Registered Charity

The FOBLC is recognised by HMRC as a charity, ref. XT38745, and is a member of the National Federation of Cemetery Friends

For all enquiries please contact our Chairman


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Remembering Decadent Poet Ernest Dowson (1867-1900)

The Department of English and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London hosted the first International symposium on the poet, translator and novelist Ernest Dowson on a storm -tossed saturnine Friday 14th April 2016.   Ernest Dowson who died in 1900 aged 32 is interred in Ladywell cemetery and his signature grave is a regular stopping point on guided walks (it is also a place of pilgrimage for Dowson admirers), more particularly so after his headstone was restored by public subscription in 2010. The organisers of the symposium, Doctoral students Alice Conde and Jessica Gossling, assembled a stellar cast of Dowson scholars and admirers who offered those present a bewildering range of insights and commentaries.  These were drawn from the often tortured but exquisitely gifted musings of this representative of what the poet W.B.Yeats termed the 'tragic generation', the Aesthetes and Decadents of the 1890's, with panel based presentations on many aspect of his life and works, from the dauntingly arcane ' Tropes of Tainted Medievalism: Ernest Dowson's Recasting of Fin' Amor to Dowson's Decadent diminuendo! The FOBLC were well represented amongst the audience as were members of the Brockley Society. Although the bulk of the presentations struck a distinctly rarefied academic tone and reflected the peculiar Dowsonian fascinations of the presenters' research interests.

The plenary session was greatly enlivened by the contribution of Ernest Dowson biographer Jad Adams (Institute of English, University of London) whose talk on ' Slimy trails and holy places: Dowson's strange life', was presented with brio and addressed one of the more thorny aspects of his oeuvre - his attraction to young girls in the context of fin de siècle literary mores. It was author Jad Adams who had spoken movingly from his biographical account of Dowson's life at the restoration of his headstone in 2010 and he offered a memorably appreciative talk that reminded those present of the reasons for his residual literary appeal, continuing popularity and wider cultural significance. Which topics were picked up in the subsequent discussion centred on many of the themes tantalisingly offered throughout the day.

The symposium was fittingly rounded off with some entertaining verse from a trio of poets aided by preprandial refreshment at 5pm, l'heure verte (green hour) but 'happy hour' Absinthe was not it should be noted on offer! The assistance of the Friends group was acknowledged in the accompanying hand outs and I suggested during the plenary that maybe a future such event might be hosted in the Dissenters Chapel close to Ernest Dowson's grave so that the 'most exquisite poet of his generation'  is brought again to the attention of a wider audience. A working title might be 'Through the gate'?  recalling the words on his epitaph which are drawn from arguably his best known poem Vitae Summa Brevis! ( Brief sum of life)

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Mike Guilfoyle

Vice-Chair : FOBLC

Take A Walk On The Wild Side

Following the successful walk last year, the FOBLC invites you to take a walk on the wild side with Mike Keogh.  During this free guided walk Mike will help you discover the varied wildflowers and diverse Nature in the two Cemeteries.

Meet at the Ladywell Road gate at 2pm on Sunday 17th April.  The walk is expected to last up to an hour and a half.

Nunhead Cemetery Annual Open Day 21st May 2016

Choir in the ruined Nunhead Chapel

The Friends of Nunhead Cemetery will be running their annual open day on the 21st May from 11am to 5pm.  Admission is free and it's a beautiful cemetery as well as being a popular and well organised event so put the date in your diary!
'Bugman' Jones

There will be music in the ruined chapel, free tours, a plant stall, the famous Bug Hunt for the kids, home made refreshments and many other stalls.  Parking is limited but you can also get there via Nunhead rail station or the P12 bus. 

More information is available at


Worcester Yeomanry at the Pyramids in Egypt during the  Great War

On Sunday 21st of February there will be a guided walk entitled OUTPOSTS OF EMPIRE.

This walk will be co-led by FOBLC members Mike Guilfoyle and Peter Mealing . It will cover both cemeteries and stop at some of the graves of the soldiers, missionaries, adventurers, surgeons and others whose lives and deaths spanned some of the further outposts of the British Empire - from Madras to Malta.

All welcome.  It is free though any donations are appreciated - the walk starts at 2:00pm from the Ladywell entrance and lasts approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours.


Russian aviator and inventor Captain Sergei Alexandrovich Oulianine (aka Ulyanin) 1871 -1921

Part hidden off the pathway heading towards the near seamless boundary between Ladywell and Brockley cemeteries, topped by a broken cruciform headstone, lies the final resting place of the distinguished Russian aviator and inventor Captain Sergei Alexandrovich Oulianine (aka Ulyanin) 1871-1921.   He lies buried alongside his wife Ludmilla Oulianine (1887-1970)

Captain Ulyanin was based at the famous Imperial Air force flying school in Gatchina (Petrograd, now St Petersburg).  This was the first aviation school in Russia and as its head he was responsible for the training of a galaxy of outstanding airmen at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914.   His name was almost as legendary as some of his former students who became internationally recognised as fighter aces including the prolific aircraft designer Igor Sikorsky, and Pyotr Nesterov,  the founder of aerobatics, including the famous death loop. 
A Russian Pilot by Vassily Svarog (cover of the Solntse Rossii monthly, ca. 1916)

The first aerial photographs were taken over Paris in 1858 by French photographer and balloonist Gaspard- Félix Tournachon. In Russia, aerial photography was pioneered by Lieutenant Alexander Kovanko and Dimitry Mendeleev the scientist better known for creating the periodic table.  In 1885, they set up a park for training army officers in aeronautics and aerial photography. But in the 1890s, Captain Sergei Ulyanin's noted enthusiasm and technical expertise led to the development of box-shaped kites especially for aerial photography.

Ulyanin’s 19th century “drones” could carry a camera either as it went aloft or be the receptacle for one sent up the string on a small cart once the kite was airborne. Sergei Ulyanin had also invented a type of aerial camera that was built specifically for aircraft and was ideal for military use. The camera had a pneumatic altimeter and a clock that time-coded the 13x13cm images. Indeed Ulyanin type kites had been used as a part of aerial reconnaissance and the mapping of terrain during the disastrous Russo-Japanese War of 1904 -1905.  However it was not automatic and had to be operated manually from the aircraft. Certainly determining the coordinates of enemy forces became an essential aspect of contemporary warfare in light of the stalemate of trench warfare, intense artillery bombardments and the protecting or assaulting of fortified positions.  As the aircraft had to fly at low altitude  around 5,000 feet)and as they were not armoured the risk of being shot down was considerable. The longest siege of the First World War at the Austro-Hungarian fortress of Przemysl (present day Poland) from 1914 -1915 witnessed the extensive use of aerial photography by the Russian Imperial air force. By April 1917 a total of 77 Russian aircraft had been fitted with Ulyanin's camera.

This remarkable photograph shows Captain Ulyanin meeting Tsar Nicholas II,
believed to have been taken on a visit to Gatchina on 26th October 1911. 

It remains a mystery how this remarkable man who as a Russian engineer, balloonist, and military pilot, creator of the collapsible aircraft and the initiator of aerial photography in the Russian military, arrived in London.   Possibly it was as an emigre following the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 after the October Revolution and bloody Civil War.  Not far from where families now fly kites on Hillyfields lies the spot in Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries where Captain Ulyanin lies quietly interred,  inventor the aerial kites which helped the Russian military gain an edge at the outset of the Great War before the use of airplanes became more widespread and whose memory is still held in such considerable esteem for his contribution to aviation history.