In the Catacombs: A Summer Among the Dead Poets of West Norwood Cemetery

Chris McCabe


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Opened in 1837 and inspired by the Pere Lachaise in Paris, West Norwood became known as the Millionaire’s Cemetery. But within its opulent grounds there are twelve buried names whose currency is language: these are the dead poets of West Norwood.

In the first instalment of a project to map the Magnificent Seven, Chris McCabe takes us off the main track of London writing and asks why the works of Hopkins, Tennyson and Dickinson are still read above those buried in this suburban enclave of South London. Join McCabe on the hunt for a great lost poet, as he walks the winding Gothic paths of the Cemetery and makes an unexpected discovery underground in the catacombs. The stories of those loved and dismissed by Charles Dickens are carefully uncovered; those who influenced Lewis Carroll and Winston Churchill; and those whose burial in the common ground has not been enough to silence them.

A startling and original work of literary detection, In the Catacombs is written in a hybrid form – part literary criticism, part Gothic fiction- and places West Norwood Cemetery and its dead poets back into the foreground of the London psyche.


A line by Andrew Marvell comes at me out of nowhere: “Insnar’d with Flow’rs, I fall on Grass”. I think first of John Clare grubbing at the roadside. Then of the close reading and transfixed husbandry Chris McCabe brings to his task of subtle recovery, his passage among the suburban dead. This is a fine, achieved work, close-woven, elusive, engaged. A poet in another coat.

Iain Sinclair

This is a book to buy, to read and re-read, and to keep.  It will challenge and educate you in some forgotten corners of English literature, as well as giving new insights into the work of some of the greatest poets of the nineteenth century.

The Norwood Review

A fluid, liminal and immanent work of connection and interconnection, a fusion between landscape and inscape that functions simultaneously as biography, autobiography and psychogeography. A deeply human book.

Tom Jenks, The Wolf

Thick with research, presented with beautiful prose and a poetic heart.



The author and publisher gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery.

In the Catacombs: A Summer Among the Dead Poets of West Norwood Cemetery

Cover design by Ben Anslow

ISBN 9781908058195
Published 3 July 2014
Pages 256
RRP £12.99

Filed under Books, Chris McCabe, Essays & Criticism


This is a fine, achieved work, close-woven, elusive, engaged.

Iain Sinclair

About the author

Chris McCabe

Chris McCabe was born in Liverpool in 1977. His three poetry collections are The Hutton Inquiry, Zeppelins and THE RESTRUCTURE. He has recorded a CD with The Poetry Archive and was shortlisted for the 2014 Ted Hughes Award. McCabe's prose has appeared in numerous places including Poetry Review, Manhattan Review and Unbound. His work has been described by The Guardian as 'an impressively inventive survey of English in the early 21st century.' He works as the Poetry Librarian at the Saison Poetry Library.