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Necropolis: London and Its Dead
     

Necropolis: London and Its Dead

by Catharine Arnold
 

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Above, a city thriving with life. Beneath, a city filled with the dead.

London. A vast, labyrinthine, ever-moving place that shimmers as the jewel of Britain. But what about beneath it? What of it's history? It's mishaps? It's dead?

Catharine Arnold invites us on a gloriously macabre tour - across London's many graveyards, cemeteries and burial plots in a

Overview

Above, a city thriving with life. Beneath, a city filled with the dead.

London. A vast, labyrinthine, ever-moving place that shimmers as the jewel of Britain. But what about beneath it? What of it's history? It's mishaps? It's dead?

Catharine Arnold invites us on a gloriously macabre tour - across London's many graveyards, cemeteries and burial plots in a quest to discover whether what has departed can teach us anything about what is to come. It's an intriguing, occasionally dark, occasionally humorous journey that reaches right back to the Romans and concludes with the most recent display of mass public mourning: Princess Diana's funeral.

Utilising archaeology, anthropology, anecdote and history, Arnold explores the presence of death in people's lives and the developments and changes in mourning and burial through two millennia. London's greatest disasters, including the Great Fire and the Black Plague, are explored and analysed for their massive impacts on both the population and the change in the disposal of the dead, while the unusual resting places of several thousand Londoners are highlighted and studied, as a means of examining growth and city development. Implicitly entwined with the passing of generations is the transformation of an entire population; where and how people live, where and how they die, and where their children move on to. Arnold marvellously celebrates the possibilities of living in a city as large as London and sensitively demonstrates how much modern citizens owe to their ancestors.

Filled with beautiful details, such as the reason we wear black to funerals (Romans believed the colour made mourners invisible to vengeful spirits), and in an optimistic and respectful voice, Arnold brings us a unique history of one of the world's greatest cities - built atop centuries of history and still rising to this day. If you've ever wondered where the sweet hereafter might be, then look no further - Arnold shows us beautifully how even in a city as massive as London, the dead never really leave us.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It may not be the cheeriest of topics, but Arnold writes exquisitely, with a respectful and assured style that makes descriptions of 16th-century plague pits seem vital and relevant, and never dismisses the personal tragedies behind the numbers of dead. And it is strangely comforting, in this city of immigrants and new arrivals, to think of the generations, of so many ancestors lying beneath our train stations, churches and concert halls a we go about our business." — Guardian

"Catharine Arnold's lively stiff survey is good on the Black Death and great on the Victorian age." — The Scotsman

Kirkus Reviews
Everything you always wanted to know about perishing in London. In this history of the removal of deceased people, we learn, for example, that the Piccadilly underground line had to be rerouted because of the density of bones in the way of construction. The author digs up details about the noxious effluvia of human putrescence in London. She describes the city's medieval Danse Macabre. We follow the course of the Grim Reaper through plague years witnessed by Samuel Pepys and Daniel Defoe. After the Great Fire, tombstones rose as architect Sir Christopher Wren, disgusted by interment within church buildings, promoted suburban final resting places. In the 18th century, the undertaking trade thrived along with sepulchral monuments, mausolea and melancholy. Displays of black crape and plumes were public badges of mourning. Both the living and dead populations of the metropolis increased. Body-snatching Resurrection Men provided corpses to medical students. During Widow Victoria's reign, cemetery landscaping flourished from Highgate to West Norwood. For a while, cremation seemed ideal. As the 20th century came to an end, Arnold supposes, "the stiff upper lip gave way to the bleeding heart." The author offers brief biographies of a few notable graveyard residents and notes the last rites of rich and famous Britons from Elizabeth I to Princess Diana. Nor does she neglect the less elaborate means employed to dispose of poor people's corpses through the ages. From plague-pit burial to grand heraldic cortege, a straightforward memento mori.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781416502487
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster UK
Publication date:
07/01/2008
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
1,387,641
Product dimensions:
5.11(w) x 7.79(h) x 0.03(d)

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Everything you always wanted to know about perishing in London."  —Kirkus Reviews

"Deeply pleasing.  .  .  . Entertainment of the most garish and exquisite kind. . . . A Baedeker of the dead."  —The Times

"Enthusiastic, good-humored and constantly engaging."  —Daily Telegraph

Meet the Author

Catharine Arnold read English at Cambridge and holds a further degree in psychology. A journalist, academic and popular historian, she is the author of the Lost Time, winner of a Betty Trask award.

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