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Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catharine…

Necropolis: London and Its Dead (edition 2007)

by Catharine Arnold

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3951127,097 (3.55)23
Title:Necropolis: London and Its Dead
Authors:Catharine Arnold
Info:Pocket Books (2007), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Tags:London, TBR

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Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold


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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Arnold's "City of Sin", covering all the naughty things Londoners have gotten up to over the years, remains one of my favourite books. I thus hunted down a copy of "Necropolis" but sadly and belatedly realised that reading about the sexual hijinks of Londoners was always going to be much more interesting than reading about overcrowded cemeteries. Which is not to say that "Necropolis" is particularly dull, just that it suffers in comparison with "City of Sin", or for that matter Arnold's other histories of London, "Bedlam" London and its mad" and "Underworld London".

So, yes, this is a history of disposing of London's dead, with its squalid inner city cemeteries to the nineteenth century introduction of crematoriums (and who knew it was such a risky legal venture to cremate a body back then) to the latest, environmentally friendly ways to go. Still, give me the naked MPs of "City of Sin" any day. ( )
  MiaCulpa | Jun 30, 2016 |
The question of what heavily populated communities that have been inhabited for hundreds or thousands of years do with their dead is something that I've always wondered about. So I was intrigued when this came up as an Amazon daily deal a few months ago. A lot of my questions were answered, though the book could have been more comprehensive. Not surprisingly, the bulk of the book was devoted to the Victorian era, since not only was that when the city reached a burial crisis, but it was also an era of intense fascination with death and mourning. There is very little about modern times, since one short chapter covers the last century, which included two World Wars and the influenza epidemic. I liked it, though I did end up skipping a couple of Victorian chapters that just didn't interest me. ( )
  SylviaC | Nov 24, 2015 |
Necropolis is surprisingly compelling and readable. Most of it isn't at all dry or dull -- at times the names and dates blur into each other, but most of it is fascinating. It covers traditions of burial and mourning from the pre-Roman period to more or less the present, especially as concerns London.

It's kind of amazing how we take relatively recent burial traditions for granted -- for my family, the plot of land bought years ago, the simple headstones, a flowerbed over the grave, and an expectation that all that will remain ours and as it is until long after we've died ourselves. We expect the cemetary to be green and peaceful, kept tidy and the grass mown... Yet this sort of thing couldn't be expected even in the Victorian period.

Anyway, a fascinating book -- quite light reading, which might seem odd given the subject matter, but that's how it is. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
Fascinating study of how London has dealt with its dead over the years, beginning with the Celts and the Romans. Arnold discusses the difficulties encountered with burials during the multiple plagues and epidemics experienced in London, the development of the famous cemeteries outside of London, Victorian mourning rituals, cremation, through the two World Wars, and a brief look at current day practices.

It doesn't SOUND like it would be that interesting, but I was mesmerized from start to finish! ( )
  tloeffler | Feb 9, 2013 |
I can't see any sense in lamenting that this book doesn't achieve a high level of scholastic rigour or focus, given that it is mass published paperback. It is, as the tag on the cover of the edition in my library explains, an 'entertainment'. Does it entertain? Well in parts. Personally the history of the economy of death and burial was the most interesting - both the legitimate economy (church fees and cemeteries as commercial enterprises) and the underground (or should I say black...) economy of grave robbing, diversion of bodies for profit, and plot reselling. Arnold writes very well on these particular issues in the period from age of Elizabeth through to Victorian times, but then seems to miss an incredible opportunity to expose modern practices (and malpractice) that would show that nothing much changes, only the profits get larger with time. One imagine the book's editors may have counselled that any events more recent than a 100 years past might best rest in peace else they come with a lawyer attached. And I could imagine that the editors might have prompted Arnold to spend more time on the macabre and less on the monetary side of the business. I suppose it is a saving grace - at least - that Arnold wasn't inspired (or coerced) into adding a section about vampire activities, although there are wooden stakes through the heart aplenty for reasons that I will leave for the reader to discover. All up Arnold does a fine job with the material. The only thing missing - and it's absence felt on almost every page - was a host of maps and pictures. Arnolds descriptions of places and memorial is extraordinarily detailed and relevant to the development of the story, and this calls out for some extra resources to satisfy the readers interest. Recommended. ( )
  nandadevi | Nov 24, 2012 |
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When Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral after it had been destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666, he made an astonishing discovery.
All erthely creatures to obey my noblynes...Ryche & pore must daunce in ye same way.
Death now hath ceaz'd her in his ycie armes;/ That sometime was the Sun of our delight/ And pittilesse of any after-harmes,/ Hath veyld her glory in the cloude of night.../ Shepheard remember our Elizabeth,/ And sing her Rape, done by that Tarquin, Death.
- Death of Queen Elizabeth I, in "Englandes Mourning Garment" by Henry Chettle
"They died in heaps and were buried in heaps." - Henry Foe
Ladyes who wore black patches out of pride / Now weare them their plague sores to hide / Info the vallies are the bodyes throwne / Valley no more but now dead mountains grown / Thick grass and moss begins to growe / Out of the Putrified corps and now / The Cattell did the men devoure / As greedily as men did them before. - "The Pest Anatomised" by George Thomson
No man is an Island, entire of it self. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. - John Donne
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743268334, Hardcover)

Necropolis is a luminous, oddly beguiling account of how London has treated its dead, ranging from Roman burial rites to the horrors of the plague, from the founding of the great Victorian cemeteries to the more recent trends of collective grief and the cult of mourning, such as that surrounding the death of Princess Diana. Leaving no headstone unturned, Catherine Arnold unearths one of the great untold histories of the nation's capitol. Skillfully blending history, architecture, archaeology, and anecdote, she also explores phenomena like bodysnatching, public executions, and the rise of the undertaking trade. Ghoulishly entertaining and full of fascinating nuggets of information, Necropolis is destined to become a classic work on the city.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:49 -0400)

From Roman burial rites to the horrors of the plague, from the founding of the great Victorian cemeteries to the development of cremation and the current approach of metropolitan society towards death and bereavement -- including more recent trends to displays of collective grief and the cult of mourning, such as that surrounding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales -- NECROPOLIS: LONDON AND ITS DEAD offers a vivid historical narrative of this great city's attitude to going the way of all flesh. As layer upon layer of London soil reveals burials from pre-historic and medieval times, the city is revealed as one giant grave, filled with the remains of previous eras -- pagan, Roman, medieval, Victorian. This fascinating blend of archaeology, architecture and anecdote includes such phenomena as the rise of the undertaking trade and the pageantry of state funerals; public executions and bodysnatching. Ghoulishly entertaining and full of fascinating nuggets of information, Necropolis leaves no headstone unturned in its exploration of our changing attitudes to the deceased among us. Both anecdotal history and cultural commentary, Necropolis will take its place alongside classics of the city such as Peter Ackroyd's LONDON.… (more)

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