You’ve got to applaud the title of this new book, which takes a cheeky sideswipe at the burgeoning list of ‘before you die’ and ‘before you hit 30′ titles that turn curiosity about the world into a series of to-do lists. It’s surely only a matter of time before someone publishes “1000 Craft Shops to Visit Before You Dye”.
But back to the plot. Author Terry Philpot visits a necrocopia of London burial grounds, digging up the history and excavating some choice facts. The ‘Magnificent Seven‘ (Highgate, Nunhead, Kensal Green etc.) are, of course, all present and correct, as are London’s even larger burial grounds such as the City of London Cemetery and the village-sized acres at Finchley. Perhaps the more interesting interment sites, however, are the smaller, lesser known plots, such as the tiny Moravian Burial Ground in Chelsea, or the neat and uniform Gardens of Peace Muslim Cemetery in Hainault.
Philpot is an efficient guide, giving a well-distilled overview of each space. His occasional gripes about lack of signage or intrusive architecture add a touch of character to what might have otherwise been a prosaic tour of famous burials and grand tombs.
The book is perhaps best browsed while ambling round the cemeteries, and offers tips on nearby attractions and cafes for the mobile reader. You’ll also find a handy appendix revealing the meaning of common grave sculptures and symbols. No maps, though, which would have been a welcome bonus.
London’s cemeteries are among its chief treasures. Peaceful, often picturesque, sometimes poignant spaces where the rush of the city fades away. This is a welcome guide, and a brochure to the future. At least a few people reading these sentences will spend eternity in one of these 31 spaces; you might as well get to know your neighbours in advance.
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