Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Famous of Kensal Green

There are plenty of well-known and accomplished permanent residents of Kensal Green Cemetery. I made an effort to find some of them when I visited on Monday.

One is Charles Blondin, a French acrobat whose real name was Jean Francois Gravelet, and who made a name for himself by walking a tightrope across Niagara Falls in 1859. He performed a series of increasingly elaborate stunts at the falls and elsewhere before dying at 72 of diabetes, at home in London. I remember reading about Blondin as a kid, but I was never all that into daredevil stuff.

This might be the most famous person I found: William Makepeace Thackeray, the writer of "Vanity Fair." Curiously, he appears to be buried with his mother.

After I visited his grave, I realized I'd never read any Thackeray, so on the way home from the cemetery I picked up a copy of "Vanity Fair" at the Oxfam used book shop for £2. We'll see how ambitious I get.

This is the grave of the Brunel clan, including the man with perhaps the best name in English history, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He was a railway and transportation engineer responsible for bridges, tunnels, ships and other structures during the Industrial Revolution, and is still much esteemed. (You may remember Kenneth Branagh played him in the opening ceremonies for the Olympics this summer.)

Anthony Trollope was a Victorian novelist. I read (and complained about) his book "Doctor Thorne" last fall. (It wasn't bad -- just long.)

I'm not sure Tom Clarke, a screenwriter and director, is famous, but he does have a Wikipedia page. I just happened to notice his headstone and appreciate its minimalist approach. He mainly wrote for British television.

John Murray Easton is an architect whose works include the Loughton tube station and the Royal Horticultural Society's Lawrence Hall. Again, maybe not exactly famous, but his grave marker caught my eye.

Harold Pinter was a playwright and Nobel Prize recipient known for a vast array of dramas and dark comedies. Of his works, I think I've only seen one: The movie "Turtle Diary" starring Glenda Jackson, for which he wrote the screenplay. I don't remember a thing about it.

I did meet his wife, Antonia Fraser, at a book signing several years ago.

And finally, Kelso Cochrane, who is famous mainly as the unwitting catalyst of race riots in London in the late 1950s. Cochrane was a carpenter from Antigua who was murdered by white thugs in Notting Hill; I read a book about the crime earlier this year and wrote about it here.

Apparently Cochrane's grave was originally marked only with a stone slab; the mosaics were added recently. This was the only grave I needed assistance to find -- and when I asked at the Kensal Green Cemetery office, they weren't immediately aware of it. They had to look up its location. I appreciated their helpfulness, but it seems like it should be on any standard cemetery tour, doesn't it?


The Bug said...

I agree that his grave should be on the tour - if not for his own historical significance, then for the mosaic which is REALLY cool. I might have to rethink this cremation business...

I was just reading about Antonia Fraser the other day. It was Harold Pinter's birthday & for some reason I read his biography on the Free Dictionary page. Funny!

Linda Sue said...

Thank you for the tour of the cemetery, there are among my favorite places and this one certainly does have appeal! I am so glad that some folks actually make cemeteries interesting, calm- I too, want to be scattered on the wind when I am ash but I am grateful for places like Kensal Green, and the stories, history, curiosities.

Elizabeth said...

Fantastic -- you know, I have this dream to visit England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland when I turn fifty next year and walk around to see all the poets and writers' graves and hometowns. Thanks for sharing these -- particularly the Trollope and Thackeray!