Nope, not the 2016 film starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, or the 1960 film of which that was the remake. I’m talking cemeteries, of course, I’m always on theme. In the 19th Century, the cemeteries of London were becoming a very serious problem. Think overcrowding, huge hygiene issues causing outbreaks of disease and just a not very pleasant situation at all. Up until 1902, burial was the only legal method of putting the deceased to rest and this was taking up a lot of space within the parish graveyards. London was a growing city with a booming population and with a lot of people being born also comes a lot of people dying. Bodies were spilling out of the available spaces and where previously areas had been cleared of ‘old bones’ to make space this was becoming less and less possible. The smell of rotting and decay would have been commonplace around these resting places and polluted the water supply, something that would utterly horrify everyone today.
It was deemed that something needed to be done and the this led to the formation of large suburban cemeteries in the style of other cities in Europe. The first of these was Kensal Green in 1832 which we visited in January, see my blog article here. This was followed by West Norwood in 1836, Highgate in 1839, Abney Park, Nunhead, Brompton all in 1840, & Tower Hamlets in 1841. These were given the name ‘The Magnificent Seven’ by Hugh Meller an architectural historian in 1981 (according to Wikipedia) after the previously mentioned 1960 movie.
One of the coolest things about these cemeteries is the architecture of them, and the vision of the funerary fashion of the Victorian period. You will see some of the grandest and largest monuments that will take your breath away. They are all in very different conditions, from being a Royal Park and with funding to make improvements, to still being a fully functioning cemetery, to being a woodland park with events for the public. Many have no idea they are even there, I only discovered Tower Hamlets cemetery existed a long time ago when I was going past on the train and spotted some headstones through the trees.
My friend Laura D. and I have decided that in 2018 we will visit all of these seven cemeteries and so far we have managed two already! If you are interested, here’s some links to where more information can be found online. Looking forward to seeing more and writing about them in future.
- Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnificent_Seven_cemeteries
Cremation and how it became a’thing’ –http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7963119.stm
- Guardian article – https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jan/22/death-city-grisly-secrets-victorian-london-dead
- Cool Interactive Map – https://londonist.com/london/maps/an-interactive-map-of-london-s-magnificent-seven-cemeteries
- Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park – http://www.fothcp.org/about
- Friends of Nunhead Cemetery – https://www.fonc.org.uk/
- Highgate Cemetery (& book tours) – https://highgatecemetery.org/
- Abney Park – https://hackney.gov.uk/abney-park
- Brompton Cemetery – https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/brompton-cemetery
- Kensal Green Cemetery – http://www.kensalgreencemetery.com/
- West Norwood Cemetery – https://www.lambeth.gov.uk/places/west-norwood-crematorium-and-cemetery
Hope you find this as fascinating as I do and thank you for reading!