It started in 1881, when Cherry died.
It was the wish of the Maltese terrier's owners, Mr and Mrs J. Lewis Barned, that Cherry be interned in the back garden of Victoria Lodge, perched on the northern edge of Hyde Park. Their four-legged friend — who willfully submitted to being dressed up as a soldier by the children — had always liked it here.
In the following decades, Cherry was joined by 300 other deceased dogs, cats and feathered friends, forming a quaint pastiche of London's Magnificent Seven, that rang out with earnest messages of woe and love, for the dear deceased ('dear' is a word that's used frequently on the tombstones here).
For Victoria Lodge gatekeeper, Mr Winbridge, it was probably the start of a lucrative little side-business. Most of the miniature headstones crowded into the fenced-off space are of a similar design (a handful of particularly pampered pets bluster with their own human-sized gravestones). Did Winbridge offer mourners an all-in-one burial spot/headstone package?
It's difficult to tell exactly what racket he head going on: no records were kept. All that we have is these strange little trinkets, jutting out from the earth like canine teeth.
Many of the names etched into the stones here ripple with nostalgia: Spot (and Dear Old Spot). Fido. Ruff. Rex. All names we associate with dogs, yet maybe not names we'd give our four-legged friends today.
Other monikers etched into the headstones give you a sense of what the owners might have been like: you can just imagine the highfalutin dog owner who strode through Hyde Park, proudly flaunting their Duchess, or 'AJH - Our Dog Prince' or King John. Or Plato.
You might well assume that 'Our Friend Sir Isaac' lived a life more charmed than the average Victorian might have enjoyed, back in those poverty-addled days. Maybe that's why George Orwell called this place 'perhaps the most horrible spectacle in London'.
There are some downright alarming names: What was Freeky's owner thinking? Or Fattie's? What on Earth was Scum's owner thinking?
And though we're sure that the title 'King of Pussies' was meant in good faith, the title hasn't aged well.
At least Ginger Bythe's demise was one "rounded off with a little sleep." The same can't be said for poor Scamp, who, as its headstone bluntly puts it, was 'Run Over'. Another pooch who met his demise beneath the wheel was 'Poor Little Prince', a Yorkshire terrier who was hit on Bayswater Road, and died in the lodge. Prince was the garden's second interment, and came with royal connections — perhaps helping to popularise this whimsical ritual.
The most scandalous gravestone of all, though, should be saved for last. Glance to the left as you leave the cemetery, and there — partially obscured by grass, partially by its vehement lean — is this egregious epitaph, spelling out coldly-calculated murder:
Those wealthy Victorians were all cuddles and outpouring for 'Dear Pupsey' and 'My Own Pepper'. But if you crossed them as a foreigner suspected of foul play, you could expect to be immortalised in infamy.
Hyde Park pet cemetery opens a few times a year to the public, only as part of guided tours. Keep an eye on the Royal Parks website.