If you walk along the Bayswater Road by Hyde Park, pass Victoria Lodge and turn your head to peer through the railings, you will see what looks like a goblins' war cemetery. Crowded together are 300 tiny marble gravestones which make up the Hyde Park Pet Cemetery, opened between 1880 and 1903 for the burial of pet dogs.

In 1880, the gatekeeper at Victoria Lodge was one Mr Winbridge. According to the Strand Magazine, he did not 'disdain to sell lollypops and goodies in that wonderful palace of delights. If he was regarded with a mixture of dread and veneration, his form, his red waistcoat and gold-laced hat, and his kindly, benevolent countenance, were also associated in children's minds with luscious eatables.'

In particular, the children of Mr and Mrs J Lewis Barnes were constant frequenters of his lodge. 'When therefore their companion and play- fellow, the intelligent and accomplished Cherry, was overtaken by the infirmities of old age and died, what more fitting resting place could be found for his old bones than the spot he had loved so well in his life?'

Cherry was the first dog to be buried in the cemetery. He was a Maltese terrier, graceful, elegant and dandified. 'He was an accomplished dog of the world and delighted in giving drawing-room entertainments. Dressed up as a baby, carefully tucked up in a perambulator, he always 'brought down the house'.'

It was Cherry's invariable custom to fetch his mistress's letters and carry them up into her room. When Cherry could not get in, he would gently push them under the door. 'So intelligent and amiable a dog deserved a Christian burial.'

With a few exceptions, the dogs whose remains are interred there belonged to local residents. The burial ceremony was generally performed by Mr Winbridge, but only rarely in the presence of the bereaved owners, 'who are mostly too much overcome with grief to be be to face this last cruel parting.'

One who did not attend his dog's burial in 1892 was Lord Petre, who sent the animal to be buried and wanted to be there at the ceremony the following morning. But unfortunately, his 'lordship could not survive the loss of his favourite and died before he was able to fulfil his promise'.

Then there was the unspeakable Topper, who was apparently 'insufferably vulgar, whose deplorable self-indulgence was the cause of his untimely end. He was a common, disreputable fox terrier and belonged to the Hyde Park police station. He had his favourites with whom he turned out on night duty.'

But there was another side to him. 'Policemen whom he did not like, he still pretended to be fond of, and would accompany them on night duty and then get lost and come back disconsolate to the police station. But his greatest fault was greediness. It was through overeating that he got ill and in pity he was appropriately killed with a truncheon.'

According to Simon Richards, a park ranger, the cemetery was closed in 1903 when it was full. Since then it has been maintained as an interesting Victorian relic.

Because it would be easily vandalised, it is not open to the public, but anyone can ring up Hyde Park and ask to see it if they wish. It is impossible not to be touched by the serried ranks of tombstones, to 'Kaiser', 'Poor, dear Tappy', 'Dear Titsey', 'Impy - Loving and Loved', 'In loving memory of Puskin', 'My Wee Pet Monte', 'Poor Jack', 'My Bogie', 'Centi, the loved companion of 12 years'.

As E A Brayley Hodgetts put it, in his article for the Strand Magazine: 'For 12 years Centi had been a faithful and affectionate companion. How many humans would have shown a like constancy? Now he is gone, and all that is left of him is a tiny mound of earth and a diminutive marble tombstone. Twelve years is a slice out of one's life. The friendships formed and the associations made for such a period are not easily effaced, and can never be replaced.

'That, indeed, is the saddest feature of the whole question of pets. They are short-lived. One has scarcely time to grow fond of them, to find them entwined in our hearts, before they are rudely wrenched away from us by the cruel hand of Death.'

Virginia Ironside's 'Goodbye, Dear Friend' is available from Robson Books, pounds 11.95.

(Photograph omitted)