WORDS & PICTURES: Gareth E. Rees
Brighton on a murky Easter Friday.
A spectral mist scrubs out the sea and tall landmarks, leaving visible only streets and gravestones.
It’s appropriate weather. I’m heading to a pub to listen to a live incarnation of The Séance, a ‘phantom seaside radio show’ helmed by Pete Wiggs and James Papademetrie.
On the way, my wife and I deviate through the gates of St Nicholas Rest Garden, lured in by mist and carved stone.
The original design by architect Amon Henry Wilds envisioned a burial pyramid for several thousand coffins and a row of 23 burial vaults. His idea was inspired by Thomas Willson’s plans in 1829 for a 94 storey burial pyramid in Primrose Hill, London.
Alas, neither pyramid was ever to be realised.
In St Nicholas Rest Garden only fourteen of the burial vaults were built. They form a brooding row on one side of the garden, giving the place a lopsided, unfinished feel. Some contain coffins behind their elaborate fake stone doors. You can barely make out the inscriptions on the weather-worn slabs.
Others have always been empty. Tombs with no tenants. One is now a storage shed for gardening tools with a sympathetically carved wooden door that mimics its neighbours. Nobody knows if there was once a corpse where the hoes are now stacked.
In 1940 the tombstones in the garden were displaced and arranged around the outside of the garden to create a public park. Only a few tombs remain on the grass among the daffodils. Aesthetic fragments of an idea that never came to its grim fruition.
Gareth E. Rees is author of Marshland: Dreams & Nightmares on the Edge of London. His work appears in Mount London: Ascents In the Vertical City, Acquired for Development By: A Hackney Anthology, and the album A Dream Life of Hackney Marshes. His essay ‘Wooden Stones’ is included in the forthcoming Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography.