-Epitaph on the headstone of ‘Tiddy’ (1895-1901), buried in Hyde Park Dogs’ Cemetery (Quoted in Howell, 2002, p10)

This essay aims to explore the changed perception of the British Victorian public towards petkeeping through a cultural semiotic analysis of pet cemeteries. I will primarily draw from Philip Howell’s 2002 article A Place for the Animal Dead: Pets, Pet Cemeteries and Animal Ethics in Late Victorian Britain (Carfax Publishing) and Eric Tourigny’s archaeological survey Do all dogs go to heaven? Tracking human-animal relationships through the archaeologiucal survey of pet cemeteries.(2020, Cambridge University Press).

The Victorian Era (1837-1901) was a period of tremendous change in the United Kingdom. When it dawned the Industrial Revolution was in progress; an era which had led to enormous technological and scientific advances as well as social changes, such as increased standard of life for many citizens. The national prosperity and growth of major British cities led to a population boom, as well as increased disposable income. The British population approached almost total literacy, and the market for reading materials was extremely lucrative (Morna, 2020). There was also a marked growth in the middle class thanks to the expansion of new industries (Lucas, 2002). A strong focus on moral standards emerged, driven by the Evangelical wing of the Church of England as well as other religious groups such as the Methodists (Dixon, 2010).There was a new emphasis on the family as a compartmentalised, private unit in which wider societal morays and expectations were to be developed and exercised (Houghton, 1863, p1).
British national pride was high, as the Empire expanded into new territories to become the largest empire in history and waged wars with other global powers such as Russia, China and the Netherlands (James, 1994, p169-318).
Interest in mysticism and the occult was popular, contrasting with the huge dominance of skepticist thought and the contemporary culture of scientific advancement. (Atterbury, 2011).
Charles Darwin published his incendiary text, On the Origin of Species in 1859 to widespread interest and debate. The text challenges the presumption that man is ordained king of all species, and it has been suggested that its popularity led to a decline in anthropocentrism as well as increased interest in animal rights.
Public ill treatment of animals began to be seen as a societal ill which prompted bloodthirstiness and unrest:
“The spectacle of suffering encourages cruelty, the child accustomed to bloody pastimes, or witnessing cruelty will become a dangerous man, that the vicious carter is latent in that child”
General Grammont, 1850 (As quoted by Kete, 1996, p. 5)

The French Revolution of 1848 can be seen to have a direct effect on the public perception of animal cruelty, prompting the Grammont Law of 1850 which prohibited public animal abuse (Angulhorn, as quoted by Kete, 1996, p5).
Victorians began to understand nature as a conquerable beast, one that could be tamed and transmuted through modernity into palatable beauty or valuable resources (Tanner, 2016). Nature began to lose its wildness, and the Victorian increase in petkeeping reflects this. Kathleen Kete writes that “...cleanliness, order and rationality marked bourgeoise pet keeping” (1996, p138).
In stark contrast to the perceived aristocratic frivolity of petkeeping in the 17th and late 18th century (Tague, 2015), pet ownership came to be seen as character building, and lending to moral development in children and the nuclear family as a whole. Dogs, in particular, were ascribed traits of steadfastness, loyalty and courage- popular moral aspirations of the period (Hamlett as quoted by Ferguson, 2019). An appreciation of animals came to represent modernity and refinement, and led to aesthetic pursuits in the breeding of show dogs (Worboys, as quoted by Watson, 2019). By the late 1860s, the affectionate behaviour of dogs provided a welcome contrast to an increasingly “alienating and relentlessly unsentimental” urban, industrial world. “The pet became the countericon of the scientific, and dehumanized age” (Kete, 1996, p.7)

As dogs became enmeshed into the fabric of the Victorian home, they came to be “metonymmically associated with the institutions of the family and the household, the ascribed virtues which the Victorian middle class held so dear” (Philip, 2002, p.8). The Victorians domesticated dogs in both a literal and metaphorical sense, transforming them in the public consciousness from base animalistic creatures into morally informing companions, “symbolising those qualities that families often found wanting in themselves” (Gillis, 1996, p.76, as quoted in Philip, 2002, p8).
Tales of loyal, steadfast dogs such as Greyfriars Bobby, who guarded his master’s grave for 14 years, were commonplace in Victorian popular media (Mangum ch1 , 2007, p.15). Greyfriars Bobby’s (d.1872) headstone reads:

“Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all”

Exemplifying the iconic role dogs took on as symbols of aspirational morality in Victorian society.
Pets also acted as a pertinent memento mori, fond, loyal members of the family whose mortality was always near. Mourning and death were very present aspects of life in the Victorian era, and it has been suggested that petkeeping was a way to exercise this difficult mourning process on a ‘smaller scale’ (Philip, 2002, p.8).
Howell decribes how Victorian concepts of heaven changed to become an analogue of the family home in the afterlife- “a home with a great and happy loving family in it” (Branks,1861, p .iv, as quoted by Philips, 2002, p.17). This changing conception of the afterlife, as well as increased popular imagination of what heaven might consist of, brought up a difficult question- Do dogs go to heaven?

During the 1800s the question of corpse disposal came into focus. There was much public debate regarding sanitary concerns- Many graveyards of the time were overcrowded, and grave robbing was a pressing issue (Robinson, 1888, p.6-8). As well as this, the heightened influence of Evangelism and spirituality as a whole prompted new thought regarding the function of a cemetery as a final resting place, as well as a space of relection for those left behind (Robinson, 1888, p.12). There was a further desire for the bereaved to make graveside visits, and for the graves of their loved ones to be permanent and perpetually undisturbed (Tarlow, 1999, as quoted by Tourigny, 2020, p.7) .

Pet cemeteries began to appear across Europe and America in the 19th century (Gillis, 1997, p.76). The first pet cemetery arrived in Britain ‘by accident’- In 1881 ‘Cherry’ a maltese terrier who regularly visited Hyde park with her owner, was granted burial on the grounds of the park by Mr Winbridge, the gatekeeper, and Hyde Park Dogs’ Cemetery was incidentally founded (Day, 2010).
The cemetery is modelled after its human counterpart, with “uniform headstones and loving inscriptions from their bereaved masters and mistresses” (Philip, 2002, p.8).
While the separation of human and animal graves can be attributed to religious doctrine- Animals cannot be buried on consecrated ground (Philip,2002,p.11)- it can clearly be inferred that the existence of animal graveyards clearly signifies a desire to commemorate the lives of deceased animals.
Many gravestones in Hyde Park are engraved with memoriams of “Tender” “Dear” “Loving memor[ies]” of lost “companion[s]”, leaving “Sorrowing mistress[es]”, “Mumm[ies]” and “Dadd[ies]”. Sarah Tarlow describes gravestones as :
“...history and archaeology; both text and artefact. They are both deliberately communicative and unintentionally revealing”
(Tarlow, 1999, as quoted by Tourigny, 2007, p.3)

As a mirror of human graveyards, pet cemeteries reproduce and reflect wider social conventions and attitudes of the period in which they were produced.
The very establishment of these burial grounds was a practice that ran counter to the “hegemonic anthropocentrism” of Christianity (Philip, 2002, p.13), and many gravestones even seem to tentatively imply a hope for reunion with deceased pets in heaven; invoking Biblical references such as Psalms L:10: “Every beast of the forest is mine” (Tourigny, 2020, p.6). Tourigny cites the epitaph of ‘Grit’-

“Could I think we’d meet again,
it would lighten half my pain”

Despite the hesitancy of most early animal epitaphs to explicitly state belief in animal afterlife, the suggestion or hope of animal companionship in heaven is commonplace (Tourigny, 2020, p.7).
Consider Bobbit’s (d.1901) headstone (Fig 1)-


Fig. 1: Bobbit’s headstone, Hyde Park Dogs’ cemetery (londoninsight.wordpress, 2010)

Sleep was a popular metaphor for death in the late Victorian era (Tarlow, 1999, as quoted by Tourigny, 2020, p.7), suggesting impermanence and tranquility. Many human gravestones of the time had visual features to emphasise this. Grave plots were commonly modelled after beds, featuring a headstone coupled with kerbs, and occasionally sculptural pillow features (Tourigny, 2020,p.7). This trend was analogous to the features an language observable on many Hyde Park Dogs’ cemetery headstones. In his survey of the park, Tourigny (2020) notes the popularity of sleep-related language; from the less explicit “Rest in Peace”, “Here lies..” to the unequivocal Snap and Peter’s (d.1890s) epitaph: “We are only sleeping Master”(Fig.2).

Fig. 2- Snap and Peter’s headstone, Hyde Park Dogs’ Cemetery (Helen Soteriou, The Telegraph, 2010)

As touched on previously, the metaphor of sleep suggests an inherent impermanence, yet after death one can only hope to wake in heaven. The use of such language and sybolism metonymmically implies a belief in the animal afterlife, and ergo perhaps in animal souls. For this contentious belief to be expressed in such a sacred, officious metaphorical space as a cemetery clearly represents a watershed of change in human-animal relationships. Such a belief would have been highly improbable and taboo in generations prior to the Victorians, and represents a cognitive and social shift; bridging the distance between the post-death fate of animals and humans in an unprecedented manner.
Graveyards, and graves represent more than a belief in the afterlife. Lloyd Warner says of human graveyards that:
“Every burial that archaeologists excavate resulted from a complex sequence of practices that were initiated, not with the death of the person or persons who were interred, but long before, as their social identities were shaped and their individual experiences linked them to others through webs of kin and non-kin relationships. Burials are thus complex intersections of processes of formation of social identities” (Warner, 1959)

What then, does the Hyde Park Cemetery signify regarding the social identities of pets in the Victorian mind? Teresa Magnum asserts that the Victorians “...sought representational strategies to memorialize their animals”, and in doing so, perhaps to legitimise and give significance to “the unfathomable loss they felt”, Turned to “aesthetic forms used to honor human dead and comfort the living” (Mangum, 2007, p.18).
The headstones in Hyde Park Dogs’ cemetery are small and uniform in their simplicity, tightly packed into the small lot. Compared to human gravestones of the period, they are remarkably small (fig. 3). Tourigny records the average height as 31cm (2020, p 8). Perhaps, as Carvalho suggests
“A tomb has a certain size not only for a corpse to fit in it, but also to represent certain ideas of grandeur or unimportance, depending on the role the deceased played in that society”
(2017, p. 70)

Fig 3: “The Dogs[sic] Cemetery Hyde Park London”, Leonard Bentley Via Flikr

The role of the dog in human society is a difficult one to ascertain- for the Victorians canines were both a steadfast and moral creature and a “mere animal”, “neither person nor beast, forever oscillating between the roles of high-status animal and low-status person” (White, quoted in Philip, 2002, p.19). Dogs became a member of the family, yet could not be buried in the same cemetery plot as the humans they spent their lives in companionship with.

Reverend J.G Wood, in Man and Beast: Here and Hereafter (1874) suggests that there is nothing biblically conclusive about the afterlife of the animal kingdom. Following the publicization of his views Wood received many letters from pet owners and mourners, thanking him for asserting the belief “Which they had long held in their hearts, but been afraid to express” (Wood, 1874, as quoted by Philip, 2002, p13).
Despite the strict cultural norms of Victorian society, and the apparent shame many citizens felt about expressing their grief at the death of their beloved pets, between the 1880s and 1910s, 342 headstones were erected in Hyde Dogs’ Cemetery (Tourigny, 2020,p 19) (Fig.4)

Fig. 4: Table 2, Tourigny, 2020, p 19

Consider that someone felt enough sentimentality towards these animals that at least 342 of them were commemorated in death. Of graveyards, Lloyd Warner (1959) says:
“The cemetery is an enduring physical emblem, a substantial and visible symbol of the agreement among individuals that they will not let each other die”

As Tourigny further notes of the Hyde Park Cemetery:
“The uniformity of gravestones, the lack of decorative elements and the remoteness of their location suggests pet burials do not simply represent another form of conspicuous consumption, but represent an actual desire to bury and commemorate animals.”
(2020, p8)

The existence of Victorian Pet Cemeteries and in particular, Hyde Park, is a radical and remarkable phenomenon. Created in an era of enormous material and societal change, it is a manifestation of the complex negotiations the Victorians grappled with during the 19th century regarding their role in the natural order. It may be a small plot, with small grave markers but it metaphorically represents something much larger- a total reconception of the role animals played in the Victorian psyche.
In this essay I have illustrated these changes, and the factors that led to them, drawing on relevant texts as well as examples to substantiate my points.

Attenbury, P. (2011) Victorian Technology, Published online by BBC History (
Council of Europe, Industrial History of European Countries, via European Route of Industrial Heritage (
Day, A. Hyde Park Secret Pet Cemetery, Published online by Historic UK (
Daniels, M. Aspects of the Victorian Book: Children’s Books, Published online by British Library (
Denenholz, D. M., Danahay, M. (2007) Victorian Animal Dreams: Representations of Animals in Victorian Literature and Culture, London, Routledge
Ferguson, D. (2019) How the Victorians turned beasts into man’s best friend, Published online by the Guardian (
Gillis, J. R (1997) A World of Their Own Making: A History of Myth and Ritual in Family Life. Oxford, Oxford University Press
Houghton, W. E. (1963) The Victorian Frame of Mind, 1830-1870, Yale University Press
Howell, P (2002) A Place for the Animal Dead: Pets, Pet Cemeteries and Animal Ethics in Late Victorian Britain. Ethics Place and Environment, vol 5 no.1, Carfax publishing
James, R. (1994) The rise and fall of the British Empire, New York, St. Martin’s Press.
Kete, K. (1994) The Beast in the Boudoir: Petkeeping in Nineteenth-Century Paris. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Lucas, R. E. Jr. (2002) Lectures on Economic Growth. Cambridge, Harvard University Press.
Mangum, T.(2007) Animal Angst: Victorians Memorialize Their Pets. In: Victorian Animal Dreams: Representations of Animals in Victorian Literature. London, Routledge
Pereria Carvahlo, V., Maciel, C., Faria Leitão, C. (2016) From Real Tombs to Digital Memorials: An Exploratory Study in Multicultural Elements for Communication. Switzerland, Springer International Publishing
Robinson,W (1889) Cremation And Urn Burial Or The Cemteries Of The Future, London, Cassell & Company Limited
Tanner, J. (2016) Victorians vs the Environment, Published online by Londnr (
Tague, I. H. (2015) Animal Companions: Pets and Social Change in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press.
Tourigny, E (2020) Do all dogs go to heaven? Tracking human-animal relationships through the archaeological survey of pet cemeteries. Published online by Cambridge University Press.
Watson, J. and Coombe, E. (2019) How the Victorians engineered the dog breeds we love today, Published online by ABC Radio National for Late Night Live. (
Warner, L. (1959) The Living and the Dead: A Study of the Symbolic Life of Americans, Yale University Press

Image Bibliography:

Fig 1: The Pet Cemetery of Hyde Park (2010) by londoninsight

Fig. 2: Soteriou, H. (2015) Inside Hyde Park’s secret pet cemetery, The Telegraph (

Fig 3: Bentley, L., Via Flikr ( )

Fig. 4: Tourigny, E. (2020) Table 2, p19 - Do all dogs go to heaven? Tracking human-animal relationships through the archaeological survey of pet cemeteries. Published online by Cambridge University Press.

A major change in public attitudes towards pet ownership took place during the 19th century. A semiotic analysis of the phenomenon of Victorian pet cemeteries.