The Royal Parks invited audio-producers On the Record to bury themselves in a little house within Brompton Cemetery. Their mission was to find incredible stories from the Londoners who work, love, and dream among the gravestones.
Here, in the resulting radio documentary, you’ll meet a “gilded vagrant in velvet”, a man who drilled a hole in his own head, a famous pop-artist, a funeral celebrant, an expectant mother and a rich assortment of other city-dwellers.
What distinguishes Brompton Cemetery’s “field of stories” is that people flutter from one state of being into another, a bit like the butterflies and the broken angels around them. This graveyard is a green fuse for transformations - DIY brain surgery, new seasons, gender transition and life-after-death.
Part One: The Quick
"The Quick" is an ancient word for the living and tender flesh, beloved of Wild West gunslingers. Of London’s “Magnificent Seven” Cemeteries, Brompton Cemetery is the rebellious little sister. In the 1970s and 1980s, as the narrators recall, she was a cheeky shortcut between Chelsea’s counterculture and the Leather bars of Earls Court. Brompton’s “outlaw spirit” has been tamed, but she remains a sanctuary for the wild-at-heart, and for wildlife. Soaring above the human voices, you’ll hear crows conspiring and cicadas shimmering.
The Voices of the Quick are: Sarah Cheesbrough, Sasha de Suinn, Duggie Fields, Shirley Wiggins, John Lenihan, Daphne the squirrel, and Joe Mellen.
Part Two: The Dead
"The Dead" ventures below ground. Brompton Cemetery is home to over 200,000 permanent residents ranging from Emmeline Pankhurst to newly buried infants. It’s also a great place to “time travel,” as H.G. Wells discovered. You can keep appointments with the past, or with future events that are waiting for you to find your way to them at last.
The Voices of the Dead are: Louise Westmoreland, Phil Walder, Lieve Carchon, Stephen Coates, Dr. Matthew Green and Vanessa Woolf.
Music by Revbejelde, Stephen Coates of the Real Tuesday Weld and Howlround.
Illustrations by Joanna Layla for On the Record.
Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to the contributions of National Lottery Players, as part of the Brompton Cemetery Conservation Project.
The Quick & The Dead’s archive of oral histories is accessible to the public at the Bishopsgate Library.
The production assistants were: Charlie Bond, Oliver Sanders, Laurence Conway & Andrew Finch.
The volunteers who were trained in oral history recording are: Floria Lundon, Martin Buggy, Bernadette Halpin, Noemi Pettina, Carrie Cable, Robbie Wojciechowski, Charlotte Mcdonald, Mark Taylor, Ayse Pamuksuzer, Yann Zhang, Joanna Swiecicka, Michael Yates, Morgan Lucille, Angelica Bougeault, Laurence Conway, Hugh McGahan and Elena Ciciulina.
Special thanks to Floria Lundon who offered many insights into local heritage, and Zoë Louizos who advised on the script and curation of the stories.
Thanks also to Tony Paraskeva, Tim Green, Charli Carver, Claire Harris, Halima Khanom, Nigel Thorne, Nana Fani-Kayode, Tim Green, Amber Butchart, Greg Packman, Arthur Tate, Carole Tyrrell, Caroline Swan, Ian Squire, Harminder Singh, John Plant, Paul Kestrel, Diane Caunt, Catherine Kenny, Katherine Evans, Rupert Alexis, Sean Garvey, Simon Wroe, the Friends of Brompton Cemetery, St Mary Abbot’s Rehabilitation and Training, and Father Joseph Skinner from the Russian Orthodox Cathedral.