My son is home sick today and has been in bed asleep for most of it. So I’ve been hanging out on the couch and watching random British daytime TV. I’m not much for searching out their version of soap operas, so I’ve been cruising through the documentaries.

One of them really caught my attention, British Isles: A Natural History, and was all about the industrial revolution…the potato famine in Ireland, coal production and cholera epidemics in London…and cemeteries. I’ve never been a big cemetery haunter, so to speak, but I find them peaceful and touching and am just as impressed by an elaborate mausoleum as the next person. I also like concrete sculpture, for some reason.

So my curiosity was piqued when I discovered that there are seven MASSIVE Victorian cemeteries in London, aptly called the Magnificent Seven. Due to the overcrowding of local graveyards after years of epidemics, “Parliament passed a bill in 1832 encouraging the establishment of private cemeteries outside London, and later passed a bill to close all inner London churchyards to new deposits.” (Wikipedia)

Over the next decade seven cemeteries were established:

Kensal Green Cemetery, 1832
West Norwood Cemetery, 1837
Highgate Cemetery, 1839
Abney Park Cemetery, 1840
Nunhead Cemetery, 1840
Brompton Cemetery, 1840
Tower Hamlets Cemetery, 1841

Kensal Green is a mere two miles from us (and has guided tours). I’m not in a big hurry to visit it since we learned on our Cotswolds trip that our son apparently has no respect for the dead and has no qualms about running across their graves, which I’m sure horrifies us more than the deceased. But if he is up for a good walk…

“The 72 acre Cemetery of All Souls at Kensal Green (Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea) was planned not merely as a repository for the deceased but as a vast landscaped garden, through which visitors could promenade and enjoy the park-like atmosphere. An 1833 water-colour shows sweeping green acres of grass and trees, interrupted only by curving avenues and neo-classical buildings, all very much inspired by Georgian ideals of landscape and architecture.

Thomas Allom's "A birds'-eye view of Kensal Green Cemetery: 19th century." (Photo courtesy of the Museum of London.)

Thomas Allom’s “A birds’-eye view of Kensal Green Cemetery: 19th century.” (Photo courtesy of the Museum of London)

“The cemetery was divided into a consecrated Anglican section and an unconsecrated zone for Dissenters. By 1842 there were nearly 6000 interments. Today there are 130 listed tombs, memorials and mausoleums, many of them designed by distinguished architects. The cemetery became a designated Conservation Area in October 1984, supporting a diverse variety of wildlife and the Friends of Kensal Green was established in 1990.” (Byrnes, Andie. “Freemasons and Ancient Egypt at Kensal Green Cemetery.”

Famous residents include novelist William Thackeray (d. 1863), artist John William Waterhouse (d. 1917), artist’s wife Lady Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema (d. 1909), poet’s wife Lady Anne Isabella Noel Byron (d. 1860), random royalty such as HRH Princess Sophia (d. 1848) and HRH Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (d. 1843) and royal staff members like Mary Ann Thurston, nurse to the children of Queen Victoria (d. 1896), and one cremation plaque that may or may not belong to Freddie Mercury of Queen (d. 1991).

The tomb of HRH Princess Sophia.

The tomb of HRH Princess Sophia.