Unless you’re cat and dog happened to be a fan of the Ramones, the place they’d want to be buried in Victorian times would almost certainly be the Hyde Park Pet Cemetery. The British have always been a nation of pet lovers, having higher percentage of cat and dog ownership than almost any other country, and in Victorian England with it’s fixation with death this translated into the wealthy giving their best friends a everlasting monument in what would later become the public parks on the nation. London was no exception, and in an obscure part of Hyde Park near Bayswater Road/Victoria Gate, just behind the railings, is this monument to the bond between humanity and pet-kind.
The cemetery was opened in 1881 and was so popular with the capital’s pet owners that it had to close to new burials in less years (34, closing in 1915 according to some, or 22, closing in 1903 according to others) than the oldest cat lived for (a spectacular 38 years). It is often, but incorrectly, thought cemetery came into being when the Commander in Chief of the British Army, the Duke of Cambridge, whose role involved being the Chief Ranger of the park, tried to help his wife, Louisa Fairbrother, overcome her emotions at the death of their dog Prince who had been run over. The Duke asked the gatekeeper, Mr Windbridge, if they could give the dog a funeral and burial just outside his lodge. He agreed, and in the next thirty five years would agree to around 300 more burials in his tiny garden. But Prince wasn’t the first resident – this title probably belongs to Cherry, a Maltese Terrier belonging to the Barned family who knew the gatekeeper personally. Cherry’s headstone epitaph reads ‘Poor Cherry. Died April 28. 1881′. While most stopped in 1915, one more burial was allowed in 1967 of the Royal Marines mascot who was named Prince.
The garden became the final resting place of plenty of dogs and cats, as well as a monkey and countless birds, with so many in such a small place due to a uniform layout of tightly packed rows. The epitaphs on their stones quote everything from Shakespeare to the Bible and are a fascinating insight into the Victorian mind. Interestingly names for pets were no less silly then – among the headstones names like Scamp, Smut, Chin Chin, Pupsey, Chips and Fattie stand out. Originally each grave had it’s own area for flowers, but the owners of the pets have long passed meaning only grass is seen here today. No everyone appreciated the cemetery’s presence however, George Orwell commented that is was ‘perhaps the most horrible spectacle’ in London.
Anyone wanting to visit needs to plan in advance: visitors need to have made arrangements at least a week in advance. Get in touch with the Royal Parks to do this. It’s possible to see a fair amount through the railings however so unless you’re wanting to read all the individual inscriptions you could just pop down and peer in on this morbid collection of headstones. Another good way of seeing it is from the top deck of a 148 or 390 bus as it goes past, time your visit for rush hour for a longer view.