"WE ARE ONLY SLEEPING, MASTER..."
Updated: Dec 8, 2021
DIGGING AROUND IN LONDON'S HIDDEN VICTORIAN PET CEMETERY
Fleetingly mentioned in Neverland in Shadow is the Victorian pet cemetery located within Hyde Park - home also, of course, to London’s most celebrated Peter Pan statue.
The cemetery was established around 1880 and would close in 1903. Across that period, approximately 1,000 animals - overwhelmingly dogs - were laid to rest at the site, many beneath miniature versions of gravestones bearing the adored animal’s name and sometimes a motto or tribute.
Although the cemetery is dominated by canine inhabitants, other animals buried there include birds, three monkeys and several cats. Here, Peter the cat is touchingly remembered as a faithful friend.
The Cherry Stone
The first pet interred at the cemetery - in the garden of the park’s Victoria Lodge building - is thought to be Cherry, a Maltese dog belonging to the Barned family.
The Barneds had been regular visitors to the park, and were acquainted with a Mr Winbridge, the keeper of Victoria Lodge. Winbridge agreed that Cherry ought to be laid to rest in the lodge garden.
A lady. A Duke. And a prince
Next up, in 1882, was Prince, the pet dog of Sarah Fairbrother, wife of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge.
Such a high-profile interment attracted attention. Reacting to this, Mr Winbridge, who had once been a servant of the duke, subsequently opened the garden at Victoria Lodge to other burials, effectively founding what was to be known as the London Hyde Park Dog Cemetery.
The burial ground became England’s first such facility, overseen by Winbridge, who carried out the ceremonies and also improved the surrounding garden area.
The gravestones reflected, in all but their dimensions, the stones applied to human resting places at that time. Both erred on the plain side. And both employed similar phrasing such as ‘here lies’ and ‘rest in peace’.
'Here lie two faithful creatures. We are only sleeping, master' reads this devastating tribute to Snap and (another) Peter.
Wikipedia tells us also that sleep metaphors, comparable to those carved into regular cemetery markers, were not uncommon. Of great interest too is the presence of biblical quotations among the gravestones. This may point to a belief among some Victorians that animals were possessive of souls.
A GRAVEYARD Laid to rest
Lack of space contributed to the 1903 closure of the cemetery, with only a handful of sporadic burials occurring after this time. The last known such ceremony was performed in 1976.
Today, the site is closed to the public - somewhat depressingly this is owing to the risk of vandalism - and nature, in the form of ferns and ivy, is encroaching, as it should.
Private tours, however, of what has been gently renamed the Hyde Park Pet Cemetery, can be booked via its owner the Royal Parks charity - an organisation which also manages Kensington Gardens: a prominent fixture in Peter Pan lore.
'Friend' & 'faithful' appear to be key sentiments across the resting-place. This stone also indicates the weight (3lb) of Yorkshire Terrier 'Minnie' and describes 'Pat' as 'beautiful'.
Alternatively, and magically, there exists a tantalising way to behold a very small area of the location - simply by peeking through the railings close to Victoria House on Bayswater Road. That’s just a hop, skip and jump from what was J.M. Barrie’s home, at number 100.
It’s surely conceivable then that on the numerous Hyde Park strolls the author indulged in, that he would have known of the cemetery.
An emotionally-charged tribute to darling 'Dolly'.
Perhaps, whilst musing on the Peter Pan adventures he was creating in the very early 1900s Barrie, and his own dog Porthos - a Saint Bernard, and the real-life inspiration for the stories’ Nana - may even have visited the site. If so, they’d have been among the final curious callers to have walked amid the tributes to so many well-loved animal companions.
Porthos, J.M. Barrie's Saint Bernard, and the inspiration for Nana, nursemaid to the Darling children. In Neverland in Shadow, Porthos' name is used as the title of a video game enjoyed by John & Michael Darling.
More than a mere dalliance.
TWO HEROIC ORGANISATIONS TO CONSIDER SUPPORTING
Cats Protection and Dogs Trust work hard to care for animals across the UK. Find out more about these fine organisations by clicking/tapping the logos below.
"AND AT NIGHT WHEN THE MOON IS BRIGHT..."
Finally, the opportunity to reanimate a Ramones song should never be missed. So here is Pet Sematary.
This was written for the 1989 Stephen King-penned film of the same name, and can also be unearthed on the band's Brain Drain LP of that year. The song could have been a novelty. It could have been rubbish. Instead, it was fun, offered a killer chorus and became the group's biggest U.S. hit.
This post acknowledges Wikipedia as a principal source of information.