I visited three of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries in London with friends — Highgate Cemetery, Brompton Cemetery and West Norwood cemetery.
The "magnificent seven" cemeteries
The "Magnificent Seven" is an informal term applied to seven large cemeteries in London that were established in the 19th century to alleviate overcrowding in existing parish burial grounds.
- Kensal Green Cemetery (1832)
- West Norwood Cemetery (1837)
- Highgate Cemetery (1839) — read my review
- Abney Park Cemetery (1840)
- Nunhead Cemetery (1840)
- Brompton Cemetery (1840) — read my review
- Tower Hamlets Cemetery (1841)
In 1981, the architectural historian Hugh Meller dubbed the group of cemeteries "The Magnificent Seven" after the 1960 western film of the same name. We visited the Highgate Cemetery, Brompton Cemetery and the West Norwood Cemetery.
Some of you may find it morbid to have a fascination for old cemeteries but they are places of peace and calm, they are aesthetically beautiful and they contain a vast array of plants and wildlife. They are mini ecosystems. My interest is mainly in the aesthetics of the old, abandoned parts where the flora and fauna flourish and many gravestones have fallen over, are leaning precariously and most are semi-buried under ivy and other plants. There are even trees that have grown out of some of the gravestones!
About the West Norwood cemetary
West Norwood Cemetery is a 40-acre (16 ha) cemetery and was one of the first private landscaped cemeteries in London. It is a site of major historical, architectural and ecological interest and was the first cemetery in the UK to be designed in the new Gothic style. Its design and location attracted the attention of wealthy and aspirational Victorians, who commissioned many fine mausoleums and memorials for their burial plots and vaults.
The cemetery was built on the site of the ancient Great North Wood from which Norwood took its name. A tree survey of the cemetery in 2005 identified one oak which is thought to date from 1540–1640. Fourteen more oaks, a maple and an ash tree were identified that predate the foundation of the cemetery in 1836. In the first years of the cemetery's operation, these were joined by coniferous trees and evergreen holm oaks.
Its grounds are a mixture of historic monumental cemetery and modern lawn cemetery, but it also has catacombs (you need to book a tour of these) and cremation plots. Reckoned to hold the finest collection of sepulchral monuments in London, it features 69 Grade II and Grade II listed buildings and structures, including a dedicated Greek Orthodox necropolis with 19 listed mausoleums and monuments (see pics below).
The cemetery's extensive Gothic Revival architecture qualifies it as one of the significant cemeteries in Europe.
Notable figures buried in West Norwood cemetery
- Sir Henry Tate, sugar magnate (Tate & Lyle) and founder of London's Tate Gallery
- Arthur Anderson, co-founder of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company
- Paul Julius Baron von Reuter, founder of the news agency
- Reverend Charles Spurgeon Baptist, preacher
- Isabella Beeton, aka Mrs Beeton the famous cookery writer, who died at 28 in childbirth
- Edith O'Gorman the "escaped nun"
Take a virtual tour of the West Norwood cemetery
The last photo below was one that I found very moving. It was the grave of a 13 year old girl from the 19th century.
The inscription on the gravestone is lovely "Well done of God to halve the lot and give her all the sweetness to us the empty room and cot to her the heavens completeness." The statue is beautiful.