Face To Face With To Be Or Not To Be


Judge Jeffereys’ Noose, originally uploaded by Still The Oldie.

This is the site called “Judge Jeffereys’ Noose” by the old Thames tavern “The Prospect of Whitby”, photographed by Martyn from Toronto, Canada. According to the story he mentions in the photo’s description, England’s famous “Hanging Judge” “would sit on the terrace of the tavern and sup ale until the tides had washed three times over the unfortunate condemned”.

I’ve never been to this site in London, but in Clifton, where I previously lived, one of the cemeteries was actually encircled by houses. And many times did I think: what is it like to look at the burial ground from your window? This is no longer about being aware of death, or thinking whether those who leave us actually continue being present in spirit. When I visited that cemetery on an early morning in January 2005, I noticed many children graves or memorial tablets, flowers, and family messages. Surely, to witness the burials or visits to the graveyard on a daily basis must be a life-changing experience?

Same here: I don’t know if there are any houses around, but the tavern is still running, and people still walk past this site in London. The question that now puzzles me is not whether a passer-by is aware of how many men and women had ended up as gallow birds on this very spot. I’m wondering how living close to sites like this or near a cemetery changes a person. This is not a block somewhere in the Tower which you may visit once in your life and forget about. Neither is it an historic prison yard where, a guide tells you, they executed a good number of folk.

Do people who live by the cemetery learn to be “philosophical”, i.e. their acceptance of, and compassion for, the burials and the visits to the cemetery reaches the point when one dissociates oneself from viewing? Do they take the move to live by the burial ground as a sign to contemplate “eternal” subjects, like Life and Death? Or do they simply take a practical view of things, in the light of which there are the living and the dead, and both need rooms which sometimes happen to be in the same house?

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