We explore a fantastically well-kept gothic graveyard and fill you in on how it came to be.
London’s history never fails to pique our interests, and call us weird but that’s especially true when it comes to the city’s cemeteries. No really, hear us out. A lot of people have lived in London over the years and that means a lot of people have died here too.
The places where they rest are some of the most interesting spots around. That’s certainly true of West Norwood Cemetery – one of London’s famous Magnificent Seven and the site of some of the best preserved gothic mausoleums in the city.
Ready to discover more?
Why Visit West Norwood Cemetery?
To have a look at a super-cool gothic cemetery – one of the finest examples you can find. Due to all those gothic mausoleums West Norwood looks a lot like a description from a Victorian horror novel.
If you really nerd out on this stuff, know that WNC is considered to have some of the best sepulchral architecture in London. We also love it because (in spite of all the resting dead) it’s also just a very relaxing, and surprisingly beautiful place to walk around.
The History of West Norwood Cemetery
The Magnificent Seven
The history of West Norwood Cemetery begins in 1960 with a tale of seven gunfighters in the old west. Oh no wait, scratch that. We’re talking about the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries of London.
They are seven major cemeteries built in the Victorian era in response to the growing number of people in London, and the growing number of dead that population boom brought with it.
The other six cemeteries are:
- Abney Park Cemetery
- Highgate Cemetery
- Kensal Green Cemetery
- Nunhead Cemetery
- Brompton Cemetery
- Tower Hamlets Cemetery
The construction of these cemeteries was ordered in 1836. At the time the graveyards of London were overflowing with dead. Disease was rife because of it and there were even reports of bodies contaminating the water supply.
Now surprise then they got round to building these new cemeteries pretty sharpish. By 1837 West Norwood was consecrated and was ready for use.
It’s hard to imagine now but back in the Victorian era this land would have been largely empty. In fact the site the planners picked for the cemetery was actually a remaining patch of the Great North Wood – an ancient (and now all but lost) woodland that stretched from Croydon to Camberwell.
It’s from the North Wood that Norwood gets its name.
When it came to designing the spot it was decided that West Norwood would be the UK’s first gothic cemetery. The style was in vogue at the time and when combined with the fact the cemetery was then in the countryside made the place very popular.
Many wealthy people of the era set their hearts on being buried at Norwood, and they wanted to do it in style – that style being the grand gothic mausoleum. You can still see these on your visit today.
These mausoleums give the cemetery the feel of a Mary Shelly novel (catch the place in a thick fog if you dare). There’s also loads of them. In fact West Norwood has nearly 70 Grade II listed structures on its grounds.
One community that really jumped in on the whole mausoleum craze were the Greeks. They even bought a section of the cemetery for the Greek orthodox christian burials in 1842.
The mausoleums in the Greek section draw their inspiration from Ancient Greece and are adorned with funeral friezes much like the mausoleums that have survived from the plague of Athens in the fifth century BC.
In More Recent News
Today West Norwood Cemetery is considered a site of national historic and cultural interest (that means it’s very important). Though you can’t be buried there any more (at least for the time being) by the year 2000 there had been 164,000 burials in the cemetery.
In 2005 some fine people decided to do a survey of the trees in West Norwood Cemetery. They discovered that one oak had been standing since sometime between 1540 and 1640. That would almost certainly make it part of the Great North Wood.
West Norwood Cemetery: Practical Information
Address: Norwood Rd, Norwood, London SE27 9JU
Opening Times: Monday – Friday 8am – 6pm, weekends 10am – 6pm. From November to March the cemetery opening times remain the same but it closes at 4pm everyday.
Tickets: Entry is free