Places to Visit


As the number of people living and dying rose in London in the mid 19th century the parish burial grounds were unable to cope with demand. Seven commercial cemeteries were established in a ring around London between 1837 & 1841. These have had mixed fortunes but all provide sites of interest whether for notable burials, architecture or flora and fauna.

ABNEY PARK CEMETERY Stoke Newington High Street N16 OLN. Tel 020 7275 7557
The 31 acre cemetery was laid out in 1840 on the site of the 17th century Abney House and Fleetwood estates. It was extensively planted as an informal botanical garden by Loddiges of Hackney with 2500 varieties of shrubs and 1000 types of rose. It was never consecrated and so catered for all denominations including dissenters. The Egyptian style lodges, entrance gates and Gothic chapel were designed by architect and engineer William Hosking. The chapel in the form of a Maltese cross was last used in the 1950s. In 1978 the cemetery was purchased by Hackney council for 1 having become overgrown and damaged by vandals. It is now a nature reserve with Visitor & Environment Centres. There is a programme of special events and volunteering opportunities. Stoke Newington walk

BROMPTON CEMETERY Old Brompton Road SW10 9UG. Tel 020 7351 1689.
The West of London and Westminster Cemetery Company purchased a 39 acre site, which had been market gardens, from Lord Kensington in 1837. Benjamin Baud won a competition with his designs for chapels, colonnades, catacombs and entrances. The cemetery was planned as 'an open air cathedral' and was consecrated in 1840. The domed octagonal Anglican chapel was built but there was no money for the Roman Catholic or Dissenters' chapels nor were the catacombs as extensive as planned. In 1852 the cemetery was compulsorily purchased by the General Board of Health and it is now maintained by the Royal Parks. There is a Friends organisation which also offers tours (generally Sundays 2-4pm - charge).

HIGHGATE CEMETERY Swains Lane N6. Tel 020 8340 1834.
The 17 acre site was once part of the gardens of a mansion belonging to Sir William Ashurst. It was designed and planned by Stephen Geary of the London Cemetery Company with the landscape gardener David Ramsay. The entrance is an archway linking two chapels and an Egyptian Avenue leads to the Circle of Lebanon catacombs. It was consecrated in 1839 and was popular with the living and the dead! An extension was opened on the eastern side of Swains Lane in 1857 enlarging the sites to 37 acres. Coffins were transported by a hydraulic system from the chapels, under the road to the new cemetery. By the 1960s the cemetery company had run out of funds and the sites were neglected. The Friends of Highgate Cemetery was formed in 1975 to secure its conservation and restoration. They provide tours of the western cemetery (see website for details). The eastern cemetery is open most days unless a funeral is taking place (charge). Highgate walk

KENSAL GREEN CEMETERY Harrow Road W10 4RA. Tel 020 8969 0152.
This was the first of the commercial cemeteries, opened by the General Cemetery Company, on a 54 acre site purchased in 1831 for 9400. It is still run by the original company and has expanded to 72 acres. The entrance is a Doric arch with offices and a residence. The Anglican chapel has extensive catacombs beneath, once served by hydraulic lift. There are further catacombs along the north wall. The Ionic non-conformist chapel at the east end is Grade II* listed and maintained by the Friends of Kensal Green on behalf of the Historic Chapels Trust. The Friends conduct tours every Sunday from the Anglican Chapel finishing with tea & biscuits at the Dissenters' Chapel (2-4pm). The first & third Sundays include the catacombs (no chilren under 12). A donation of 5 (4) is requested. Tours, including specialist themes, can be arranged for groups.

NUNHEAD CEMETERY Linden Grove SE15. Tel 020 8694 6079.
This 30 acre site was planned by the London Cemetery Company and opened in 1840. It was laid out to the designs of J B Bunning who also designed the gates and lodges. The Gothic chapels were by Thomas Little. The cemetery, which fell into disrepair and suffered from vandalism, was completely closed in 1969. By this time the dissenters' chapel had been destroyed along with many graves and the Anglican chapel was a roofless shell. An Act of Parliament in 1975 allowed Southwark council to take it over and re-open it for burials (in 1980). Clearing and restoration has been undertaken including the repair of one of the lodges. There is a Friends of Nunhead Cemetery organisation. Tours are conducted at 2:15pm on the last Sunday of each month from the Linden Grove gates.

TOWER HAMLETS CEMETERY Southern Grove E3 4PX. Tel 07904 186981.
This was opened in 1841 but soon became overcrowded. The chapels and lodges were damaged in WWII and later demolished. Between 1966 and 1986 it was administered by the GLC who undertook restoration work. The Soanes Centre was built as an environmental education centre in 1994. The Park is now a local nature reserve of 33 acres with a numbered trail. The Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park were formed in 1990. They have a programme of guided walks, conservation projects and children's activities. The East London History Society carry out genealogical and historical research in the cemetery. East End Parks walk

WEST NORWOOD CEMETERY Norwood High Street SE27. Tel 020 8670 5456.
The 40 acre cemetery was opened in 1837 by the South Metropolitan Cemetery Company. It was designed by Sir William Tite with two Perpendicular chapels among fine trees. A Greek cemetery was added in 1842 with a Doric mortuary chapel. The Anglican and Dissenters' chapels were damaged in WWII and subsequently demolished. In 1966 it was purchased by Lambeth council who cleared a number of monuments so it could remain operational. It has a fine collection of monuments and a number of notable people are buried. A Friends of West Norwood Cemetery was established in 1990. There are tours on the first Sunday of the month at 11am (Nov-Mch) or 2:30pm (Apl-Oct). Donation requested.

By 1850 there was still a demand for burial places including in non profit-making establishments. An Act of Parliament in 1852 enabled local burial boards to establish cemeteries provided they were 2 miles from the metropolis.

CITY OF LONDON CEMETERY Aldersbrook Road, Manor Park E12. Tel 020 8530 9838.
This is the largest municipal cemetery in Europe where over half a million interments have taken place since it opened in 1856. The 200 acre site was purchased in 1853 for 30721. William Haywood's designs included three Gothic chapels. The area was landscaped and a lake was drained for Catacomb Valley. Some city burial grounds were cleared and the remains buried in separate enclosures. In 1902 a crematorium was built and a second one was added in 1973. There are Nature Tours on the 3rd Monday of the month at 11am (not winter) and Heritage Tours on selected dates at 11am (booking required).


The London Encyclopaedia by Weinreb & Hibbert 2011

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