The last time I was in London I only managed to visit 4 of the Magnificent 7 cemeteries – Abney Park, Brompton, Kensal Green, and Highgate West and East– and vowed that I would visit the other three the next time I was there. However, as I was in the UK for a short work-related trip, I didn’t have as much time as I had originally hoped, and knew that at best, I’d only get a chance to visit one cemetery on this particular trip. Although I had less than 12 hours in the city, I realized that I had a couple hours between arriving on the overnight train from Glasgow and meeting my friend later that morning to visit one. The question was, which one? In the end, I decided on West Norwood Cemetery, based on descriptions of the monuments and the ease of getting there (and back) to and from Victoria Station. So early in the morning, not long after the gates opened for the day, I had a quick visit to West Norwood Cemetery.
West Norwood was originally known as the South Metropolitan Cemetery, and was the second of the Magnificent Seven to be established in the city of London (Kensal Green was the first, in 1833). It was also the first cemetery in the UK to use Gothic style architecture. Although it is now well within the city limits of London, at the time of its creation it was a rural cemetery that was popular with the well-to-do who built elaborate tombs and mausoleums here. However, as I followed the main road into the cemetery, what struck me were the numerous smaller monuments lining both sides of the walkway. Although this is still a working cemetery (mostly because of the crematorium I think), the area here was quite overgrown which I have to admit was quite atmospheric. It reminded me of some of the other cemeteries I’ve seen in London, and I wonder if this type of landscaping (or not) is a deliberate choice, or a chance happenstance.
Five years after the cemetery opened, a Greek Orthodox cemetery was created within the grounds. Besides the gate and the names of the tombs, the monuments alone made it clear that this section belonged to a very different community than the rest of the cemetery. Having just been to the First Cemetery in Athens, Greece just two months previous, the similarities between the monuments of both cemeteries were very obvious.
What I liked about this cemetery were the small details that were found on some of the more modest monuments, whether it be portrait reliefs or other decorative features.
As is common in English/Protestant cemeteries, there weren’t as many monumental statues as you might find in other non-English/Catholic cemeteries, but there were a few interesting ones to be found as I wandered the grounds.
I really wish I had had more time to explore, as I’m sure I missed many on my rushed exploration of the grounds. The overgrown nature of the site makes me think that there were probably quite a few interesting monuments that I couldn’t see from further away.
I was rewarded with coming across a fox just minding its business in a more secluded section of the cemetery behind the crematorium. Of course, that didn’t last long once it realized I was there. The picture below (right) was the best I could manage before it ran away into the bushes.
Monuments: Some lovely statues and excellent tombs and mausoleums throughout the grounds, but especially in the Greek section.
Grounds: I had about 90 minutes to explore this 40-acre cemetery, which meant I was rushed and couldn’t see it all. There are sloping grounds but the main roads and secondary paths make it easily accessible. As seen in the pictures above, there was quite a lot of undergrowth, which I think added to the look of the cemetery, but it made it difficult to navigate some of the paths.
Visitors: Only mourners that I could see. A funeral was about to take place while I was there, so many people were walking or driving up to the crematorium/chapel area.
Notes: Wear waterproof shoes if you go on a rainy day (or after it has stopped). Be prepared with a zoom lens for the quieter parts of the cemetery – you may see a fox or two.
Site: West Norwood Cemetery
Notable Internments: Sir Henry Tate (founder of the Tate Gallery), Paul Julius Baron von Reuter (of the news agency), Isabella Beaton (cookery writer), Sir Hiram Maxim (inventor of the automatic machine gun)
Location: Norwood Rd, West Norwood, London SE27 9JU
Hours: 08:00-16:00 (Mon-Fri), 10:00-18:00 Sat and Sun