Victorian London Cemeteries


The public cemetery, as distinct from the churchyard, as a proper place for burial, originated in the Victorian period. Under common law, every parishioner and inhabitant of a parish had a right to be buried in his or her parish churchyard or burial ground. There were few exceptions to this right of Christian burial. An Act of 1823 put an end to the practice of burying suicides in some public highway with a stake driven through them and directed that they be buried in the usual churchyard, but between the hours of 9 p.m. and midnight, and without rites of the Church. However, the compulsory dissection of murderers' bodies was not abolished until 1832, and hanging in chains lingered on until 1834.

The comparatively small number of gravestones in a churchyard can belie the number of bodies buried there. The churchyard of St Martin-in-the-Fields was only 200 feet (60 metres) square yet, in the early 1840's, was estimated to contain the remains of between sixty and seventy thousand persons.

Burial Grounds (as distinct from parish churchyards) were started by non-conformists in the 17th century; many more were established in the 18th century. The first public cemetery in London was established in 1827 in Kensal Green, a 79-acre site, which had separate chapels for Anglicans and Dissenters. Other landscaped public cemeteries were soon opened at Norwood (1837), Highgate (1839), Nunhead (1840), Abney Park, Stoke Newington (1840), and Tower Hamlets (1841). Before the middle of the 19th century such cemeteries were generally run as commercial ventures, but after the passing of legislation in the 1850s enforcing the closure of urban churchyards, municipal cemeteries became the rule.

By 1850 most London churchyards were so overcrowded that they posed a severe health risk to those people working or living nearby. Thousands of bodies were buried in shallow pits beneath the floorboards of chapels and schools. Congregations and pupils had to beathe the foul-smelling air which resulted. A pressure group, the National Society for the Abolition of Burial in Towns, was established in 1845 and two years later the Cemeteries Clauses Act enacted general powers to establish commercial cemeteries. The Act failed in its purpose and was followed by the Burial Act of 1852, which remained the principal piece of legislation on the subject until largely repealed in 1972. The 1852 Act required the General Board of Health to establish cemeteries to deal with the problem and an immense number of parochial burial-grounds, some open to all, others set apart for the use of special denominations, were opened in various suburban districts all round London.

The idea of landscaped public cemeteries came from Italy, France and Sweden. The winding, tomb-lined avenues and well-contrived vistas of the landscaped cemetery at Pere-Lachaise in Paris was widely admired. J.C. Loundon, On the Laying Out, Planting, and Managing of Cemeteries (1843) was widely influential and also led to improvements in the design of churchyards, with the construction of lych-gates and new paths and the planting of of yews, cypresses, and junipers, alongside native species like lime and elm. Such ideas also influenced the layout of public crematoria after the practice of cremation was ruled legal in 1884. The public crematorium at Woking (Surrey), opened the following year, was one of the first.

The deceased of certain areas of London have tended to predominate in certain cemeteries:

  • those of North London in Highgate Cemetery
  • those of East London in Tower Hamlets, Victoria Park and Brookwood Cemeteries
  • those of South London in Norwood and Nunhead Cemeteries
  • those of West London in Kensal Green Cemetery.

Economic status could effect the location of burial. Brookwood Cemetery in Woking (Surrey), opened as a private cemetery by the London Necropolis & National Mausoleum Company in 1854, and others competed to undertake contracts tendered each year by several London boroughs for the burial of their poor. Brookwood probably buried half of East London and to facilitate this Waterloo Station had a special casket-loading platform, and trains containing funeral parties ran daily to a Gothic station built within the cemetery itself.

The St Marylebone Cemetery catered for the the affluent middle classes of Marylebone, Highgate and Hampstead, with a high proportion also in the professional and military occupations.

Military personnel were also buried in the Royal Hospital Chelsea Burial Ground (Army) and the Royal Hospital Cemetery, East Greenwich (Navy).

Certain London parishes bought parcels of newly established cemeteries; St George Hanover Square at Hanwell, and St Ann Soho, St Margaret and St John Westminster at Brookwood. At Norwood an area was reserved for the brotherhood of the Greek community in London.

Foremost amongst the burial grounds devoted to dissenters was Bunhill Fields and afterwards Abney Park Cemetery.

Cemetery records have sometimes been deposited at local record offices, but others are still kept at the office on the site. They usually give the name of the deceased, age, and occupation, the date of death and of burial, and the position of the grave. These records are arranged chronologically, and are not indexed alphabetically.

The following are the principal Victorian London cemeteries with the date of its first register:-

Non-Denominational Cemeteries
Roman Catholic Cemeteries
Jewish Cemeteries
Army Cemetery
Navy Cemetery
Moravian Burial Ground

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Non-Denominational Cemeteries in Victorian London ~

City of London:

  • Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, City Road (1713)
  • City of London Cemetery, Aldersbrook Road, Manor Park (1856)

North London:

  • Edmonton Cemetery, Church Street (1884)
  • Hertford Road Cemetery, Enfield (1881)
  • Islington Cemetery, High Road, E. Finchley (1854)
  • Lavender Hill Cemetery, Cedar Road (1872)
  • Old Southgate Cemetery, Waterfall Road (c.1880)
  • Tottenham Cemetery, White Hart Lane (1856)

North-East London:

  • Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington High Street (1840)
  • Buckingham Road Cemetery, (formerly Great Ilford Cemetery)(1881)
  • Chingford Mount Cemetery, Old Church Road (1886)
  • St Thomas Square Cemetery, Mare Street, Hackney (1837)
  • Victoria Park Cemetery, Hackney (1853)
  • Walthamstow Cemetery, Queen's Road (1872)

East London:

  • East London Cemetery, Grange Road, Plaistow (1874)
  • Gibraltar Row Burial Ground, Bethnal Green (1793)
  • Manor Park Cemetery, Serbert Road (1874)
  • Rippleside Cemetery, Ripple Road, Barking (1886)
  • Romford Cemetery, Dagenham Road (1871)
  • Tower Hamlets Cemetery, Southern Grove (1841)
  • West Ham Cemetery, Cemetery Road (1854)

South-East London:

  • Beckenham Cemetery, Elmers End Road (1876)
  • Bexleyheath Cemetery, Banks Lane, Broadway (1879)
  • Brockley Cemetery, Ladywell Road (1858)
  • Camberwell Old Cemetery, Forest Hill Road (1856)
  • Charlton Cemetery, Cemetery Lane (1864)
  • Crystal Palace Cemetery - see Beckenham Cemetery
  • Deptford Cemetery - see Brockley Cemetery
  • Erith Cemetery, Brook Street (1894)
  • Greenwich Cemetery, Well hall Road (1856)
  • Hither Green Cemetery, Verdant Lane (1873)
  • Ladywell Cemetery, Ladywell Road (1858)
  • Lee Cemetery - see Hither Green Cemetery
  • Lewisham Cemetery - see Ladywell Cemetery
  • London Road Cemetery, Warner Road, Bromley, Kent (1877)
  • Nunhead Cemetery, Linden Grove (1840)
  • Plaistow Cemetery, Burnt Ash Lane (1892)
  • Plumstead Cemetery, Wickham Lane (1890)
  • Royal Hospital Cemetery (Navy), East Greenwich (1848)
  • St Luke's Cemetery, Magpie Hall Lane, Bromley, Kent (1894)
  • St Mary Cray Cemetery, Star Lane (1884)
  • Woolwich Cemetery (Old), Kings Highway (1856)
  • Woolwich Cemetery (New), Camdale Road (1885)

South London:

  • Brookwood Cemetery, Cemetery Pales, Woking, Surrey (1854)
  • Croydon Cemetery, Mitcham Road (1897)
  • Queens Road Cemetery, Croydon (1861)
  • Woking Cemetery - see Brookwood Cemetery

South-West London:

  • Bandon Hill Cemetery, Plough Lane, Beddington, Surrey (1899)
  • Battersea St Mary's Cemetery (1860)
  • Hampton Cemetery, Broad Lane (1859)
  • Kingston Cemetery, Bonner Hill Road (1855)
  • Lambeth Cemetery, Blackshaw Road (1854)
  • Mitcham Cemetery, Church Road (1883)
  • Morden Burial Ground, South Warpole Way & Avenue Gardens, Mortlake (1883)
  • Morden Cemetery (Battersea New Cemetery), Lower Morden Lane (1892)
  • Norwood Cemetery - see West Norwood Cemetery
  • Old Mortlake Cemetery, South Worple Way (1887)
  • Putney Lower Common Cemetery, Mill Hill Road (1855)
  • Putney Vale Cemetery, Stag Lane (1891)
  • Richmond Cemetery, Lower Grove Road (1894)
  • Royal Hospital Chelsea Burial Ground (Army), Royal Hospital Road (1692)
  • Streatham Cemetery, Garrat Lane (1893)
  • Sutton Cemetery, Alcorn Close (1889)
  • Teddington Cemetery, Shacklegate Lane (1879)
  • Twickenham Cemetery, Hospital Bridge Road (1867)
  • Wandsworth Cemetery, Magdalen Road (1878)
  • West Norwood Cemetery, Norwood Road (1837)
  • Wimbledon Cemetery, Gap Road (1876)

West London:

  • Acton Cemetery, Park Royal Road (1895)
  • Barnes Cemetery
  • Brompton Cemetery, Fulham Road (1840)
  • Chiswick Old Cemetery, Corney Road (1888)
  • City of Westminster Cemetery - see Hanwell Cemetery
  • Feltham Cemetery, Sunbury Road (1886)
  • Fulham Cemetery, Fulham Palace Road (1865)
  • Greenford Park Cemetery, Windmill Lane (1901)
  • Hammersmith Cemetery, Margravine Road (1869)
  • Hanwell Cemetery, Uxbridge Road (1854)
  • Harlington Burial Ground, St Peter's Way (1871)
  • Havelock Cemetery, Church Road (1883)
  • Hillingdon & Uxbridge Cemetery, Hillingdon Hill (1856)
  • Hounslow Cemetery, Hanworth Road (1869)
  • Isleworth Cemetery, Park Road (1880)
  • Kensal Green (All Souls) Cemetery, Harrow Road (1833)
  • Kensington Hanwell Cemetery, Broadway (1855)
  • Paddington Cemetery, Willesden Lane (1855)
  • South Ealing Cemetery, South Ealing Road (1861)
  • South Ealing Cemetery (1861)
  • Stanwell Burial Ground, Town Lane (1900)
  • Sunbury Cemetery, Green Way (1900)
  • Victoria Lane Burial Ground, Harlington (1871)
  • Westminster Cemetery - see Hanwell Cemetery

North-West London:

  • East Finchley Cemetery, East End Road (1855)
  • Great Northern London Cemetery, Brunswick Park Road (1861)
  • Hampstead Cemetery, Fortune Green Road (1876)
  • Harrow Cemetery, Pinner Road (1888)
  • Hendon Cemetery, Holders Hill Road (1899)
  • Highgate & Kentish Town Cemetery, Swains Lane (1839)
  • Paines Lane Cemetery, Pinner (1860s)
  • St Marylebone Cemetery - see East Finchley Cemetery
  • St Pancras Cemetery, High Road, East Finchley (1854)
  • Wembly Old Burial Ground, High Road (1867)
  • Willesden New Cemetery, Franklyn Road (1893)
  • Willesden Old Cemetery, Neasden Lane (1868)

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Army Cemetery in Victorian London ~

  • Royal Hospital Chelsea Burial Ground (1692-1856)

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Navy Cemetery in Victorian London ~

  • Royal Hospital Cemetery, East Greenwich (1848-1864)

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Roman Catholic Cemeteries in Victorian London ~

  • Mortlake Catholic Cemetery, North Worple Way (1852)
  • St Mary's Cemetery, Harrow Road, Kensal Green (1858)
  • St Patrick's Leytonstone Cemetery, Langthorne Road (1861)

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Jewish Cemeteries in Victorian London ~

  • Alderney Road Cemetery (Orthodox), Alderney Road, E. London (1697-1852)
  • Balls Pond Cemetery (Reform Synagogues), Kingsbury Road (1844-1951)
  • Brady Street Cemetery (Orthodox), Brady Street, E. London (1761-1858)
  • Forest Gate, West Ham
  • Hackney Cemetery (Orthodox), Lauriston Road (1788-1886)
  • Hoop Lane Cemetery East (Spanish & Portuguese), Golders Green (1897)
  • Hoop Lane Cemetery West (Reform Synagogues), Golders Green (1897)
  • Hoxton Cemetery (Orthodox), Hoxton Street (1707-1878)
  • Jeremy's Green Lane, Edmonton
  • Jewish Cemetery (Federation of Synagogues), Montague Road, Lower Edmonton (1889)
  • Plushet Cemetery (Ortodox), High Street North (1896)
  • Sephardi Nuevo (New) Cemetery (Spanish & Portuguese), Mile End Road (1733)
  • Sephardi Velho (Old) Cemetery (Spanish & Portuguese), Mile End Road (1657-1742)
  • The Bancroft Road Cemetery, Mile End (c.1810-1920)
  • West Ham Cemetery (Orthodox), Buckingham Road (1857)
  • Western Cemetery, Queen's Elm Parade, Chelsea (1815-1884)
  • Western Synagogue Cemetery, Montagu Road, Lower Edmonton (1884)
  • Willesden Cemetery (Orthodox), Beaconsfield Road (1873)

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Moravian Burial Ground in Victorian London ~

  • Milman's Street, off King's Road, Chelsea (1750-) (open to the public 2:00pm - 5:00pm on Wednesdays)

Sources: The Victorian Undertaker ~ Trevor May, Shire Publications ISBN 0-7478-0331-5; Greater London Cemeteries and Crematoria ~ Compiled by Patricia S Wolfston and Revised by Clifford Webb, Society of Genealogists ISBN 0-946789-68-1; The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History ~ David Hey, Oxford University Press 1996; Dickens's Dictionary of London 1888 ~ Old House Books ISBN 1-873590-04-0

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Copyright 1996-2003 John Hitchcock. All rights reserved.