PLAISTOW District Line and Hammersmith & City Line
LONDON TUBE RAMBLES WALK
East London Cemetery, about ten minutes from the station.
I couldn’t leave Plaistow out, though it won’t appeal to everyone. It’s the East London Cemetery that is the attraction. Privately owned*, it was opened in 1877 and is well worth a visit for anyone interested in the history of the East End or depressed by the reported failure of the family.
The large rose garden near the entrance is colourful at any time of year, since many bushes are permanently decorated with artificial flowers, flags, windchimes and toys. However, the really spectacular displays are the floral tributes from recent funerals laid out near the chapels. These frequently include wreaths in the shape of footballs in West Ham United colours, playing cards and snooker tables - I've even seen a betting slip!. East Enders know how to organize a good send-off!
There are few pompous or grandiose tombs in Plaistow. One of the largest monuments is still a personal memorial, having a life-size statue of Mother. You cannot miss this on the central path leading to the War Memorial, itself interesting as it has iron replicas of weapons and a soldier's cap instead of the more usual stone carvings. The maternal figure sets the tone for the rest of the burial ground, as there is a vast array of lavish memorials in the shape of archways, open doors, broken hearts etc. - somewhat surprising in this far from affluent area. (A stone near the entrance lists the names of those killed by air raids in WW2, the East End being badly affected due to its proximity to the docks.) Just after the War Memorial you will see some more objects not normally found in a cemetery - a dartboard (on the left-hand side, two trees down) and a football (almost opposite.) A little further on is the granite obelisk recording the deaths of a family in the appalling Princess Alice disaster of 1878 when a pleasure boat sank and almost 600 people lost their lives.
Continue past the chapels. At the end of the path is the resting place of some of the victims of another Thames disaster that occurred in 1898 at the launching of HMS Albion when a temporary bridge collapsed, killing 38 people. The common grave is marked by a large anchor. The superstitious may be interested to know that the champagne bottle, traditionally smashed against a ship’s hull at the naming/launching ceremony, did not on this occasion break. The ship had been built at The Thames Ironworks, which those up in football history will know was the original name of West Ham United. On the raised grassy bank behind the Albion memorial is a part of the cemetery favoured by the Chinese community.
Turn left and walk a short while towards a bench on the right hand side. Next to this is a discreet stone bearing the names of German spies shot in the Tower of London during the First World War. A grim description of their execution can be found here
The Tube station itself is interesting, having a Italianate exterior of 1905. It was opened in 1858 and originally served the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway. (LTSR) The District Line service began in 1902, the Hammersmith & City (then the Metropolitan Line) followed in 1936. From the Tube it take just over ten minutes to get to the cemetery. When you leave the station turn right (Plaistow Road), then right again into Upper Road. Cross Helena Road and Florence Road. As you walk towards some trees you will see a sign for the Greenway. Continue along Upper Road and you will see the cemetery through the trees on your right. At Grange Road turn right. The entrance is about a hundred metres further on. You might like to take a different route back, via West Ham Tube/DLR station. At the Greenway sign go left and follow the tree-lined path along the top of the embankment (which hides the Northern Outfall Sewer). As you walk towards Stratford you will see the familiar landmarks of the Olympic Park ahead. When you reach the exit for West Ham (about ten minutes walk) go down the steps/access slope to Manor Road. Turn left and soon you will be at the station. Incidentally, by going a few metres more along the Greenway you will be able to see the amazing Abbey Mills Pumping station (see the entry for Bow Road).
*Sadly, because the cemetery is privately owned, it is not possible to obtain permission to publish photographs of individual graves.
Plaistow is just one walk from the many to be found at London Tube Rambles. There are architectural gems, beautiful country views, historic places and quirky buildings to be found, in the area covered by the Greater London Underground stations. Usually the places discoverd are within a mile of the Tube - often only five minutes walk away. If you reached this as an individual page via a search engine, you might like to click on the link above and see the other destinations explored. You'll be amazed at what's out there!