Arnos Vale Cemetery is spectacular. Set over 45 acres with architecturally beautiful lodges and chapels, it also boasts some of the finest funerary monuments I have seen on this trip so far. The cemetery opened in 1839 and is situated beautifully within a picturesque hilly landscape. The well established trees and shrubs softening the architecture and monuments it feels more like the landscaped park of a large country house than a cemetery.
The land on which the cemetery was established having been parkland linked to an estate already boasted magnificent oak and horse chestnut trees, the cemetery designers wisely included these trees in their designs adding additional specimens associated with classical literature such as rowan, cypress and yew to name but a few. The trees provide a dramatic backdrop for the beautiful mortuary chapels and monuments, although my understanding is that the landscape had been very groomed in it’s Victorian heyday quite unlike the romantic wilderness it has now become.
Every style and use of symbolic decoration can be witnessed on the many monuments and it feels like many of the different elements of both cemetery and monument design culminate here at Arnos Vale, the diversity is astonishing. The Anglican Chapel is in the Roman Italianate style and is incredibly imposing. But like many the Non-Conformist chapel is built in the Ionic style of a Greek temple, it’s structure is less imposing than the aforementioned perhaps as with Kensal Green stressing the implied ‘importance’ of one set of beliefs over another.
As with Both Highgate and Kensal Green Cemeteries the grandest monuments line the main pathways, or are aligned to significant pieces of architecture such as the Lebanon Circle at Highgate and the Julius Beer Mausoleum (the largest of all the privately occupied monuments in the cemetery) or the monument of HRH Princess Sophia daughter of George III directly in front of the Anglican Chapel at Kensal Green. At Arnos Vale Cemetery the Chattri or tomb of Raja Rammohun Roy is particularly grand. The Raja who was a social reformer and philosopher died on a visit to Bristol in 1833, his tomb is based on a traditional Bengali funerary monument and is visited annually on the anniversary of his death by representatives from the the Indian High Commission.
Arnos Vale Cemetery is currently undergoing conservation and restoration work for more details about the important work that is taking place and how to visit please visit http://arnosvalefriends.org.uk