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At The Pet Cemetery

March 18, 2018
by the gentle author

Now that I have recovered from my chill, I thought I might venture an excursion on a rare day of sunlight last week and fulfil my long-held ambition to visit the pet cemetery in Ilford.

While I lay sick in my bed, watching the snow falling outside the window, I was keenly aware of the empty space at my feet and, when I rose and sat by the stove, there was an absence at the hearth where my old cat Mr Pussy once lay. Six months since his demise, I discovered a curiosity to view the garden of remembrance where more three thousand of his fellow creatures lie interred and see how they have been memorialised by adoring owners as a means to assuage their sense of loss.

It is a commonplace to observe the peace that prevails in a cemetery yet this was my first impression, provoked by the thought of the cacophonous din that would result if all these dogs, cats, pigeons and budgies were confined together within this space while they were alive. On closer examination, the collective emotionalism of so many affectionate elegies upon the gravestones expressing both gratitude and grief for dead pets is overwhelming. Especially as most of the owners who placed these monuments are dead too – including Sir Bruce Forsyth whose beloved collie Rusty is interred here.

Between the twenties and the sixties, animals were buried continuously in this quiet corner of Redbridge but then the cemetery was closed and fell into neglect until 2007, when it was reopened with a celebratory fly-past of racing pigeons and a military ceremony by the King’s Rifle Corps. Especially noticeable today are the white marble headstones for heroic animals, carrier pigeons that delivered vital wartime messages, dogs that rescued survivors from buildings in the Blitz and ships’ cats that killed rats on naval vessels.

Yet in spite of the heroism of animals in war and the depth of feeling evinced by domestic pets, the cemetery is quite a modest affair, just the corner of a field hidden behind the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Curiously, many of the owners attribute themselves as ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ on the gravestones, declaring a relationship to their pets that was parental and a bereavement which registered as the loss of a member of the family.

Animals surprise us by discovering and occupying a particular intimate emotional space close to our hearts that we did not realise existed until they came along. They forge an unspoken yet eternal bond, entering our psyche irrevocably, and thus while we consider ourselves their custodians, they become out spiritual guardians.

In memory of Binkie, an Adorable Little Budgie Who Died

In Memory of our Dumb Friend, the Dog that God gave us, Trixie

Peter the Home Office Cat – Payment for Peter’s food was authorised by the Treasury thus, ‘I see no objection to your office keeper being allowed 1d a day from petty cash towards the maintenance of an efficient office cat.’ It seems that the money was requested not because Peter was underfed, but rather that he was overfed because of all the titbits that staff provided. It was felt that this ‘interfered with the mousing’, so if food was provided officially, the office keeper could tell staff not to give Peter any food.

In Loving memory of Our Boxers, Gremlin Gunner, Bramcote Badenia, Bramcote Blaise, Bramcote Benightful & Panfield Rhapsody

Be-Be, Our Little Dog So Loyal and True, Now He is in Peace God Bless You

In Loving Memory of our Darling Sally & Our Greyhound Swan & Our Cat Brandy Ball

In Loving Memory of Benny, a Brave Little Cat and Constant Companion to Those he Loved

Mary of Exeter, Awarded Dicken Medal for Outstanding War Service – A pigeon that made four flights carrying messages back from wartime France, returning seriously injured each time. On her last return, shrapnel damaged her neck muscles but her owner, Charlie Brewer an Exeter cobbler, made her a leather collar which held her head up and kept her going for another 10 years.

In Memory of Our Dear Pal Wolf

Mickey Callaghan, Here Lies Our Darling and You Always Will Be

In Memory of Simon, Served as ship’s cat on HMS Amethyst – Simon’s heroic ratting saving the crew from starvation during the hundred days the ship spent trapped by Communists on the Yangtze River in 1949. Simon was originally the Captain’s cat, a privileged creature who fished ice cubes out of his water jug and crunched them, but after he survived being blown up along with the Captain’s cabin, he was promoted to ‘Able Seacat’ and became pet of the whole crew. Unfortunately, the decision to bring the feline hero back to Britain proved the end of him as he caught cat flu in quarantine and died.

In Memory of Good Old Brownie

Memories of Our Faithful Doggie Pal Sally

My Babies Always In My Heart, Dede, Nicky, Sophie & Scruffy

In Memory of Rip DM, for Bravery in Locating Victims Trapped Under Blitzed Buildings – Rip was a stray who became the first search and rescue dog

In Memory of Jill who Adopted Us and Gave Us 15 Years of Loving Companionship

Shane, Bobby & Tina

In Loving Memory of Whisky, We Loved Him So, Mummy & Aunty Flo

Rusty, A Magnificent Irish Setter, We Were Better For Having Known Him, He Died with More Dignity Than That Most of Us Live – Rusty lived with Sir Bruce Forsyth in his touring caravan and performed on stage at the London Palladium. Rusty was a truly lovely fellow who performed all sorts of fantastic tricks, his favourite was to flip a biscuit off his nose and catch it in his mouth,’ recalled Sir Bruce, ‘But one day his back legs gave up on him. It was awful to witness – almost overnight he had become this pathetic, helpless animal. The only way I could take him outside for exercise was to grab hold of his tail and lift his back legs up, allowing him to walk on his front legs with his back end gliding along. This didn’t hurt him at all and he loved to be outside, but people in the street gave me filthy looks.’

In Fond Memory of Tops & Tiny Tim

In Loving Memory of Scottie Tailwaggger & Muffin

Our Buster, Faithful Intelligent Beautiful Golden Labrador

In Memory of Our Little Dog Sonny & Our Beloved Shandy, Quietly You Fell Asleep Without a Last Goodbye

In Loving Memory of Our Darling Poppet

Our Most Precious Snoopy

In Loving Memory of Perdix Crough Patrick, Bulldog

To the Dear Memory of Patch

In Loving Memory of Dinky & Dee-Dee

Beautiful Memories of Binkie, Golden Cocker Spaniel & Tender Memories of Joey, Blue Budgie

Nanoo, Sally & Rags

In Memory of Punch for Saving the Lives of Two British Officers in Israel by Attacked An Armed Terrorist

In Memory of Tiger & Rosie, Two Dear Old Strays

Peter, Loved by Everyone

Tim, Out Little Darling

Unfortunately, the Ilford Pet Cemetery is currently closed to visitors due to safety concerns after a Eucalyptus tree was brought down by the snow, but you can contribute to a fund to remove the tree and reopen the cemetery by clicking here

You may also like to read about

At Bow Cemetery

At Abney Park

At Postman’s Park

18 Responses leave one →
  1. Paul Loften permalink
    March 18, 2018

    Thank you , This cemetery is not far from where I live although I have never been there. It seems they raised the money to move the fallen tree very quickly and closed the appeal . I hope it reopens soon . There are some special memories there

  2. March 18, 2018

    So touching. When our beloved cat Charlie died, we kept the ashes for a while so we could safely and secretly deposit them in the churchyard opposite our house. He used to spend a lot of time there, sitting on a bench and keeping an eye on everything. Now, a splendid and huge lavender bush thrives on his ashes. I speak to it every time I pass. Made sense to all of us.

  3. Leana Pooley permalink
    March 18, 2018

    Oh goodness, here I sit with a wire-haired fox terrier on either side, snow swirling onto a white landscape outside, fire blazing. And I have a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye from looking at these wonderful photographs – all those gravestones with their sad, loving sentiments. The pigeon in a leather collar! Brucie helping his poor old dog along the street!
    Those heroic ratting cats! Thank you so much for providing such interesting and poignant pictures and words. I’ve only just finished my porridge but I’m so wrung out I may have to return to bed.

  4. March 18, 2018

    Much as I love my little lad, I can’t see me giving business to a monumental stonemason when he goes. Still, we grieve in different ways. I like the idea of Annie’s lavender bush.

  5. Gary Arber permalink
    March 18, 2018

    I buried my Samoyed named Gyp under my greenhouse so there are plenty of flowers on top.

  6. Jonathon Greeen permalink
    March 18, 2018

    If you’re in Paris, you could visit this French equivalent:
    Rin-Tin-Tin among many others

  7. Catherine permalink
    March 18, 2018

    Heartbreaking and heartwarming.

  8. pauline taylor permalink
    March 18, 2018

    Pets bring out the best in people don’t they. and we all choose to remember them in different ways. This is not my way but I appreciate that the memorials have brought comfort to those who have chosen this way to record how they missed such special pets.

  9. March 18, 2018

    The PDSA cemetery is interesting but you have forgotten to recall that the PDSA took in half a million animals to that site during the killings at the start of the Second World War (as discussed in their Annual Report of 1945).

    (I discuss this in my Great Cat and Dog Massacre that was partly included in Spitalfields Life last November 2017. A new paperback edition is coming out in the next few weeks.)

  10. March 18, 2018

    Fascinating tale (excuse pun). I wonder if you are aware of the Hyde Park Dog Cemetery — a small cemetery which is a bit of a secret. Located on the southern side of the Bayswater Road, just over the junction of North Carriage Drive. Easily seen from the top deck of a bus going towards Notting Hill Gate. It isn’t otherwise easily seen (unless it has opened to the public since I was last along that stretch of road) as it is in what was presumably the garden of one of the lodges (or park keeper’s cottages) just at the edge of the park.

  11. Alan Bennett permalink
    March 18, 2018

    We have a seven-month old yellow lab named Karma living with us – a trainee guide dog. Animals have so much to offer us and deserve to be remembered and valued.

    The Pet Cemetery and Postman’s Park are great places to comtemplate the idea of community; love and respect for the dignity of all.

  12. patricia permalink
    March 18, 2018


  13. Jennifer Newbold permalink
    March 18, 2018

    Dear GA,

    I hope, that as time heals, you will find a place in your home for another furry companion. I don’t wish for you to be alone.

    Best wishes.

  14. Connie Unangst permalink
    March 19, 2018

    What a bittersweet place. It brought a tear to my eyes. On another note. I think you need to adopt a new friend. There’s always a kitty that needs a rescue. Sincerely. Connie

  15. Mary permalink
    March 19, 2018

    I think Catherine’s comment below sums this up perfectly.

    I feel very grateful that I live in a country where, despite occasionally hearing of appalling animal cruelty cases, this is far from the norm and we have a very special relationship with our animals.
    I think the speed with which funds were raised to clear the fallen tree is testament to this.

  16. R N Hurdle permalink
    March 19, 2018

    Really sad

  17. March 21, 2018

    Must admit by the time I’d finished reading this post, I was finding it a bit hard. Not easy reading with tears in the eyes. Beautiful thanks for sharing.

  18. Vivienne permalink
    March 27, 2018

    Dear Gentle Author

    I would really love you to have a kitten or cat – to keep you company, especially when you are ill.

    Also, for you to post about the cat and its life. The new cat will become part of the Spitalfield’s history.

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