If you’re looking for something a bit out of the ordinary on your next visit to London, you might want to consider a trip to one of the city’s many beautiful cemeteries.
This may not sound like the cheeriest of destinations for tourists on a short getaway to the British capital, but an afternoon in a quiet cemetery can actually be a great way to explore a bit of history while enjoying a bit of peace and fresh air.
In fact, London has a number of picturesque cemeteries that are popular destinations for visitors and locals alike, and Brompton Cemetery in West London is a perfect example.
Still not convinced? Here are nine things to know about Brompton Cemetery before you visit:
1. It’s one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’
This might not be an official term, but it’s a well-known name for some of the most scenic large private cemeteries in the capital.
As well as Brompton Cemetery, there’s also Kensal Green, West Norwood, Highgate, Abney Park, Nunhead and Tower Hamlets. All were established in the 19th century to alleviate overcrowding in existing parish burial grounds.
Today, these seven cemeteries are known for their beautiful landscaping and intriguing histories.
2. It’s one of the oldest garden cemeteries in Britain
Brompton Cemetery was consecrated by the Bishop of London in June 1840. The founder, architect, inventor and entrepreneur Stephen Geary, had previously created the cemeteries at Highgate and Nunhead.
Today, the cemetery is Grade I Listed on the English Heritage register of historic parks and gardens,
3. It’s in Kensington
This 39-acre cemetery is located in west London, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and it acts as the western border of the Brompton neighbourhood.
4. It’s easy to get to
There are two entrances to the cemetery. The South Gate is just off Fulham Road, while the North Gate is off Old Brompton Road.
The closest Tube stations are West Brompton on the District line and Earl’s Court on the District and Piccadilly lines. Both of these are closer to the North Gate.
Several buses serve the local area, including the 14, 74, 190, 211, 328, 414, 430, C1 and C3.
If you’re planning on driving to the cemetery, please note that parking is only available for grave licence holders. However, you may be able to find street parking, and there are public car parks just a short walk away.
5. Tours are available
The Friends of Brompton Cemetery offer informational tours of the cemetery every Sunday from May to August, and on two Sundays each month from September to April. Tours begin at 2 pm outside the chapel and last about two hours. Private tours can also be booked for other days of the week.
In addition, the group regularly hosts special events, such as lectures, talks and exhibitions.
6. Opening times
The walled cemetery is usually open daily from dusk until dawn. It’s closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
7. There are many notable people interred here
The Brompton Cemetery burial archive comprises 140 leather-bound registers. There are more than 200,000 people buried there, and it is open for a limited number of new burials every year. Emma Shaw was the first person to be buried in the cemetery – on June 22nd, 1840.
Notable names that you might recognise include:
- Dr John Snow – He discovered the cause of cholera.
- Emmeline Pankhurst – A suffragette leader.
- William Banting – He popularised the concept of dieting.
- Frederick Leyland – A shipowner and art patron.
- Sir Samuel Cunard – Owner of a shipping company.
- Sir John Fowler – The engineer of the Metropolitan Railway and Forth Bridge.
- Samuel Leigh Sotheby – An auctioneer.
- Brian Glover – A television and film actor.
8. It may have ties to Beatrix Potter
Ms Potter lived nearby in Old Brompton Road, and many believe she used names from tombstones in the cemetery for her characters. For example, names of people buried in the cemetery include Mr Nutkins, Mr McGregor, Mr Brock, Mr Tod, Jeremiah Fisher and even Peter Rabbett.
9. You can visit the catacombs
The catacombs are open only during the annual open day, which is the third Sunday of July. Tours start at mid-day, but you need to book as spaces are limited. The catacombs were built to hold up to 500 people, but many of the spaces remain empty and, while the exact number of internments is unknown, there are thought to be a few hundred.