A Tomb With a View: The Stories and Glories of Graveyards: Scottish Non-fiction Book of the Year 2021

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A Tomb With a View: The Stories and Glories of Graveyards: Scottish Non-fiction Book of the Year 2021

A Tomb With a View: The Stories and Glories of Graveyards: Scottish Non-fiction Book of the Year 2021

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Even as a child, growing up in Stirling, he haunted the nearby cemetery; in lockdown, he has found himself walking most days in the cemetery behind his house ‘as a vaccination against gloom’.

So does the first woman to be bayoneted while fighting as a soldier in the British Army and then live until 108 (Phoebe Hessel, 12 December, 1821). Such care is taken to resite the remains, to identify them and to then contact living relatives, if any can be found.

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? Every week, First World War casualties are found when farmers dig up their fields or ground is being prepared for building. I have felt immense sadness for those whose grave markers have not been able to survive the elements and passage of time, but I think I will view this differently now. George I heard of him and brought him over to England where he was feted at court until, growing tired of his inability to communicate and his erratic behaviour, he was sent to work on a farm where he eventually grew old, surrounded by people who cared for him.

This is a rambling walk in a whole host of graveyards around the UK from the Victorian London graveyards to the IRA war cemey in Belfast. Remembering the dead is key, for then, they become people again, suffused with personality and history, mute vessels for love and longing. How she took off his shroud just before he was put in the ground and how it now hangs above her fireplace. James Joyce and Charles Dickens would've loved it - a book that reveals much gravity in the humour and many stories in the graveyard.Like Ross, I found solace in local graveyards throughout the pandemic, and have done pretty much my whole life – they’re beautiful, quiet, soothing greens spaces teeming with life and mystery. 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. A quick Google would have corrected that for him but he clearly didn't bother putting the effort in, and that, in a nutshell, is what a lot of the book felt like. We did pubs and nice little towns like Rye and good food and some Great Houses, but what every time surprised them most was the visit to an English countryside graveyard.

Moving, warm and redemptive, it's a sort of travelogue - we are transported to remote Scottish island burying grounds via the bustle and crush of east London to the forgotten resting places of soldiers who fell in the first world war.

Fascinating these lives may have been – and Ross is right, Hessel’s is a BBC drama series waiting to happen – but they have all reached a full stop. But empathy gets you the whole story, the kind of story Ross heard from that woman in Devon and which is echoed throughout this engaging book, filled as it is with life, and loss, and love. In 1859, when Jules Verne visited Edinburgh, he noted that, among the city’s haute bourgeoisie, one of the most popular destinations for a Sunday afternoon stroll was around the well-maintained paths and gardens of Warriston Cemetery. But let’s face it, once you’ve stood in front of their lichened graves and read the inscriptions, unless you’re writing a biography, what else is there to say?

It gives those so long forgotten their voices back - the reader can hear the whispers of the lost girls of Crossbones and the skulls of St Leonard's ossuary and it's strangely, unexpectedly, comforting. Particularly fascinating was the chapter on the work of the CWGC and how they attempt to identify remains which even now are still being recovered in France etc. It "digs" under the surface to tell lost of stories and the stories of those living and dead in them. A Tomb With A View is set in as sinister an old library as one is likely to come across presided over by a portrait of a grim faced, mad eyed old man. Taphophiles – people who are interested in cemeteries, funerals and gravestones – are an interesting bunch.

Firstly, it is obviously a place to bury the dead, but many cemeteries are filled to capacity and since burial in the UK is in perpetuity, spaces are running out. Death has been banished to a certain extent, gone are the days when the children in villages would want to see the recently deceased and all trooping up to the bedroom to pay those last respects. This book therefore read like a stream of consciousness, in which the author described his experiences at different graveyards however he remembered them, and throwing in some fun facts for good measure. Stunningly brilliant and beautiful - it is more then a book about cemeteries - it is about death and our response to it and it is most definitely more then a mawkish contemplation of the excesses of Victorian burial habits - Peter Ross is no starry-eyed nostalgists for the days of horse drawn funeral carriages, black plumes, bombazine, crepe and child mutes - he is a man who can look at difficult realities with an honest and fair approach that I could not match (I am thinking here of his account of Milltown cemetery in Belfast which I admired so much because I would never have been able to conceal my loathing). It is therefore wonderful that Ross has collected and written down these stories; if the physical cemeteries disappear the stories behind them will be around for as long as copies of A Tomb With a View are available.



  • Fruugo ID: 258392218-563234582
  • EAN: 764486781913
  • Sold by: Fruugo

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