‘My obsession with cemeteries began when, as a young child, I visited deceased family members with my parents. It was the thing we did one Sunday each month, taking flowers and tidying the graves. Whilst the adults chatted, I would wander off and look in amazement at the angels, doves and crosses. I have always been struck by their beauty and as I got older I began photographing them, purely for my own enjoyment. I started showing the photos to other people who said I should do a book. With a (then) full time Civil Service job as a fraud investigator, there was never enough time to take more photos and get something together properly. However, when I left that job I began writing articles and taking photographs full time and Silent Cities was born. Why Silent Cities?
It came about when I visited the huge Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris for the first time in 2006. I stood at the highest point overlooking thousands of monuments to take in the amazing sight. I said to my husband “It looks like a city, a silent city”, and the name just stuck.
I now use the name for the books, calendars and prints I sell through my website and at various cemetery open days. People tell me I show the beautiful side of cemeteries and help to make death a little less scary, which in my opinion can only be a good thing. I also became involved with the restoration of monuments that may otherwise be lost to reclamation or the elements. One of my projects is Arthur Beresford Pite (1861 – 1934) an architect who designed the building I worked in for many years. He is buried in West Norwood cemetery, South London and his grave has sustained much damage. The copper plaques with names and inscriptions are missing and part of the grave is suffering from subsidence and is tipping forwards. I am raising funds to restore the grave and recently installed a small plaque so that people can see who the grave is for. I also wrote a small book about my time in Arthur’s building and some of the stories about it – ‘Arthur has left the buildings’ Profits from the sale of books will be donated to the restoration fund. I have a website about Pite at: www.abpite.silent-cities.com
I am fascinated by mausoleums and beautiful memorials, particularly angels. The carving is amazing and their faces seem so real. When I started photographing them it soon became obvious that particular designs cropped up again and again. Angels holding on to crosses, angels scattering petals, angels with wings outstretched looking towards heaven etc. The more weathered they were, the more lifelike they appeared. I prefer the Victorian ones, which have a certain crumbling quality about them. Most of the modern angels seem too clean and white for my taste.
Stone masons never carved angels with tears, but some of their rain battered faces appeared to make them look as though they are crying. Did you also know that an angel holding up two fingers usually denotes a member of the clergy is buried beneath? I am often asked about the symbols on tombstones and what they mean; here are some of the more common ones: Anchor: Hope, an early Christian symbol. Chair: Commonly known as a vacant chair left by the deceased and often for a child or an unmarried woman. Column: A broken column signifies mortality, the support of life being broken. This was often used when a male, the head of the family had died. Hands: When clasped are a symbol of farewell – ‘Until we meet again’. If you look closely they will often be a man and a woman’s hands. Hourglass: The traditional symbol of Father Time, time running out. Obelisk: Eternal life and an Egyptian sun-worshipping symbol. Phoenix: Resurrection. Skull: Mortality, very popular in the late 1700s/early 1800s. Snake:With its tail in it’s mouth known as an Ouroboros, meaning eternity. Torch: An upturned torch means a life extinguished.
My favourite cemeteries are Highgate and Kensal Green in London, the Necropolis in Glasgow and Pere Lachaise in Paris. Each has its own distinct atmosphere. Highgate is wild, romantic and gothic. Kensal Green has many wonderful majestic memorials. The Necropolis is wonderfully eerie no matter what time of day you visit and Pere Lachaise is breathtaking with many of the vaults actually open so you can peek inside. I found the huge mausoleums were like miniature houses adorned with decorative features sometimes giving a glimpse into the life of its occupant. The first mausoleums of modern times were primitive, but with the arrival of Christianity things changed. Parish churches offered sites for burial and the memorials reflected the status of the deceased. Some of the earliest British mausoleums are found in Scottish graveyards in the late 1600s. In England, freestanding mausoleums did not appear until around the mid eighteenth century. My office houses my funerary collection. I have a great interest in burial rites and collect 19th century mourning cards and Victorian mourning jewellery. I find it a fascinating insight into a bygone era. I currently have around 500 mourning cards, some of which are very rare. There are two parts to the collection, 1860-1897 and 1905-1925 which include soldiers from the 1914-1918 war. Many of the rarer ones have black and silver engraving; others are like fold-out letters and many are conventional white cards with black borders. They were usually embossed with traditional symbols of grief such as an inverted torch, weeping willow trees, a broken column or angels and were intended as reminders of the dead so that the recipient would pray for the deceased. The card contained the name and age of the dead person as well as the date and place of burial. They did not tend to include a photograph until later years. Jeane Trend-Hill – photographer, author, artist, actress and bone fide ‘Lady http://askjeane.homestead.com