarched with trees.

Equivocal weather rendered the timing of my trip as a gamble, and I was at the mercy of chance whether I should get there and back in sunshine. Yet I tried to hedge my bets by setting out after a shower and walking quickly down the Whitechapel Rd beneath a blue sky of small fast-moving clouds – though, even as I reached Mile End, a dark thunderhead came eastwards from the City casting gloom upon the land. It was too late to retrace my steps and instead I unfurled my umbrella in the cemetery as the first raindrops fell, taking shelter under a horse chestnut, newly in leaf, as the shower became a downpour.

Standing beneath the dripping tree in the half-light of the storm, I took a survey of the wildflowers around me, primroses spangling the green, the white star-like stitchwort adorning graves, a scattering of palest pink ladies smock highlighting the ground cover, yellow celandines sharp and bright against the dark green leaves, violets and wild strawberries nestling close to the earth and may blossom and cherry blossom up above – and, of course, the bluebells’ hazy azure mist shimmering between the lines of stones tilting at irregular angles. Alone beneath the umbrella under the tree in the heart of the vast graveyard, I waited. It was the place of death, but all around me there was new growth.

Once the rain relented sufficiently for me to leave my shelter, I turned towards the entrance in acceptance that my visit was curtailed. The pungent aroma of wild garlic filled the damp air. But then – demonstrating the quick-changing weather that is characteristic of April – the clouds were gone and dazzling sunshine descended in shafts through the forest canopy turning the wet leaves into a million tiny mirrors, reflecting light in a vision of phantasmagoric luminosity. Each fresh leaf and petal and branch glowed with intense colour after the rain. I stood still and cast my eyes around to absorb every detail in this sacred place. It was a moment of recognition that has recurred throughout my life, the awe-inspiring rush of growth of plant life in England in spring.

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16 Responses leave one →
  1. April 26, 2018

    Lovely GA. I can almost smell the rain and sunshine on the vegetation. Perfectly compliments a book I am reading at present. “ Common Ground” by Rob Cowen. His a piece of wasteland.

  2. Yvonne Kolessides permalink
    April 26, 2018

    Once again, thank you for bringing your wonderful world to mine in far away Cyprus..

  3. Leana Pooley permalink
    April 26, 2018

    Wonderful pictures, all fresh and sparkling.

  4. Christine Cooke permalink
    April 26, 2018

    Beautiful, Thank you..

  5. Paul Phillips permalink
    April 26, 2018

    Such atmospheric photography – thank you and what a peaceful and humbling Oasis in the middle of London’s bustling East End – thank you. May all those buried there continue to RIP.

  6. Paul Loften permalink
    April 26, 2018

    Who would have thought that amidst the sombre concrete towers of Bow lies a haven of tranquility

  7. Barbara Elsmore permalink
    April 26, 2018

    What a marvellous place – please don’t let anyone even think about ‘tidying’ it up! And aren’t bluebells the trickiest of things to capture in a photograph? You can stand in their midst marvelling at their blue abundance and your camera later reveals nothing of the true fleeting magic of it all. You really have to be there if you can.

  8. Peter Harrison permalink
    April 26, 2018

    What beautiful photographs! They really lift the heart, and remind one that there are so many things to be grateful for, at a time when one feels in need of such encouragement. Thank you for having the generosity to share them!

  9. Margaret Tregear permalink
    April 26, 2018

    How wonderful to let a cemetery become a wild woodland busting with life. Beautiful pictures, thank you.

  10. April 26, 2018

    An uplifting walk. Beautifully described. I can see the rain drops on the leaves. A fine celebration if spring one of the city’s hidden natural places.

  11. Valerie Paynter permalink
    April 26, 2018

    How wonderful to see a very old graveyard still tolerated in London. Tolerated? Yes. How long before it gets sold to a developer, its bodies dug up and the bones reburied? I have this thought because it happened in Hove…twice, for the same graveyard. St. Andrews Church in Church Road Hove goes back to approx 12th century so its graveyard did/does too presumably. Graves at the southern end went in 1880 for road widening and then to the north of the church a huge number were removed in the 20th c to create a council carpark, then many, many more to create a primary school (built once, then built again further up over the carpark. Now the only graves left are in the immediate curtilege of the church itself and a Tesco carpark covers part of the original graveyard area (and bodies were found in this century when it was created). I often imagine (because there are remnant 19th c flintwalls to look at) how it might look today and how wonderful it would have been to still have it there to walk in, to have its peace, its trees, shrubs and….yes…bluebells too. So, GA, guard this Bow cemetery well, cherish it. For one day….

  12. John Venes permalink
    April 26, 2018

    Simply beautifully written

  13. Helen Breen permalink
    April 26, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for the stroll amidst the bluebells in Bow Cemetery. I need a glimpse of spring – New England spring is very late in coming this year. Great pics and prose including -

    “… the clouds were gone and dazzling sunshine descended in shafts through the forest canopy turning the wet leaves into a million tiny mirrors, reflecting light in a vision of phantasmagoric luminosity,”

  14. Jennifer Newbold permalink
    April 26, 2018

    I love your breathtaking , evocative photos of Bow Cemetery. All flesh is grass indeed. And it’s beautiful.

  15. Paul Loften permalink
    April 26, 2018

    To Valerie, I was born and lived in Stoke Newington for many years and our family moved here and there and then into a new estate in 1965 in the shadow of Abney Park Cemetary. It was rumoured that the estate was built on a larger part of the cemetary where the remains of people were dug up and the land sold for development long ago. In the building where we lived there were some awful events , I wont go into details but some of the residents at the time explained their cause as retribution for the land being built on a former burial ground . Not being religious or a believer in this sort of thing we dissmissed it as superstition. But nevertheless…….

  16. Michael Pyner permalink
    April 30, 2018

    Thank you for this. I moved into Broadhurst House on the ‘new’ Bede Road Estate in 1966 aged 6 and lived there until I completed my university studies and left home at 21. The new estate still sits on the other side of Bow Common Lane from the cemetery.

    The cemetery was graveyard, playground, refuge, hiding place, adventure playground and the nearest thing we had to countryside. When I ‘ran away’ from home aged 9 it was to the cemetery that I fled with two shirts, one pair of socks, two cakes and three slices of bread….. I lasted until dusk and the cemetery became a very different place.

    I remember my mothers only comment when I returned home and she unpacked my satchel was “typical, you didn’t take clean underwear”. Known universally as “the cemo”…. this was a lovely step back in time and thank you again.

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