On busy days, short of time, I walk my dog around Ashford Cemetery, on the Canterbury Road. Now that spring is here, the grass is cut weekly, bringing a sharp-sweet smell to the air … and sometimes a hunger-inducing oniony one, as the wild garlic is also shorn. The scents and the lozenges of vivid colour, created by chrysanthemums, fritillaries and primroses planted onto the graves, make it a very vibrant place, despite the gravestones.
On the left of the large wrought-iron entrance gates is Cullen’s Lodge*, a fine Victorian gothic house, named after George Cullen, who retired as curator of the cemetery in 1925, after 37 years, and 6,675 burials. One must have a distinctive perspective on life, when you’ve performed that many burials.
Ashford cemetery was opened in May 1859. Urban burial grounds such as this one, were originally envisaged as public open spaces. They were professionally designed, often by the same people who designed parks, to be attractive places to visit in their own right, and were considered part of the ‘park family’. Like most cemeteries, it was organized so that specific parts of the site were reserved for different denominations. There are two mounds: one in the middle and one to the left of the site. The larger one in the middle was where a Church of England chapel once stood and the smaller mound to the right had a chapel for use by non-conformist churches.
There are several very tall ‘monkey-puzzle’ trees and firs: Victorian ornamental favourites. There are also large, unusual, teacup-shaped yew bushes bordering the paths, giving a very Art Deco look to the cemetery, and which my dog loves to brush underneath to give his back a good scratch!
As one might expect with many trees and bushes around, the cemetery is a haven for wildlife. Most distinctively, there are a couple of green woodpeckers nesting in the cemetery, giving their characteristic throaty chuckle as they fly too high for my chasing dog. I often see a dancing troupe of goldfinches, looking like a string of fairy lights blowing in the wind, as they pirouette between the trees. In addition, are bluetits, greenfinches, chaffinches, jays and magpies. On a couple of occasions, I have seen a sparrowhawk – and some pigeon victims with their hearts pecked out.
Many local Victorian and Edwardian gentry, business and professional families are buried within the cemetery. For example, there are several graves belonging to the Jemmett family. George Elwick Jemmett (after whom Elwick and Jemmett roads were named) was Lord of the Manor as well as owning Ashford Town’s bank. More on the Jemmett family in another post.
* Now a private residence.