Nunhead’s Hidden Spaces

Every Shade of Green in Nunheadstatue in the cemetery

It’s an chilly, overcast Sunday afternoon in London and I’m a little gloomy having just returned from 3,200 meters above sea level in the French Pyrenees. I grab my little Cannon G12 and decide to look for some inspiration in Nunhead’s many green spaces.

I start with Nunhead Cemetery, or rather All Saints Cemetery Nunhead, as it is one of my personal favourites. You may be amused that I choose a 52 acre Victorian cemetery to lift a gloomy mood – not a natural choice you may think. It’s the last Sunday of April and I bump into the team from F.O.N.C. (Friends of Nunhead Cemetery). Their lovely warm smiles – and Portakabin office – are looking very inviting but I stay focussed on my photography mission. Rob volunteers to take me on a private walking tour of the western side of the cemetery. This is the part I am least familiar with so I accept the kind offer happily.

flowersI’m surprised to discover that the western side of the cemetery was for burials of people deemed “non-believers” by the church. This includes a number of notable clergy. Rob mentions that many tombs have nautical references as we are not far from Greenwich and I notice a sculpture of a gowned woman holding a ships anchor. We head uphill to yet another surprise. A solitary bench facing an unexpected and unbroken view of St Paul’s Cathedral in the distance. Rob informs me that this is one of the few views in London protected in law that can never be obstructed by development. As we amber along, Rob takes me to one of his favourite tombstones of an angel kneeling in prayer. Sweetly, someone has placed a cut bunch of Spring bluebells in the angel’s clasped hands. We walk on and come to “East Street Market” corner. This is an area of the cemetery reserved for the burial of East Street Market traders.

As Rob and I chat, I get a real insight into the tireless work of the F.O.N.C. The thing that strikes me the most is that everything the volunteers do – from repairing angel limbs, to weeding, to protecting and regenerating woodland wildlife, to removing trees that are endangering tombs – is done in such a away as to be “invisible” to the many thousands of families, artists, couples, photographers, film crews, joggers, ramblers, entomologists and dog owners who enjoy Nunhead Cemetery every single year. Perhaps contrary to its original purpose, the whole atmosphere at Nunhead Cemetery is one of both man and nature very much alive! The next Nunhead Cemetery “Annual Open Day” is on the 21st May 2016 and the “Animals in Service” Public Art exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Somme runs throughout weekends in May 2016. Not to be missed.

Kirkwood nature reserveReluctantly, I leave Rob and head to my next destination – the Kirkwood Nature Reserve. Although I live nearby, I confess I have never actually been here. The first thing I discover is that this small hidden green space is indeed a thriving nature reserve with winding path, trees in full spring blossom and all manner of birds, beetles and butterflies. Head to the rustic bridge, look for Speckled Wood butterflies and Stag beetles, rest on the well placed curved benches or bring your dog for a more energetic experience.Bench in Consort Park





My next stop couldn’t be more different – the small and perfectly manicured Consort Park. Groomed lawns, picnic benches, pruned trees and landscaped paths. This is a favourite amongst local teenagers and dog walkers alike and I meet Mike and his elderly, well-fed, bull terrier out for some late afternoon fresh air.

log bench

From Consort Park I head to the nearby Cossall Park and find yet a different experience again. This large, hidden, lawned and tree lined green space is all about carefree childhood. The local children have set up an informal football match which is now is in full swing complete with jumpers used as goalposts. View of Cossall ParkThis reminds me of my own childhood when we were free to play without adult supervision until dusk in our local parks in suburban Melbourne. It’s great to see children running, competing, yelling and laughing. Certainly puts paid to the idea that all children want to do is play with digital devices! It seems to me that if we provide safe, enclosed, green spaces children will simply come. And for such a small ward, Nunhead certainly has many, excellent green spaces for the enjoyment of adults, children and pets alike.

Vicky Kitson
24th April 2016