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Snowfall At Bow Cemetery

February 12, 2021
by the gentle author

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A hush was cast upon the East End as the snow came down, taking possession of the territory. Awaking and looking from my bedroom window, the dark boughs of the great yew tree in the yard were weighed down with a heavy covering of white – a bucolic wintry vision filling my gaze, as if the house had been transported in the night and I had woken high in the mountains.

Even as I opened my eyes, I knew I wanted to go to the cemetery, where I pay a visit to admire the precocious bulbs each spring. The appealing irony is that this vast garden of death has become the largest preserve of wildlife in East London. Created once the small parish churchyards filled up, it is where those numberless thousands who made the East End in the nineteenth century are buried. On the Western side of the cemetery, near the main entrance, are fancy tombs and grand monuments but, as you walk East, they diminish and become more uniformly modest until, at the remotest extremity, there are only tiny stones. At first, I thought these were for children when, in fact, they were simply the cheapest option. Yet even these represent an aggrandisement, beyond the majority of those who were buried here in unmarked communal graves.

My spirits lifted to leave the icy mess of the streets and enter the quiet of the cemetery where since 1966, a forest has been permitted to grow. A freezing mist hung beneath the high woodland canopy, and the covering of white served to emphasise the rich green and golden lichen hues of the stones, and subtle brown tones of the tree trunks ascending from among the graves. As on my previous visits, I quickly lost myself in the network of narrow paths, letting the trees surround me in the areas where no human footprint had yet been made upon the snowy coverlet, beneath which the dead lay slumbering in their graves.

Crows called to each other and woodpeckers hammered away high in the tree tops, their sounds echoing in the still air. Thrushes searched for grubs under leaves in the rare patches of uncovered earth beneath stands of holly, and a young fox came by – standing out as a vivid rusty brown against the pale snow – slinking along self-conscious of his exposure. The spring bulbs were evidenced only by sparse green spears, protruding from snow criss-crossed by animal and bird tracks.

It was a very different place from the lush undergrowth of high summer and another place again from the crocus-spangled garden of spring, yet I always discover peace and solitude here – a rare commodity in the East End – and, even in this bleakest season, there was life.

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14 Responses leave one →
  1. Boudica Redd permalink
    February 12, 2021

    Great pics of thee bow cemetery great fox pic as wintor puts on its coat of white to turn London into a marshmallow world brr

  2. Keith Leonard permalink
    February 12, 2021

    Great photos. Very evocative.

  3. Tony Gold permalink
    February 12, 2021

    Gentle Author, Your elegant writing is a gift for me every morning.

  4. Richard Smith permalink
    February 12, 2021

    Wonderful evocative pictures GA. I imagine that your visit was a truly amazing experience. The photograph of the fox is a wonderful capture. Thank you.

  5. February 12, 2021

    Pictures from another world, full of melancholy. Through your words and image, I suddenly walked in the cemetery for a few instants.

  6. Linda Granfield permalink
    February 12, 2021

    “crocus-spangled”–lovely! And I can’t wait for those days to arrive.

    The snow on the ivy-covered trees and the green lichen–fine “exterior decorating.” Thank you for this peaceful walk.

  7. February 12, 2021

    Ah, the snowfall is a great equalizer. It makes YOUR cemetery look very much like our
    historic cemetery here in little Ancram. Our small town has at least seven so-called “family cemeteries” tucked into farmland; the names on the ancient head stones are still the commonly-heard names hereabouts. One of these small discreet cemeteries was recently rehabilitated by the landowner, and the previously-tumbled-down grave markers and pediment are erect, and the stone wall has been re-jiggered. Calm has been restored. And, wearing its winter robes — it is quite beautiful.
    I so admired the touches of green velvet on the gallant stones in your photos. And the fox —
    skulking past, in a hurry.
    Stay safe, all. Thank you, GA, as ever.

  8. Cherub permalink
    February 12, 2021

    I like visiting graveyards. It’s the peace and tranquility, the older ones are full of beautiful headstones that tell stories of social history with regard to issues like the rate of infant mortality (Dean Village in Edinburgh has an old graveyard where every second family monument has a child under the age of 3 buried). Even as a child I visited the graveyard near my house just to read a book.
    I went to one in Copenhagen 2 years ago, very interesting as it was laid out like a street system and had noticeboards telling you who was buried in each part.

  9. John C. Miles permalink
    February 12, 2021

    Thank you, GA, for yet another thought-provoking post – and for your atmospheric photographs. Media vita in morte sumus.

  10. February 12, 2021

    Thank you GA For taking us all on a serene stroll in that beautiful place where some of my East End family ‘lay slumbering’.
    Your photographs are simply beautiful.

  11. Susan permalink
    February 12, 2021

    This is so lovely. I hope I can visit the cemetery one day, if I’m ever able to go back to England.

  12. February 12, 2021

    GA, what a beautiful reflective piece – “A freezing mist hung beneath the high woodland canopy, and the covering of white served to emphasise the rich green and golden lichen hues of the stones, and subtle brown tones of the tree trunks ascending from among the graves.” Great writing.

    So glad you could see “the sparse green spears” presaging spring. You always give us hope…

  13. Pamela Traves permalink
    February 13, 2021

    Thank You for these Lovely Vintage Pictures. ??????

  14. April permalink
    April 23, 2021

    I too love old cemeteries! I once spent a wonderful hour or so wandering through an ancient, completely overgrown and untended cemetery near Southampton.

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