Although it might seem like quite a macabre way to spend your time, if you are looking for somewhere to head for a slice of tranquillity in the busy city of London as well as taking in some of the city’s history then why not factor in a visit one of the many cemeteries in London? There are a number of cemeteries in the city which feature grand and striking tombstones, sculptures and even a famous name or two, if you know where to look for them.
If visiting a cemetery sounds like your kind of thing then you may find a trip to one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ worth adding to your itinerary. The Magnificent Seven is the name for the seven new cemeteries which were created in Victorian England, when Londoners realised that they had run out of space to bury their loved ones. In light of this, they commissioned seven hauntingly beautiful new cemeteries to be created, and all seven are home to stunning architecture and interesting history as well as offering peace and quiet. These cemeteries were the first private cemeteries of their kind; previously people had been buried in the cemetery of their local parish which is perhaps what makes them of particular interest to visitors. It took over a decade for all seven to be completed and we offer a brief overview of the cemeteries here:-
Kensal Green Cemetery
The first of the cemeteries to be completed, Kensal Green sits in the heart of London in the borough of Kensington & Chelsea. It consists of 72 acres of grounds and features two conservation areas and an adjoining canal. The cemetery is also home to over 33 different species of bird and wildlife which makes it a fascinating place to visit. Alongside the wildlife you will also discover three chapels and a range of different memorials from mausoleums to a special and moving area dedicated to those who passed away at a very young age. The design of the cemetery was inspired by Pere-Lachaises in Paris and was founded by Barrister George Frederick Carden. Kensal Green Cemetery is located around half an hour from the Montcalm Hotel London if you travel by public transport.
West Norwood Cemetery
The second of the cemeteries, created in 1836 was West Norwood Cemetery. Located in the London Borough of Lambeth it consists of 40 acres and the grounds contain a mixture of historic monuments and memorials and more modern additions. There are also numerous cremation plots and catacombs here as well. This is probably one of the lesser known cemeteries in the city, although tours are available by an organisation known as ‘the friends of West Norwood Cemetery’ on a regular basis.
It is unclear why Highgate Cemetery became one of the more popular cemeteries in the city but this North London cemetery it is now the final resting place of around 170,000 people. It is divided into two parts, known as the East and West cemetery and features a number of well known names including Karl Marx, Douglas Adams and George Eliot. It is a Grade I listed site and undoubtedly was considered one of the more fashionable places to be buried during the Victorian era. Thanks to the Victorian attitude to death it also features a large number of gothic inspired mausoleums and burial buildings as well as being a nature reserve.
Abney Park Cemetery
Located in Stoke Newington, Abney Park Cemetery is a woodland memorial park and nature reserve. It is a non-denominational cemetery and continues to be a place of burial even today. Although Abney Park Cemetery is one of the Magnificent Seven, it is laid out entirely differently to the other six cemeteries and seems to have been designed with a wider purpose in mind rather than that of a typical Christian burial place. There are certainly some interesting features here which are worth looking out for, including the Egyptian inspired entrance.
Originally known as All Saints Cemetery, Nunhead Cemetery is another one of the lesser known cemeteries in the city, despite being one of the Magnificent Seven. It is a wonderfully unique and tranquil place to visit and is perhaps one of the more attractive cemeteries featuring a mix of larger mausoleums and memorials alongside more understated tombstones. It is laid out in formal lines with a gothic inspired chapel standing at the centre and, perhaps more interestingly, offers stunning views of some of the city’s most well known landmarks including Canary Wharf and the London Eye.
As well as being one of the Magnificent Seven, Brompton Cemetery is also now one of the Royal Parks of London. It is the only cemetery in the whole of the UK owned by the Crown and is a Grade I listed site, featuring historic monuments, memorials and wildlife as well. There are an incredible number of well known names interred at Brompton Cemetery including the founder of Chelsea Football Club, Henry Augustus Mears and John Snow, the epidemiologist who first demonstrated the connection between cholera and infected water.
Tower Hamlets Cemetery
The last of the seven Victorian cemeteries to be built, Tower Hamlets Cemetery sits on 27 acres and is now a nature reserve as well as the final resting place for over 240,000 people. The site was closed for burials in the 1960’s and for a number of years was left to fall into disrepair before being declared a nature reserve in 2000. It now serves as an open air classroom for local schools as well as being open to the public. Whilst there are fewer notable burials here than some of the other Victorian cemeteries, one of the points which makes Tower Hamlets Cemetery well worth visiting, are the pieces of shrapnel which are still in evidence from World War Two bombings.