Hoddesdon Cemetery: Table Tombs and Chapels for Ants

Hoddesdon cemetery is much like any other cemetery close to the capital. Sitting in Hertfordshire in the home counties, Hoddesdon cemetery is flanked by trees, shielding it from the road and the gaze of passing commuters.

Hoddesdon is very much a working cemetery, filled with fresh internments and contemporary memorials. While Victorian cemeteries are beautiful and fascinating places, a cemetery stuck in the 19thcentury is experienced somewhat as a historical site and is removed from its original purpose.

Hoddesdon Cemetery, opened in 1883, is a hub of activity, with Victorian angels sitting alongside modern memorials.

Hoddesdon has only a small clutch of famous names interred within it. Lena Zavaroni, the woman who enjoyed child stardom in the 1970s, is interred there; alongside similarly well-tended graves.

One particularly interesting element of Hoddesdon is that it is the place of internment of many Italian families. This cross-cultural variety in memorial is something which is so rarely seen in 19thcentury cemeteries and is a fine representation of cultural memorial aesthetic.

Many family graves within Hoddesdon are noticeably large and grand, many being what are termed ‘full double monuments’. The safety requirements of modern-day cemeteries forbid towering monuments, therefore many families choose to establish large burial spaces, covering multiple plots. Broxbourne council (which manages and owns the cemetery) maintains that all memorials should not exceed three feet in height. Subsequently, many large family tombs reach this maximum height, expanding outwards to give the appearance of an enormous granite table.

This type of memorial masonry (a large square fixture) would suggest that there lies a large vault or brick grave beneath it. This would indicate either 3 or 4 brick walls (depending on vault or brick grave) which would have reinforced concrete slabs across the top. The memorial masonry would then be built up from these slabs, so that its footing is on solid ground. The masonry itself appears to be primarily granite and would be transported to the grave site in several different sections. Once delivered, it would be constructed using dowel pins. Obviously, all lettering would be done pre-construction. The inside of such memorials would be hollow with brick columns supporting the inside of the structure.

Considering these graves are primarily family plots, the process of reinternment presents a number of issues. If the grave is brick, the entire structure would have to be removed and the reinforced slabs pulled up to allow the next burial. If the burial is a vault, this is a rather more simple affair. There will be a small slab at the foot of the grave through which the chamber can be accessed. Therefore, the memorial can remain mostly intact.

However, regardless of construction, to have the details of the newly deceased added to the headstone would still result in part of the grave being deconstructed and sent away for engraving.

Height restrictions notwithstanding, Hoddesdon families have created some striking and unusual memorials to their loved ones – not least, a carousel horse  and several large mosaic depictions of Christ!

Hoddesdon is also home to 24 commonwealth war graves, from soldiers lost in the first and second world wars. These are in a separate, dedicated section of small granite slabs and are perpetually covered in cultivated plants and flowers.

One of my favourite memorials is a small scaled-down chapel in the first section of the cemetery. It is so beautifully detailed, with such intricate stained glass windows, that it it truly a work of art in itself. If it were not in a cemetery, I’d mark it down as the world’s Barbie’s ecclesiastical Dream House! There are no similar memorials in the rest of the cemetery and certainly makes an impact!

In September 2016, the crematorium editor of the Westerleigh Group commented that a new burial ground and crematorium within Hoddesdon was necessary as the cemetery itself was on track to run out of space for new burials within two years.

Overcrowding has long been a problem for city cemeteries. Although times have changed since the burial acts of the 1850s and overcrowding is not so much a public health issue as a land issue, problems still arise with accommodating the dead and grieving of London and its surrounding boroughs.

While Hoddesdon now boasts two cemeteries, plots were swiftly reserved before the new ground even opened its gates. Land remains at a premium and families want the first bite of the cherry. Richard Evans, Managing Director of Westerleigh is recoded saying in 2016 that “A number of families have already chosen positions and we have appointments to see more in the coming days.”[1]

While Hoddesdon will soon cease accepting new burials (if it hasn’t already), the issues of overcrowding and how to deal with the dead will only increase with time. With multiple crematoriums now a necessity within the county, Hoddesdon is but one small satellite town that will have to develop a new relationship with death and disposal to cope with an aging and growing population.










All photos are my own, unless otherwise stated.


Other photos:

Carousel Horse Grave image via Wikimedia Commons


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