Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Doom, Gloom and Glamour

A tour of Kensal Green cemetery.............and a visit to Car Giant's giant showroom....

2nd September 2012....

View Larger Map

Friends of Kensel Green Cemetery
Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery
For me, this summer has had two main theme's running through it. Firstly, the feel-good factor generated by the Diamond Jubilee celebrations which lead into the Olympics which in turn led appropriately into the Paralympics. The other been the amount of walking I've been doing in and around London that has had good effect on my waistline

During  the week I had met a fellow seasonal walker over coffee. We both felt that all this exercise was giving way to urges to get on four wheels in a city where you won't normally need a car. Out of this we decided to make a Sunday afternoon of it and visit Car Giant in north west London and as we were both aware of the weekly tour of Kensal Green cemetery a novel afternoon jaunt was agreed upon. We had both visited to the graveyard before but hadn't done the tour which takes in the fabled catacombs beneath the Anglican Church....and neither had done the self guided tour of the expanse of Car Giant's just-might-be bargains.

We agreed that the "Manager's Choice" was to do the cemetery first then finish on a glitzy high strolling on a bargain hunt for boys (with toys).

The cemetery tour kicked off at 2pm and along with around 20 others we were greeted by our enthusiastic guide who happened to be the current chair of the Friends of Kensal Green cemetery. She let us know we'd be doing the tour old-school  as the lights weren't working down in the catacombs. On reflection this is the only way to see the catacombs as it fits the mood and a pointed torchlight focuses the attention more on what the guide is saying at any given time.

We first entered the large doors of the Anglican church and walked into the room were coffins are received. Dimly lit by a stain glass window restored after the war we stood around a table. Rollers that run the length of the table top are used to position a coffin for a final ceremony that concludes with the table disappearing downward by way of a hydraulic system below for final placement. We learned that the restoration of this system cost in the region of £50,000 which looks the part in a setting which prepares you for "down below"

With torches distributed we continued downstairs and let our eyes adjust to the eerie darkness and slightly damp but still in tact corridors in the distance.

Gravestone at Kensel Green Graveyard
The deep corridors that run off into the distance contain incumbents from privileged families, rascals, dignities with no families and spaces for those who could and can still afford it. 

It's still in use today with new additions over the last couple of years in view. Children's coffins tend to occupy the top corners which are curved and allow for a smaller coffin. 
Spirit of Ecstasy gravestone
Spirit of Ecstasy gravestone
(a fitting reminder of our second
part of the day!)
Smaller, but not that smaller as many of the coffins contain an inner lead box that preserves the body and makes for an overall size much bigger than what we are used to these days. Many with elaborate velvet coverings now worn away and well worn coats of arms to identify the family are everywhere. 

Our guide peppered each section with stories of body snatchers, the rise and fall of the Victorian funeral along with the odd 
rogue family member buried away from the main family vault elsewhere. One vacant shelf which was pointed out was occupied until recently by Winifred Fowler. 

Winifred Fowler had died during the war and somehow ended up in the catacombs under the Anglican church.  

Mary Hogarth
(sister-in-law of Charles Dickens)
After many years the coffin was researched which by this stage had assumed the identity if an Indian business man. The deceased was then reunited with her family in Canada and was given a funeral with full military honour. Winifred was the daughter of a Canadian army officer, George William Fowler who had raised a regiment in his native New Brunswick. The story went viral in Canada.

After the best part of an hour the group ascended again to warmer air and light and exited the church for the tour of the monuments. Lots of conversations ensued amongst the group with a high air of joviality, amazement and intrigue of an enjoyable and entertaining afternoon so far. 

Isambard Kingdom Brunel
The family grave of the Brunel family
The tour then headed in the direction of "millionaires row" past monuments of Royalty (grave of Princess Sophia, fifth daughter of George III), bankers, financiers, gold-diggers, theatre actresses, engineers, mathematicians and literary types. 

Freemasonry symbolism, Egyptian motifs and obelisks and extraordinary stone carving make this graveyard a gem. Although it doesn't compete with Highgate cemetery on scale it matches on craftsmanship and a call-list of who's who in Victorian Britain.
The guide asked for any special requests and Isambard Kingdom Brunel got mentioned which unsurprisingly is the most visited grave in the cemetery. The family grave is still in use today. 

After more than 2.5 hours the tour ended at the Dissenters chapel, home of the Friends of Kensal Green cemetery. Over welcome tea, biscuits (and a rush for the loo) this allowed the group to reflect and discuss the tour and on-going work in the cemetery. A current programme in place to catalogue the movie appearances was mentioned with Theatre of Blood starring Vincent Price been one of the main talking points.  

You can see Kensal Green cemetery from the movie trailer below at 1minute and 2 seconds.

Themed tours around the Egyptian styled monuments been another one on offer. I felt myself getting drawn into this world especially when the occasional mention of volunteers who do this and who do that around the cemetery was made. But just before signing up to anything however I got reminded that Car Giant closed in a couple of hours so we bid farewell and made haste toward Scrubs Lane.

Car Giant showroom
Car Giant showroom
From Lower Richmond road you can't miss Car Giant on turning onto Scrubs Lane. Heading downhill with a view of the showroom off in the distance to the right it's impossible to miss. 
Onto Hythe road you are then greeted by a "Welcome to Car Giant" banner that spans a small railway bridge that you walk under and through to a road almost taken up by this busy dealership. Once you pass the bridge the large admin buildings run alongside the road before the sea of "For Sale"s leave you not knowing where to start.

Car Giant showroom
Car Giant showroom
Sectionalised areas form the layout of the car lot. Some good prices here with many of the saloon range Honda CRV's coming in around the 10 grand mark for a model that may be 4 or 5 years old. Smaller run-arounds such as VW golf's can be picked up for £5k and bigger MVP's for around 12k-15k. All sales staff seemed to be with someone which is a good sign and allowed us to roam freely without the fear of the big sales approach. The odd car moving out for a test drive did tempt us for the same I have to say. 
Each section with about 15-20 cars of the same model making the choice difficult though and you need to do your homework before going we thought. Choosing on colour is probably one driving factor in choice from the many new mini's we seen bunched up in one corner.

Once through all the Volkswagens, MVP's, Honda's, Saab's, Toyota's, Ford's, Renault's and Peugeot's (and much more) we crossed the road for the final high. Some keenly priced Audi TT's around the 15k mark (although I'm not a fan of automatic) along side high end Mercedes and BMW's. There was a nice BMW Apline there which looked quite tasty. This is the section with a more guarded feel and a double set of heavy duty barriers that need lowered before exiting. It's also indoors compared to opposite of the road which the mostly outdoor. Again all sales staff were busy and we were free to roam.   

We left it at that and headed out but this car below caught my eye which seemed to sum up my desire for a set of wheels with a colour fitting for the day we just had.

Mercedes at the Car Giant showroom, London
Vroom Vroom!

If I was out to purchase a car from Car Giant I would search their online catalogue, make a list,  then go for a look in person. 
And if you ever think of doing the tour of Kensal Green cemetery or think of becoming a volunteer you can contact them via their website.

No comments:

Post a Comment