Centrefold: Fatal attraction: South London's day of the dead

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Indy Lifestyle Online
People have been dying to get into Nunhead Cemetery for 150 years. Literally, of course, but metaphorically as well. Victorian cemeteries were grand, inviting places, where monuments jostled for prominence among botanical exotica.

Highgate and Nunhead were two of the grandest, both designed by the same architect. Nowadays, Highgate is a well-known tourist spot, charging pounds 3 a tour, and an extra pound to take your own photographs. Nunhead has crumbled more quietly. This Saturday is Nunhead's annual open day, with free tours every half-hour. Or you can go round for free on the last Sunday of every month, whatever the weather - they haven't missed a tour in six years.

The open day adds a thanatological theme to otherwise typical summer fete stalls. Alongside homemade cakes are advisers on genealogy, and free face-painting for children competes with displays of engraving and monumental restoration. There are plant stalls, a birds of prey display (including owls), a pole lathe demonstration and an insect hunt.

The real attraction is the cemetery itself. In the Seventies it was closed down and left to the dead - notoriously bad gardeners, tending to nourish weeds rather than discourage them.

The past is revealed in glimpses. Along the winding paths, the sky obscured by a canopy of trees, there are sometimes few clues to the original purpose of the place. But in every corpse-rich copse, lost white statues loom like immobile ghosts, or victims of a petrifying glance from some south London Medusa.

Nunhead Cemetery, Linden Grove, SE15. P12 bus, Nunhead BR. Friends of Nunhead Cemetery (081-639 1613)

(Photograph omitted)

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