There is a place nearby which I often retreat to, where you can wander in peace and tranquilty. In its heydey Nunhead Cemetery was one of the magnificent seven, the huge cemeteries that ringed London. As the population exploded in the first half of the 19th century the problem of burying the dead became ever more acute. On a recent guided walk of Nunhead, our guide talked about entrepreneurial types who rented backyards where they would stack up leaking coffins for a fee. As a result, in 1832, permissions for the establishment of private cemetaries outside of London was granted and All Saints’ Cemetery, Nunhead was consecrated in 1840.
Fast forward many years and by the midde of the 20th century Nunhead Cemetery was full. It was finally abandoned by the company that ran it, who simply walked away from the site and left it to the ravages of time and vandals. The railings had been removed as part of the war effort so there was little to stop the decades of vandalism and destruction that ensued. Yet beneath the encroaching trees and undergrowth the glorious headstones and mausoleums remained. Gradually over the past few years the friends of Nunhead Cemetery have been restoring areas and removing the debris to reveal the magnificence of the Victorian approach to death and burial.
Like all of the great London Cemeteries there are some notable burials. One I learnt about was Peter Marsh, whose inscription reads “17th Lancers and one of the six hundred”. If you know your Tennyson then you may make the connection to The Charge of the Light Brigade. There’s an interesting report that mentions Marsh from the Canadian Statesman, June 1892.
Nunhead Cemetery is now a nature reserve and a lovely place to visit and wander around. Regular guided tours are put on by the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery, so if a bit of Victorian gothic is your thing, head over to Nunhead.