Hyde Park ‘pet’ cemetery
I have recently been working on an article for a book arising from the conference organised in Sydney earlier this year on animal death. The article compares three ‘pet’ cemeteries: Hyde Park in London, Hartsdale outside New York, and the Cimitiere des Chiens in Asnieres – sur –Seine in Paris. Dating back to the late nineteenth century, these are the oldest ones in their respective countries.
The Hyde Park Dog Cemetery as it was originally called (it also admitted the corpses of three small monkeys, and two cats) was established in 1880 in the part of the huge park that lies adjacent to Kensington Gardens (and opposite Lancaster Gate). Although accounts vary as to the origins of the cemetery – either initiated by the Duke of Connaught or through a favour of the gatekeeper to friends who lived nearby – it is evident that the cemetery was not run for profit but as a philanthropic gesture towards grieving animal owners. The acreage was small being situated within the garden of Mr Winbridge the gatekeeper at the Victoria Lodge. Within a few years there was no further space and by 1902, when it contained some three hundred graves , the cemetery was permanently closed. Public cemeteries for animals reflected the form of the commemoration found in contemporary human cemeteries. Thus funerals were conducted, that included attendance by former canine friends. Headstones were laid out in little rows and carried epitaphs, for example, as quoted on the headstone of ‘Betty’:
And when at length my own life’s work is o’er,
I hope to find her waiting as of yore,
Eager, expectant, glad to meet me at the door’.
One of my favourites is the headstone remembering Balu and Fritz and the tantalising traces of a tragic narrative.
The cemetery is rarely open to the public but if you walk along Bayswater Road in the winter months as I did last week, in preparation for another animal themed guided walk, you can glimpse some of the graves through the bare trees.