Unearthing the lives of the wondrous dead

Look beyond the overgrown weeds in local graveyards and cemeteries and the crumbling headstones reveal the people who have shaped the borough's rich history.

By 1850 most London churchyards were so overcrowded they posed a health risk to people living or working nearby.

The public cemetery, distinct from the churchyard burial ground, originated in Victorian times.

We take a look at some of the cemeteries and reveal the secrets they hold.

Richmond Cemetery Richmond Cemetery, Grove Road, opened in 1839 and was described by Hugh Mellor in his London cemeteries guide as "an unusually rural cemetery, which in spring simulates a county churchyard beneath a disguise of primroses, daffodils and forsythia."

In 1873 the cemetery was extended to allow the burials of noncomformists.

The vicar Canon Charles Procter offered to carry out the work at his own expense.

Members of the vestry were outraged to discover he planned to erect a wall to separate the Anglican section of the cemetery, dividing the consecrated from unconsecrated ground. Ignoring the protests, the vicar built the wall.

When someone broke in and knocked parts of it down, the vicar offered a £20 reward for information leading to a conviction. A resolution was later passed to demolish the wall.

Buried in this cemetery is William Harvey, who died in 1866. He was an engraver and served his apprenticeship under Thomas Bewick. His wood engraving of Haydon's Assassination of Dentatus' in 1821 was the largest block ever cut in Britain.

England and Surrey fast bowler Tom Richardson was buried here in 1912. He took 290 wickets in one season, a record that stood for 33 years. His memorial He bowled his best but was himself bowled by the best on July 2nd 1912' was restored with the help of The Environment Trust for Richmond upon Thames and Surrey Cricket Club.

Within the cemetery is also the enigmatic and undated Annie's grave, who died aged 21. Her tombstone says: It matters little who the maiden was we called her Annie and she was beloved by all who knew her. Reader if you knew this good and truthful girl then will you breathe a pious benediction on her soul and sanctify her memory with a tear. Erected by her master as a tribute to fidelity and attachment.' There are seven Victoria Cross holders buried in Richmond upon Thames. Colour-Sergeant Harry Hampton was born in Richmond in 1870 and served with the King's (Liverpool) Regiment. He was awarded the Victoria Cross during the second Boer War in 1900, after holding an important position against heavy odds and seeing all his men to safety. He died in Twickenham in 1922 and is buried in the old burial ground.

Corporal Frederick Jeremiah Edwards, of the Middlesex Regiment, was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1916, while serving in France. He died in the Royal Star and Garter Home, Richmond, in 1964 and is buried in the soldier's section by the Bromhead Memorial.

Other Victoria Cross holders include General Sir William Olpherts, of the Bengal Artillery and General Sir Harry North Dalrymple Prendergast of the Madras Engineers.

St. Mary Magdalene Church, North Worple Way.

The cemetery opened in 1852. Chairman of Richmond Heritage Society Johanna Coombes, has been involved in researching local history for about eight years.

She said: "It is worth going to have a look at Sir Richard Burton's grave. There is a little ladder at the back where you can climb up and look into the mausoleum. He didn't want to be buried underground, and that is why his wife Isabel created a tent for him." In 1864, after returning from Brazil, the Burtons visited the cemetery at Mortlake and picked out plots for their graves. Richard had pointed with his stick and said: "We shall have it here, it is like a nice little family hotel."

Sir Richard Burton was buried here in 1891. The Thames Valley Times described his mausoleum as a reproduction in stone of the semblance of an Arab tent. On the upper part of the stone door is a carved marble book of life' giving Burton's details.' Isabel rented a small cottage near the graveyard until she died in 1895 and was buried by her husband's side. By 1975 the tomb was in a terrible state of repair and a fund was started to restore it.

Mortlake Crematorium, Townmead Road The Right Honourable Lord Horder, the King's physician, opened Mortlake Crematorium in 1939.

In his congratulatory words he said, You seem to have eliminated the sombreness of atmosphere which sometimes shrouds buildings such as these.' The crematorium was the first joint board to be established under its own Act of Parliament. Representatives from Richmond upon Thames, Hounslow, Ealing and Hammersmith and Fulham councils maintain it.

Sheri Coates, wife of Robert Coates, the crematorium's superintendent, said: "The crematorium was designed by Douglas Barton, an employee of Hammersmith Council with no formal architectural training.

"It is a lovely building with beautiful cloisters and art deco floors. In a book published in 2003 by Colin Hines, it is described as probably the most undiscovered art deco treasure in London."

Funeral services at the crematorium have included those for Dick Emery, Prince Alexander Romanoff, Tommy Cooper and Lords Rothschild and Longford.

St Mary the Virgin, Church Street, Twickenham.

There may have been a simple building on this land in Saxon times, but the earliest record of the church is from 1332. There is a reference to Alan, vicar of Twickenham' by Richard Earl of Cornwall in 1296.

This church boasts a contrast of styles. The original 15th century tower made of Kentish rag (sandy limestone) is all that remains of the medieval church and it is joined to a red brick Queen Anne nave and chancel.

The building collapsed one night in April 1713 due to neglect and the digging of vaults. The new vicar Dr Pratt, had refused to hold services there just days before it fell and emergency repairs had been discussed. Residents raised £1,300 and the church was rebuilt by the end of 1714.

The earliest monument, dated 1442, survived from the old building and there are registers of baptisms, marriages and burials from 1538.

Alexander Pope, the poet, was buried here in 1744. The Twickenham Society describe Pope's career as a relentless story of intrigues, quarrels and deceptions conducted against his enemies in the literary world'.

His letters and poems are respected for their literary merit and his satirical wit has remained in the language we use today, through common phrases such as a little learning is a dangerous thing' and for fools rush in where angels fear to tread'.

In the spring of 1719 he came to Twickenham and lived there for the rest of his life. He was buried beside his mother and directed that the inscription et sibi' (and himself) should be the only addition to the memorial to his parents on the east wall of the north gallery.

In 1761 his friend William Warburton erected a monument on the north gallery wall with the inscription to one who would not be buried in Westminster Abbey.' St Peter's Church, Bute Avenue, Ham It is possible that there has been a church on the site since Saxon times.

Georgian box pews are a unique feature as few have survived in London churches.

The church was damaged during the Second World War and restoration was carried out in 1949 to 1951. The oldest headstone there is for Mary Karze, dated 1686.

Chairman of Richmond Heritage Society Johanna Coombes said: "George Vancouver, the famous maritime explorer was buried here in 1798.

He discovered Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. Every year a service is held for him."

Vancouver also sailed with Captain Cook to Antarctica and was with him on his final fatal voyage to the Pacific.

In 1772 Mary Burdekin, was buried in the churchyard. She was a pastry cook with a shop on Hill Street, Richmond, and is said to be the original maker of the Maids of Honour pastries.

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