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Photograph: Shutterstock
Photograph: Shutterstock

Five London graveyards to visit this spooky season

Beautiful, mysterious burial grounds from across the city

Written by
El Hunt
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Poet Jean Sprackland is obsessed with London's cemeteries. Here she picks her top five haunts.

1. Abney Park

One of London’s Magnificent Seven: an early nonconformist cemetery, now a green and tumbledown place of wingless angels and toppled urns. Rebels and mavericks of all kinds are buried here, and whichever winding path you take through the undergrowth you come at last to the huge gothic mortuary chapel at the centre.’

2. St Mary's

This place is like a time machine – step in and you’re back in the days when Stoke Newington was a country village. I became obsessed with the story of Elizabeth Pickett, memorialised on one of the 18th century family tombs: she died at 23 "in consequence of her Cloaths taking Fire the preceeding Evening". ’

3. Novo Cemetery

A historic Jewish burial ground, now enclosed within Queen Mary College. It’s a survivor, a simple quadrangle now surrounded by concrete and plate glass campus buildings. The gravestones lie horizontal in the gravel, and bright green moss has grown where rainwater has pooled in the lettering, making them glow like illuminated manuscripts.’

4. St Andrew's

Home to one of the oldest living things in London: a 2,000-year-old yew tree. The yew was an important species in pagan times, prized for its extreme longevity and for its powerful poison; it was both a tree of death and a tree of immortal life.’

5. St Olave's Hart Street

‘This city churchyard was a favourite of Charles Dickens, who particularly admired the memento mori in the form of three carved stone skulls above the entrance gate. One stormy night he scared a cab driver out of his wits by making him stop there so that he could view the skulls by lightning…’

‘These Silent Mansions’ by Jean Sprackland is published by Cape.

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