Cemetery Archives: Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery’s damp open day

It was, it must be said, a somewhat soggy day for Brompton Cemetery's Open Day. But the Friends are an incorrigibly cheerful bunch, and soldiered on, with or without umbrellas.

I had an excellent tour of the above-ground cemetery with David, and saw a few things I'd never seen before in Brompton: Sioux chief Long Wolf, who died in London while on tour with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and was buried in Brompton until he went home in 1997; Director of Continental Journeys to Queen Victoria, Joseph Julius Kanné's stone erected by the Queen and Prince of Wales; professional soldier Colonel Henry Byrne, who fought in three campaigns and rather nicely has replicas of his medals on his tomb.

Then it was time for a (yes, I'm going to use the s-word) spooky look at the catacombs with Terence. Kensal Green's catacombs have electric lights fitted, at least in the bit you're taken to see. Brompton's, on the other hand, have tea lights. It is very, very dark and my imagination jumped immediately to tripping in the dark and putting my hand through the side of a coffin, and wondering just what, exactly, I was standing on. Fun, all the same - and my guess from KG that catacombs are never a commercial success with the English was bourne out by the swathes of empty space in Brompton's.

Exhibitors included the Met's "stopping drugs and cottaging in the Parks" department, who were all very jolly - as well as the Friends of Nunhead and the Friends of Kensal Green. All in all, a fun day out, if only it hadn't rained quite so hard.

Inevitably, there are more photos...

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The West London Cemetery Chapel

Brompton Cemetery Chapel

Brompton Cemetery Chapel

A beautiful illustration from The Pictorial Times in 1847, of the chapel in the West London Cemetery. The cemetery's better known today as Brompton. The picture is accompanied by a wonderful article about the miasmic theory of disease and how the new, hygienic cemetery will prevent bad air infecting the living. I'm missing the first part of the article, so as soon as I've been to Colindale to get it, I'll post the whole thing.

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Brompton Cemetery

Brompton CemeteryTo Brompton Cemetery, filled with supporters of Mr Abramovich's soccer team in their jolly blue shirts.

Mr Tesco's grocery emporium on Fulham Road failing to supply us with ice cream (for the day was unseasonably warm for early April), we repaired early to the Windsor Castle on Campden Hill Road for excellent cider.

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Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery has always been one of the more spectacular cemeteries in London, but its history has not been without problems. In 1836, The West London and Westminster Cemetery Company purchased thirty-five acres of land from Lord Kensington, and a further four acres from the Equitable Gas Company on which to establish their cemetery. The architect Benjamin Baud won a competition to design the layout, with an ambitious plan involving two grand entrances, a water gate to the canal, a circular colonade above catacombs and a trio of chapels.

Sadly, financial problems set in early for the company; a dispute about the ownership of the land meant that the first burial did not take place until 1840. By this time, fashion had moved away somewhat from Baud’s formal Classicism towards the wild and romantic Gothic seen at its height in Highgate, and Brompton’s custom was slow to get started. Chris Brooks ("Mortal Remains") gives early figures of "a handful" of burials in 1840, and just 89 in 1841. The Catholic and Dissenters’ chapels were dropped from Baud’s plan, and corners were cut on the construction of the other buildings. In 1844, Baud was sacked, and went on to sue the Company for unpaid fees.

Brompton’s difficulties coincided with government scrutity of the business of privately run burial grounds. Speculative ventures were too often run simply with an eye for profit: such as the notorious Enon Chapel, where 12,000 bodies were buried in one stinking crypt within twenty years and still others carted away and thrown into the Thames. Such scandals had finally led in 1850 to the Metropolitan Interments Act, which allowed for the compulsory public purchase of commercial burial sites. This legislation was revised in 1852, leaving Brompton as the only cemetery purchased under its provisions, and that for a price of £74,921.14s, less than half the Company’s asking price.

This may in the end have been the saving of Brompton Cemetery. Now managed by the Royal Parks, it never suffered the same neglect in the later twentieth century that threatened so many other cemeteries, and which might have lead to the loss altogether of this prime Chelsea real estate.

Today, Brompton is one of the busiest cemeteries we’ve ever visted, well-used by dog-walkers, skaters, local goths and cottaging men. The Friends’ group, though apparently lacking a website, is active throughout the year with tours and lectures (details from the lodge on Fulham Road).

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