22 November 2015

Dead plastic flowers

Queens Road Cemetery looks fairly normal from the road. Behind the iron railings, a drive flanked with evergreen trees leads up to a grey stone gothic archway. Venture inside, and things are stranger that you might expect. It’s a big site, quite a walk from the gate to the far end. It's surrounded on three sides by the backs of terraced houses, and every square metre is filled up. Old cemeteries can be a riot of unrestrained natural growth, but not this place: the ground is bare stony soil, devoid of living things, apparently the result of regular spraying with weedkiller. Many of the graves lean drunkenly, some of them half buried where the ground has sunk beneath them. Crumbling asphalt paths, half-dead cherry trees and a nasty concrete block perimeter wall complete the impression of neglect.

But it’s not abandoned. The gates are open all day and people come and go. The most recent dates I could find were 1990 - 2000 and clearly relatives still visit. The few recent graves stand out, shiny marble and bright flowers among a wasteland of neglected tombstones. And the many holly trees provide a suitably gloomy but dignified touch of green. It’s beautiful in a way, despite or perhaps because of the unintentional symbolism of death and decay.

Walthamstow Cemetery was constructed in 1872, and covers 11 acres (4.5 hectares).