It was about 18:30 (or half-six, for those of you who've never had to say 'Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes,' to a platoon of guardsmen on the dusty plains of Matabeleland) and I was listening to The Home Service on the teak and brass-bound Blohm und Voss radiogram in the Dandymobile. When the programming was interrupted by a live report from a wonderful place called the Museum of Curiosity.
The Museum, touted as the largest virtual museum in the entire Universe (Other dimensions are available, your experience may vary) opens its doors every Monday at around that time and invites some generally odd, but in some way celebrated people to donate objects to the museum that the hoi-palloi will enjoy cooing over whilst not really understanding their relevance.
Yesterday, their venerated guests included:
- Evolutionary Anthropologist Professor Volker Sommer - Who may, or may not, condone recreational sex with chimpanzees
- Musician, Ex Living Statue, American and Artist Amanda Palmer (wife to that nice Neil Gaiman bloke, but she stands infinitely tall on her own credentials of course and often doesn't mention that in polite conversation)
- Musician and Transvestite Occult Comedian Andrew O'Neill
Here are Andrew and Amanda, I'll let you figure out who is who (Hint: Neither of them are Daleks)
All of whom were a delight to listen to, all uproariously funny in their own way, but I'm not going to critique the humour value of the broadcast itself, because as you well know, I alone do the comedy around here.
I'd like to concentrate for the moment on Mr. O'Neill, who was wearing a very fetching grey tartan dress at the time, which was splendid! I like to see people dress up for civic occasions, don't you?
The item he donated was a Third Class ticket from the London Necropolis Railway. (Which you should in no-way see as a shameless plug for his SteamPUNK band, The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing's new double 'A' side single The Gin Song / Third Class Coffin - Available from all good retailers and also iTunes from yesterday - 7/10/13) And it looked like this:
The ticket was for a coffin, on a 23 mile long one-way trip from the London Necropolis Station out to the Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.
Why did the dead need their own railway? And why were there different classes of tickets? - Well, I'll tell you. In fairness, you could just Google it like I did I suppose, but where's the fun in that?
In the 1850's London was running out of space to bury people, a lot of the 2 million residents were regularly dying of typhoid and smallpox and dropsy and the vapours. So many in fact, that people who had just got comfortable in their graves and had barely rotted away at all, were turfed out to make way for people who were more freshly dead. The exhumed bodies were often just left to rot in piles, or fashioned into novelty candelabras for the budding tourist industry.
Now, I don't know if you lot compost your kitchen waste, but if you do, you'll be no stranger to that sweet smelling liquid that you find dripping out of the compost bin when it's a bit warm... Well, it's not just potato peelings that make that stuff, cadavers do it too and generally they're a lot bigger than your average King Edward (Unless it's actually the body of King Edward, then it's exactly the same size as a King Edward). If that stuff gets into the water supply, which of course it did, you may as well just change your name to Plague Akimbo and beat yourself to death with a self-reciprocating brass edged polo mallet.
So, they thought about building a massive 94 storey high pyramid on Primrose Hill to hold 5 million rotting corpses... No, really, they did, it was going to look like this, it was going to have steam powered lifts and everything... Smashing!
Thomas Wilson's Pyramid Mausoleum - Great Plan!
But before construction began, they realised that this was a bloody stupid idea and decided that foisting their problem on the people of Woking was a much better way of dealing with it. So they built Brookwood which was, and still is, the largest cemetery in the UK. But then they had another problem, getting the dearly departed from the place of their demise to the place of their interment was a bit of a trek, there are (entirely ficticious) reports of pallbearers wearing their legs to stumps walking there and back fifty times a day. So they built the above-mentioned railway.
There were a couple of platforms, one for Anglicans and one for heathens, child molesters, sellers of tuppenny potions, snake charmers, smut peddlers and general undesirables... Or Non-Anglicans, as was the parlance of the time. And there were different levels of tickets for both types of people, this not only impacted on how comfortable the seats were for any mourners who chose to ride the train, but it also indicated the reverence with which your remains were treated - A First-Class, £1 ticket (£79 in today's money) got you entry to the corpse equivalent of the Virgin Trains lounge at both ends, brass handles for the coffin and Kenny G style saxophone music during the journey. If your family could only scrape together the two and six for a Third-Class ticket (about £10 today), you were stuck in an old orange crate, loaded into an open carriage with a pitchfork, the train would stop suddenly at the other end and you would go shooting off into the weeds where your earthly remains would probably be carried off by foxes.
It ran for almost one hundred years, from 1845 to 1941, when some Austrian chap called Adolf decided to rain fire down upon it with great vigour from the heavens. You can still see the frontage of the the London Terminus on Westminster Bridge Road, it looks a bit like the Firestation from Ghostbusters - It's one of those hidden bits of history that the UK's famous for, you should do some research, it'll keep you busy.
Anywho, if you're at all interested in Steampunk music and have got bored of Abney Park (and who hasn't Am I Right?), then give The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing a listen, they have songs about Brunel and being polite and everything, and if that's not a reason to listen to their stuff, then I don't know what is.
Caution, may contain the occasional profanity - But we're all friends here.