A Tomb With a View: The Stories and Glories of Graveyards: Scottish Non-fiction Book of the Year 2021
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The history is brought alive through tales of workers and residents and tradition and rights are detailed and explored. Why did John Constable (aka ‘urban magician’ John Crow) set up the Crossbones annual vigil for London’s medieval outcast dead outside the place where they were buried in unmarked graves?
Every week, First World War casualties are found when farmers dig up their fields or ground is being prepared for building. The final chapter of A Tomb with a View discusses Arnos Vale, a cemetery in Bristol, England and one that I am quite familiar with, as I lived next door in Bath for four years. Moving to read that if remains of Canadian soldiers are identified and buried in a CWGC, they are removed from the Vimy Memorial. Notice to Internet Explorer users Server security: Please note Internet Explorer users with versions 9 and 10 now need to enable TLS 1.I have experienced first-hand the knowledge of public engagement manager Janine Marriott, as she provided a tour during the fourteenth edition of the Death, Dying and Disposal conference that is held biennially. The glories come from the stones and memorials, and many of the stories come from the people he meets, the conversations they strike up and the curious lives they lead.
By the third act, there are more corpses than live members left in the cast and what about the sympathetic nurse and the author of romantic novels are they all, or more than, they seem to be? The first barmaid in England to have been eaten by a tiger (Hannah Twynoy, 23 October 1703, Malmesbury) makes it into his pages. But it is especially delightful to encounter peaceful green spaces full of wildlife and intriguing personal histories. A Tomb With a View: the stories and glories of graveyards is the first book I am writing about that is actually concerned with cemeteries.Ross tells the stories of the graveyards and their dead, true, but most of all he conveys how the relationships between the dead and those who remain behind deepen with time. I read A Tomb With A View every weekend morning throughout October, sitting on the couch next to my husband, reading bits out to him, and at one point exclaiming (it was during the Cedar chapter - let’s just say I’m very glad we visited Highgate Cemetery when we did). What is the remarkable truth about Phoebe Hessel, who disguised herself as a man to fight alongside her sweetheart, and went on to live in the reigns of five monarchs? One I was familiar with was the connection a grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh has with JK Rowling and the Harry Potter character Tom Riddle. It spoke to me of a way of doing things that felt less rigid and pompous and was for the living as much as the dead.
He is accompanying former Sinn Fein spokesman Danny Morrison, who points out each place someone was killed by the British Army as they pass by. I loved the story of the couple who were born on the same day as each other, married on their birthday and who died on the day they were both 80. He tells us ‘ The coronavirus outbreak intensified this feeling I have that we are always in the company of the dead; that the outstretched palm is only a handspan away’. Here, that seems particularly true of the chapters set in Dublin and – particularly – Belfast, where the ‘dark romance’ of the paramilitary dead colours the city ‘like some hidden pigment just outside the visible spectrum’. He deals, too, with traditions of death and how we remember people, exploring Islamic burials, the natural death movement, the impending crisis as our cemeteries reach bursting point and much more, all with a genuine human curiousity and respect.
His stories are often bizarre, such as the vigils at and consecration of the Crossbones graveyard for prostitutes in Southwark or a Viking handfasting ceremony in the Nonconformist chapel of Arnos Vale cemetery in Bristol. The book is also a meditation on a personal approach to mortality, burial customs, and what follows after.
But what really interests Ross are the small stories, tales he says, that are everywhere ‘lying beneath the moss and leaves’. He does the same with Shane MacThomais, who lies in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery, having worked there as a tour guide, sharing his knowledge of and love for the place before taking his own life close to the main gates. A tomb with a view brings to live so many aspects of history that might easily be forgotten; inconspicuous tomb stones can have a wealth of fascinating information about the past behind them. James Joyce and Charles Dickens would’ve loved it - a book that reveals much gravity in the humour and many stories in the graveyard.Peter Ross's books are all really good and this one is a bit different but also wonderfully written and informative. Some are opened up to the living for tours (of which the “Queerly Departed” tour of the graves of LGBTQ people in Brompton cemetery is a fine example), others as wedding venues. By completing your purchase, you agree to Audible's Conditions of Use and authorise Audible to charge your designated card or any other card on file. Although I had thought that there was nothing further I could learn to loath about the Catholic Church (and I say that as a catholic born and educated) Mr. A fascinating and brilliant book, so unexpected and so life affirming - if that is not contradictory in a book about the dead.