Created in 1881 quite by accident, Hyde Park’s Dog Cemetery is but one more of the capital’s many hidden burial sites, but is arguably one of the sweetest.
When the site closed in 1903, it held over 300 interments and became quite the public hot topic, with George Orwell calling it, “Perhaps the most horrible spectacle in Britain.” Well, George, I beg to disagree.
The cemetery was not conventionally created, with the first burial intended as a kind favour from Hyde Park’s gatekeeper, Mr Winbridge. Mr and Mrs J. Lewis Barned were regular visitors to the park with their children and elderly Maltese terrier, Cherry. When Cherry died of old age, they spoke to the local gatekeeper (who had befriended the family after years of selling them ginger beer and lollipops) who agreed to bury Cherry in Victoria Lodge’s back garden. This was a patch that Cherry adored in life, and so was ideal to commemorate the fluffy friend’s final resting place. Cherry’s family got permission and his tiny grave still remains, reading ‘Poor Cherry. Died April 28. 1881.’
Cherry remained resting in solitude until a Yorkshire Terrier named Prince died following a carriage accident. Prince was buried alongside Cherry and soon, a deluge of pet burials followed. This popularity was not attributed to the park’s peaceful location, but thanks to Prince’s owner, The Duke of Cambridge. As with so many places, fashions and tastes, as soon as a royal connection is established, popularity spikes.
According to Historic UK, a selection of beautiful inscriptions can’t help but tug at the heart strings: ‘Dear Impy – Loving and Loved’, ‘Alas! Poor Zoe’, and ‘Darling Dolly – my sunbeam, my consolation, my joy’. But then, there’s Topper. A dog with a sad and grizzly end that doesn’t help to strengthen any appreciation of historical policing methods:
‘Then there’s Topper, Hyde Park police station’s Fox terrier that, “did not posses that instinct of personal cleanliness” as E. A. Brayley Hodgetts put it, in his 1893 article for the Strand Magazine. But Topper’s greatest sin was gluttony. It was through overeating that his health declined and in pity was clobbered off his mortal coil by a truncheon.’
Gatekeeper Mr Winbridge conducted all ceremonies himself, but would often do so alone, with families too overcome with grief to be present at the grave site. In one instance of 1892, Lord Petre had sent his dog to be buried in Hyde Park, intending to attend the ceremony himself, but was so heartbroken that he passed away the same night.
Aside from dogs, the cemetery also holds the remains of birds, one cat and three small monkeys. Crammed together, there are very recognisable names and sentiments – ‘Spot’, ‘Pippin’ and’ Bobbie’, but also ‘Smut’, ‘Butcha’, ‘Fattie’ and a handful of ‘Bogies’ for good measure. Stranger still, one dear little ‘Scum’ is buried in a simple, sweet grave.
Closed in 1903, the cemetery is now only open for private tours and remains at the top of my ‘to visit’ list. The postcard that introduced me to this sweet little spot of London history was sent in 1915, which shows that the cemetery remained a local place of curiosity for many years afterwards.
As I write this, a tiny fluffy little madam is kicking me in the legs as she dreams of chews and chasing squirrels. With pets being such an integral part of our everyday lives, it’s no wonder that these places of burial and remembrance resonate down the centuries. x
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