When I first went to Brompton Cemetery on 25 March I had returned unimpressed. So much so that I kept trying to work out why. I do expect the weather had something to do with it because the cemetery was not really memorable at all. There was only one thing to do and that was return, this time on a day that theoretically could have a hint of sunlight. I also had the opportunity to try to find some of the VC recipient graves I had not found before. Don’t get me wrong though, the 6th of April was not as warm as it promised.
The nice thing about Brompton though is that it is reasonably linear, so finding things isn’t all that impossible, however the legibility of the headstones is problematic. There are quite a few mausoleums and impressive statues too, so they are always first in my mind. In spite of two visits to this cemetery I was not able to find the reported statue of two children in their Sunday best. A myth? or me not looking properly? By sheer accident we ended up discussing it at one of my graving groups and they confirmed that the statue does exist, or it used to exist because at some point the two statues were stolen. The boy was recovered a few years ago but the girl never was. There is an article about the statue (posted 16 Sept 2011) at http://sleepinggardens.blogspot.com/2011/09/
The Chapel is an impressive structure, one that would not look out of place in London’s business district. Leading off of the chapel are the two pillared structures that don’t really seem to serve any function, except for being the roof of the catacombs. They are really magnificent structures, and in a remarkably good condition, unlike the similar structure that I saw in Kensal Green.
There seem to be 3 gates per side leading into the space underneath, and through the doors I could see coffins in shelves. I was surprised because I would have thought that the Victorians would have been somewhat more circumspect about having coffins in view through a door. However, I was looking at something that was over 100 years old, and circumstances may have changed.
There are a number of “celebrities” and famous people buried here, including Samuel Cunard, Emmeline Pankhurst, Richard Tauber and a few that are “before my time”. It was probably a very fashionable cemetery to be buried in during its heyday. Considering that it opened in 1840, it really has a wide selection of everybody in English Society. A list of famous graves may be found here https://brompton-cemetery.org.uk/monuments.html
Military monument wise, apart from the 12 VC graves, there is also a Chelsea Pensioners plot and Memorial.
And an extensive Brigade of Guards Memorial which has been used since 1854.
What I did like was that the cemetery was obviously a much appreciated recreation space for the local community, and on the day I was there a large number of families were taking a walk through this Royal Park and enjoying the atmosphere of it. It is really quite a nice tidy cemetery, although parts of it are reminiscent of the vegetative chaos of Nunhead.
Brompton had redeemed itself considerably, and I was about ready to head off home. A last look around before I left and my whole outlook had changed. The weather had definitely contributed to my second opinion, but I also expect I was able to view it with a different eye. There are over 200.000 burials registered here, some being relatively recent too, and yet it doesn’t feel too cluttered or chaotic.
And, there are some really nice angels and headstones too, even the pigeons and squirrels seem quite content to mooch off passing visitors. And, there is the obligatory sleepy lion and he is the third lion that I have seen in the “magnificent seven” garden cemeteries of London.
The catacombs are to be found underneath the colonnades and they have wonderful steel gates on them that can show a glimpse of what lies within.
It is a strange thing to see, however we must not look at a place like Brompton, or any of those vast Victorian cemeteries through the eye of a 2016 viewer, but rather through the eyes of the Victorians, and then we may understand. Brompton is the only public cemetery to remain under government control and is now managed by the Royal Parks Agency. There are 4 wonderful videos on YouTube about the Catacombs of Brompton Cemetery and they are well worth the watch.
There are a number of Victoria Cross holders buried inside it’s walls, the most famous being that of Sub-Lieut Reginald Alexander Warneford VC.
And that concluded my second Brompton visit, and I was glad that I took the trip out there with so few days left in London.
Random Images from my 2nd visit.
DRW © 2013-2022. Images redone 29/02/2016. Additional images added 01/01/2017, updated 15/03/2021