A visit to Europe’s largest cemetery, where over 250,000 are buried, is a remarkable experience. It was opened by the London Necropolis Company in 1854 at a time when London was finding it difficult to find enough burial grounds. The company ran trains from close to Waterloo Station, with carriages and hearse carriages reserved for the different classes of departed souls. The cemetery is set in over 220 acres of landscaped parkland and is a beautiful Grade 1 listed site in the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. It is open 365 days of the year and anyone can be buried here irrespective of local connections or religious/cultural beliefs. There are specific areas, for example, an Ismaili area, one for Serbians, for Swedes, and for Zoroastrians, and there are others. Gillian’s Meadow consists large area reserved for green burials.
The South area of the cemetery was originally the Anglican section. Non-Conformists were buried on the North side of the road that divides the cemetery. The sites are rich in architecture, ecology, horticulture, and history and the magnificent Wellingtonia trees are a special feature with several grand avenues of them. There are “notable” individuals buried here along with Victoria Cross holders and listed monuments all with QR codes linked to their biographies, and separately available to view on the cemetery website. There are 14 listed memorials (excluding the military cemetery). Perhaps the finest mausoleum is the renovated Colquhoun mausoleum, with its superb sculpture. An interesting point about it is that it lies close to the special areas for pauper graves and not, for example, in The Ring area where the wealthy chose to be buried.
Ian Tomes, the Strategic Asset Manager for Woking BC, and Avril Kirby – cemetery manager, kindly gave an introductory talk and short PowerPoint presentation to the High Sheriff and his wife before taking them on a fascinating tour of both the North and South Cemeteries. In order to see the key sights in just under three hours, the tour entailed a car ride but with frequent walks at significant locations. Ian and Avril were a fount of interesting information and explained the incredible works of restoration that have been carried out since 2015 when Woking BC took over the cemetery. Very many sincere thanks to them both for a memorable afternoon.
Highlights of the tour were:
The Glades of Remembrance area with its lake, and where a heron was observed. This is for those who have been cremated.
The Ring, including the grave of the widow of the Captain of the Titanic and the painter John Singer Sergeant
The Chapel of the St Edward Brotherhood, a Greek Orthodox chapel the inside of which is stunningly beautiful.
The Military Cemeteries operated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The Zoroastrian cemetery, where members of the Tata family are buried. Nearby are the graves of Freddie Mercury’s grandparents.
Seeing the line of the old railway track and a platform at one of the two stations that previously existed.
The Brookwood Cemetery Society runs guided walking tours, private tours, and events.