The Petrol Station Pet Cemetery

Probably the last place one would expect to find a pretty little pet cemetery is a garage forecourt, but such a site existed in Kent for some time. The small grassy ridge beside the garage owned by Commander A. Tomlinson was once decorated with a handful of well-tended graves of pets, all sadly killed by traffic. These memorials at the commander’s filling station were all erected by his hand – as an animal lover, it pained him to see so many little lives lost.

The roadside cemetery sat against the London road in Hildenborough, being one of the main routes from Tonbridge to the capital. While this was undoubtedly good for business, the road itself could be incredibly dangerous.

This unofficial pet cemetery was marked with a simple sign reading ‘Cemetery for Dogs and Cats Killed On The Road’, which hovered above a sign for ‘The Boiling Kettle’ café. I can only speak for myself, but a cat grave and a cuppa sounds like a rather pleasant day out.

Due to the age of the photographs, discerning epitaphs is a difficult job, but not impossible. I expected sweet little verses of lost lives, not satirical comments, so boy was I surprised…

‘Ginger – The old barn tom cat. Lost all his nine lives when a five ton lorry ran over him on 31.7.32. No more shall his voice be heard in the stilly night.’

‘Crip – A Mongrel. Attacked a motor cyclist on 5.4.31. and took 2nd prize’

‘Fritz – A German sausage dog. Killed crossing the road near Tonbridge. His front part crossed safely, his after end was hit by a Triumph motor cycle. Gott Straffe Motor Cyclists.’

‘Like many humans, poor Druscilla, a west highland terrier bitch was not quite all there. She went altogether on 30.3.33. when she met a lady driving a Morris car.’

Most images of the site originate from the early to mid 1930s, when there were far fewer cars on the road, but perhaps rather more inexperienced drivers. In the UK, there were no official driving tests and no speed limits imposed in built up areas until 1934, making it little wonder that so many unsuspecting pets met a sticky end.

Commander Tomlinson was a very successful man, owning not just the filling station and café, but a large expanse of farmland, which he turned into a local attraction with windmill, bakery, exhibition space and plenty of animals. Over the years, he brought penguins, monkeys and a variety of farm animals to entertain and amaze. Much like his roadside efforts, for every animal that died on the farm, he dug them a grave – which is no mean feat when considering that he owned cows. One such epitaph read: ‘Pause, stranger, and shed a tear for or Buttercup, one of the best cows that ever kicked the bucket.’[1]

There are few mentions of the pet cemetery online past a handful of 90-year-old press photographs, however it seems that Commander Tomlinson’s garage is still in business, albeit under a different name. A BP garage with an M&S Food shop can be found at 81 Tonbridge Road, Hildenborough, but there is no sign of a grassy verge or any little graves. According to local recollections, the graves remained in place until the late 80s when they were removed.

Although it seems that the gravestones may well have been discarded in the name of progress, they still exist! Although hard to discern from Google street view photographs, tucked away by some parking spots are those familiar little gravestones, complete with odd epitaphs!

While the cemetery may no longer be a notable local feature, this small clutch of black and white photos remind us of the kindness of strangers and one man’s rather unexpected love of animals.


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Sources and References: (More information about the commander and his business)


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