Photographs by Robert Freidus and the present author, reproduced here by kind permission of Brookwood Cemetery. Historic images researched and scanned by JB. You can use the scans without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the source and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images for larger pictures and more information where available (you may have to scroll down a page for the appropriate picture). See the cemetery's index for many more views of the cemetery and its monuments.

Historical Background

Left: Waterloo Station in 1848, with plenty of space for the Necropolis Railway's facilities (from Fay, facing p.81). Compare this with the grand station we see today, and the congestion in this now heavily built-up area. (b) A Victorian mourning brooch shows the park-like resting place that the Victorians wanted for their loved ones, complete with lake and weeping willows — far removed from the packed ground of a city churchyard (courtesy of the Science Museum, London, Wellcome Images).

In the 1840s London's population was still spiralling upwards. As the great epidemics of typhus, cholera, influenza and scarlet fever swept through the city, it became clear that not even the new "Magnificent Seven" cemeteries like Abney Park and Brompton (both opened in 1840) would be able to keep pace with the demand for burial space. The second great cholera epidemic of 1848-49 killed an unimaginable 14,789 Londoners alone (White 50). Desperate measures were required: the call for a country cemetery, one on an unprecedented scale, gathered force. Perhaps the first to have suggested its eventual location was the famous Scottish cemetery designer John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843), in his highly influential work, On the Laying Out, Planting, and Managing of Cemeteries, and on the Improvement of Churchyards (1843):

The price of land, within ten miles of London, is much too high to admit of burying paupers singly in the London cemeteries; but one thousand, or even two thousand, acres of poor waste land, admirably adapted for burying-ground, might be purchased in the parishes of Woking, Chobham, Horsall, Perbright, Pyrford, &c., at from 4l. to 8l. per acre. The land alluded to is too poor to admit of cultivation for arable purposes; but it would grow yews, junipers, pines, firs, and other cemetery plants, with which it might be planted in rows, in such a manner that the graves could be made between the rows. (47n.)

What he "alluded" to was Woking Common in Surrey, which lay on suitably sandy soil about twenty-four miles south-west of the capital. This spread widely around villages on the outskirts of Woking (itself a village in those days), including that of Brookwood. Despite being well outside the city, it had the huge advantage of already being well connected to it by rail. Crowds of people had pitched tents on this very common to cheer the first train through from Waterloo in May 1838 (Fay 81). The idea seemed feasible, and the cemetery was duly founded by an Act of Parliament in 1850.

Progress was not always smooth. Voices were raised against the proposal, as well as for it. The Morning Post of 22 May 1852 quoted Viscount Ebrington as saying that the new private London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company's proposal was "perfectly preposterous," since (he claimed) there was still plenty of space left in the London burial grounds (3). In the following month, the Times took note when the high-profile Earl of Shaftesbury stood up in the House of Lords to condemn the plan, citing its logistics. Shaftesbury painted a grisly picture of corpses piling up overnight under the arches at Waterloo, where the dedicated funeral trains were to depart from their own terminus beside the main station. He worried about mourners, traumatised by loss and deprived of the chance to grieve over the bodies of the departed, not arriving till the next day to accompany the coffins to their final resting place. All this, he argued, would be a "deep wound to the feelings of individuals and a gross violation of public decency" (2). Nevertheless, the majority were alarmed at the conditions of burial grounds in London, the health hazards they posed, and the prospect of unmanageable numbers of deaths yet to come. So the project went ahead.

The Opening

Left to right: (a) A commemorative piece of track behind the present mainline station at Brookwood, where the original branch-line ran into the cemetery (picture by JB). (b) The original 1854 station for the Anglican chapel, on the left, next to Smirke's Anglican Chapel of 1854 (courtesy Lens of Sutton). (c) Part of the platform of the main station at Brookwood today (picture by JB). The station was opened for visitors in 1864, and gives access straight to the cemetery. It had its own postbox, from which visitors could send mourning postcards.

Figures vary even between even the most dependable sources, but roughly 2,200 acres of land were acquired by the company, of which between 350 to about 500 acres were originally landscaped and planted (e.g., see Clarke 7 and "Brookwood"). Entirely separate areas were allotted to members of the established church, and to those of other denominations and faiths, the two unequal parts being separated by Cemetery Pales. Each side had its own railway station, one adjacent to the Anglican Chapel to the south, and the other adjacent to the Dissenters' Chapel to the north. The Dissenters' Chapel served not only Nonconformists, but all other faiths as well. Both stations were completed in 1854, when the Bishop of Winchester consecrated the Anglican Chapel and its land. This grand event took place on 7 November, with the first of the dedicated Brookwood trains bringing down the company's directors and shareholders, and the directors of the London & South Western Railway.

On the same day, the Times carried an advertisement explaining that a regular daily service would start from the following week, and that the cost of a first class single grave in perpetuity would be £2.10, including both rail journey and chapel service. The equivalent second class fee would be £1.00 (1). From 13 November, the cemetery was open for business.


Some of the cemetery buildings. Left to right: (a) Smirke's Anglican Chapel of 1854 as it is today. (b) Smirke's Dissenters' Chapel of 1854 as it is today, with only the square base of its original tower left. (c) Three buildings along the old south section railway line. Left to right again: The larger Anglican Chapel of 1909-10, designed by Cyril Tubbs and Arthur Messer, now the church of the St Edward the Martyr Orthodox Brotherhood; Smirke's Anglican Chapel, its crossing and tower not visible from here; the monks' recently-built monastery, designed by Irina Hoble-Aldersley, a Surrey architect, looking very much at home in its surroundings. The monks, who had previously been accommodated in Smirke's chapel next door, moved into the new building in 2007. (First two pictures by RF, last by JB.)

The cemetery architecture probably owed most to Sydney Smirke (1797-1877). It was hardly the sort of work that he usually did, but this was an important commercial project and in 1853 he had replaced the London Necropolis Company's previous architect, Henry Abraham (1803/4-1877). Abraham may have left him some general plan or ideas, and Smirke may also received some advice from Sir William Tite (1798-1873), who, with Joseph Cubitt (1811-1872) as consulting engineer, was responsible for the company's London train terminus. The latter seems especially likely. After all, Tite had previously designed one of the "Magnificent Seven" cemeteries in London, the South Metropolitan Cemetery at West Norwood. Certainly, the Times reported that both Tite and Smirke were among those toasted after the opening ceremony. Nevetheless, it seems to have been Smirke rather than Tite who designed the little wooden white-painted station halts in the cemetery (Curl 144), and the building which at different times served as the Parsonage and Superintendent's Office was definitely designed by Smirke, and built in 1854-55.


Left to right: (a) Nestling among the cemetery's trees is the elegant Italianate mausoleum of Sir William Richard Drake, F.S.A. (1817-1890), author of several books on ceramics, etchings etc., and art collector, who had lived at Oatlands Lodge, Weybridge (picture by RF). (b) One of Loudon's ground-plans featuring a central ring (from Loudon 16). (c) There are fifteen listed monuments here, but many a deeply dappled angel overlooks less distinguished people's graves in the same peaceful setting, some so similar that they were probably executed by the same on-site stonemason (picture by JB).

The landscaping of the cemetery was also a collaborative effort, shared between Smirke and two others. One of these was the well-known garden-designer William Broderick Thomas (1811-1898), who later designed the gardens of Sandringham House. The other was Robert Donald (c.1826-1866), son of Robert Donald Sr., owner of a local nursery. The younger Robert had trained at Kew and was in charge of the nursery by this time (Clarke 10-11). His father had been a friend and associate of Loudon's, and it is generally agreed that the area was landscaped according to Loudon's principles. Loudon's book was highly practical, featuring everything from cemetery ground-plans to entrance lodges, and from types of evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs to suitable bulbs to plant. His idea of a central ring seems to have had particular appeal: Brookwood's central ring is the most prestigious part of the cemetery, where some of the most important people are buried — for example, the artist John Singer Sargent.

As a footnote to this already rather complicated scenario, the embankments and planting of the branch-siding in the cemetery are said to have been planned by Tite and Cubitt (Curl 144). It is difficult, then, to apportion credit for the way the grounds have turned out. But, clearly, "Whoever did the landscaping made a magnificent job of it, planting Wellingtonias and big conifers that have matured splendidly to give a sombre complex landscape unlike anything anywhere else in the country" (Nairn et. al. 120).


Left to right: (a) The simple (restored) headstone of Jeanie Nassau Senior (1828-1877), the social reformer who became the first woman in Whitehall. Her baby granddaughter, who died at just two weeks old, is buried alongside her. (b) An eccentric cragginess marks the grave of A. O. Hume (1829-1912), founder of the Indian National Congress, who spent much of his life in Shimla. His daughter Maria is buried in the same grave. (c) The grave of the artists William de Morgan (1839-1917) and his wife Evelyn (1855-1919), designed by Evelyn de Morgan herself. (First two pictures by JB, last by RF.)

Funeral trains continued to run regularly throughout the century, bringing thousands of coffins and mourners to Brookwood. This was the last trip for many important Victorians, including some (like those whose headstones are shown above) whose lives and work are recorded in our own website. Looked at as a whole, the cemetery is also remarkable for its overview of life in and near the capital in the nineteenth century, especially as many of the dead are neatly sorted not only by religion and sect but also by occupation and nationality. Chelsea Pensioners, actors, railwaymen, bakers and others all have their special areas here, as do the parishioners of certain churches, like that of St George the Martyr, Southwark, not to mention Muslims, Zoroastrians, Parsees, Czechoslovakians and so forth (see especially Freidus's photographs of "Resited Burial Grounds" and "Entrances to Brookwood Cemetery." Added into the still largely original Victorian layout are also a number of twentieth-century military cemeteries, including ones for American, British, Canadian, French, Polish servicemen and those from other parts of the empire.


Left: The Columbarium at Brookwood. Right: A funeral train from Waterloo pulling into the north section (Dissenters') station at Brookwood in the early 20c., possibly with some passengers for the Woking Crematorium on board (courtesy of Lens of Sutton).

The perception of the Woking Common area as "the great camp of the dead" (Mee 332) was heightened when the Cremation Society selected the borough for its activities as well. In 1878 it bought some land from the Necropolis Company just two miles away from Brookwood, in the St John's area of Woking. In 1879 the new crematorium, the first of its kind in the country, was ready, and the first human cremation was performed there in 1885, as soon as cremation became legal. Later, the Necropolis Company agreed to let the crematorium's clients share its private train service from Waterloo, while the society itself recommended that "all London-based clients contact the London Necropolis Co. to arrange a cremation funeral" (Parsons). The Necropolis Company later bought the spacious neo-classical domed mausoleum originally commissioned by the 5th Earl of Cadogan (1840-1915) in their own grounds, turning it into a columbarium for those who wished their ashes to be kept at Brookwood. Cremation would eventually ease the pressure on burial grounds everywhere.

Much else has changed since 1854. Both the stations inside Brookwood Cemetery have gone, and all Smirke's buildings have been transformed to some extent. The chapels been put to different purposes, and it is not at all clear from the very ordinary exterior that the "core" of the old Parsonage remains (Clarke 180). The trees have matured splendidly, and the grounds themselves are on the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, as well as forming a site of Nature Conservation Importance. These grounds are now rich in structures of special historic and artistic interest, and there has been talk of Brookwood Cemetery's becoming a World Heritage site (see "Home Office Report"). However, one thing has not changed. After more than a quarter of a million burials, the "great camp" at Brookwood is still the largest cemetery in the United Kingdom (Pearson 102), and possibly in Western Europe ("Brookwood Cemetery"), or even perhaps in the whole of Europe (Rutherford 35).

Related Material


19c. Newspapers (Gale: Cengage Learning). Web. 1 July 2013.

"Brookwood." Woking Borough Council. Web. 1 July 2013.

"Brookwood Cemetery." Pastscape (English Heritage site). Web. 1 July 2013.

Clarke, John M. London's Necropolis: A Guide to Brookwood Cemetery. Stroud: Sutton, 2004.

Curl, James Stevens. The Victorian Celebration of Death. Paperback ed. Stroud: Sutton, 2004.

Fay, Sam. A Royal Road: The History of the London and South Western Railway, from 1825 to the Present Day. (Printed by) W. Drewett: Kingston-on-Thames, 1882. Internet Archive. Web. 1 July 2013.

"Home Office Report on Brookwood Cemetery." Web. 1 July 2013.

Lens of Sutton (list maintained at Warwickshire Railways; many thanks to Mike Musson for his advice on this).

Loudon, John Claudius. On the Laying Out, Planting, and Managing of Cemeteries, and on the Improvement of Churchyards. London: Longmans, 1843. Internet Archive. Web. 1 July 2013. (Note: uploaded by Harvard University, this copy has Loudon's own autograph and part of his presentation [?] note).

Mee, Arthur, ed. The King's England: Surrey: London's Southern Neighbour. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1938.

Nairn, Ian, and Nikolaus Pevsner. Surrey. Revised by Bridget Cherry. The Buildings of England. Harmondsworth: Penguin: 1971.

Parsons, Brian. "Cremation in England Part 2: Early Coffins and Transport." ICCFA (International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association). Web. 1 July 2013.

Pearson, Lynn F. Discovering Famous Graves. Princes Risborough, Bucks.: Shire, 1998.

Rutherford, Sarah. The Victorian Cemetery. Botley, Oxford: Shire, 2008.

"St Edward Brotherhood" (includes information about their buildings). Web. 1 July 2013.

Slade, Paul. "Last Train Home: The Necropolis Railway." Web. 1 July 2013.

Thompson, Sir Henry Modern Cremation: Its History and Practice. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1891. Internet Archive. Web. 1 July 2013.

The Times Digital Archive (Gale: Cengage Learning). Web. 1 July 2013.

White, Jerry. London in the Nineteenth Century: "A Human Awful Wonder of God." London: Cape, 2007.

Last modified 10 July 2013