On the Laying Out of Cemeteries by John Claudius Loudon

I’ve been aware of Loudon’s book ‘On the Laying Out, Planting, and Managing of Cemeteries, and on the Improvement of Churchyards’ (1843), since the earliest stages of my master’s research. I’ve seen snippets in other books and told myself repeatedly that I MUST make time to read it. What did this very influential figure think about the early garden cemeteries? How did his book go on to influence later cemetery design? Despite it’s obvious importance, somehow, it kept slipping down the list, mostly because it’s not in the university library…

That recently changed because I’ve been lent a copy by one of my colleagues, Josephine Adams. The lovely Jo also happens to be one of the authors for the fabulous St Martin’s Uncovered book, about the excavations carried out in the churchyard of Birmingham’s parish church during the construction of the Bull Ring shopping centre. It’s a fantastic read, much recommended – check it out here.

The edition she lent me is the beautiful 1981 facsimile edition with introduction by James Stevens Curl. It’s a work of art! Just look at the binding!

Sorry for the bad quality photo... Can you see the embossed cover?

Sorry for the bad quality photo… Can you see the embossed cover?

It has so many lovely touches – including a reproduction of Loudon’s obituary from Gardener’s Magazine at the back – black edging and all.

loudon obit

I immediately wanted to own a copy, but sadly it’s not to be… This book is now rather rare due to it’s limited print run and worth a great deal of money, some copies I saw online were being sold for up to £200. Needless to say I’ll be returning this copy to it’s rightful owner rather swiftly now and I’ve brought one of the newer reprints instead.

Sadly those reprints don’t include the wonderful and informative introduction by J. S. Curl so I’ll be taking plenty of notes before I hand it back (but carefully, oh so carefully). They also omit the obituary – but luckily that’s available on google books – follow this link and scroll down to pages 679-681.

Because of my new found fear of damaging this book, I haven’t read all that much of it so far… I think I’ll wait for my reprinted version to arrive. However even in the first few chapters I was clearly impressed by the sophistication of Loudon’s ideas, his forward thinking and his meticulous nature. Loudon cared about cemeteries and not just because fears about their effect on public health and hygiene – although his thoughts on decomposition were surprisingly scientific in that pre-germ theory era. He wanted cemeteries to be places which could be educational, both in a moral sense but also as gardens – teaching botany and horticulture through careful planting and labeling of the trees and shrubs with their names. Loudon had strong ideas about the aesthetic of burial grounds and how they should be easily distinguished from pleasure gardens. He also had definite views about the reopening of graves and disruption of the dead.

The text is well written and a surprisingly easy read given the era and includes quotes from other influential texts like necropolis glasguensis. Loudon’s passion and knowledge really shine through. The illustrations and diagrams are wonderfully drawn and make a valuable addition to the text. I really hope the recent reprint I purchased has reproduced them as clearly but I’ll have to wait and see. I got lucky and found a paperback on offer at a large discount here. For those on an even tighter budget, it’s available on google books here, but I hate reading reams of pages on my 10 inch netbook screen.

Do any of you own this fabulous book? If so, which edition? I’d love to know if anyone has seen an original 1843 copy. There’s a copy in the British Library, so perhaps I’ll have to make a pilgrimage to see it.

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