London Necropolis Railway: Trains For The Dead
It’s very easy to walk past this building on Westminster Bridge Road and never give it a further thought. It has no obvious clues to its past, but it once used to be the terminus station of the London Necropolis Railway.
A Novel Idea
1850s London was bursting. The population had doubled between 1801-1850.
There was simply no more space to bury the bodies. And with cremation still taboo, the London Necropolis Railway was founded. The idea was to transport dead bodies and their accompanying mourners out to Surrey by rail for funerals and burials, so everyone in the party (but one) would have a return ticket back to London.
The first Necropolis station was actually nearer Waterloo Station (about where Leake Street is now) but the only remaining building (121 Westminster Bridge Road) was the second one, built in 1902 after Waterloo station expanded.
A smooth operation
The 23-mile trip to Brookwood Cemetery took 40 minutes and the living passengers could enjoy what was intended to be a ‘comforting’ view of green scenery; whizzing past Richmond Park and Hampton Court.
Not Everyone Was Happy
As you can imagine, the proposal was met with shock and disgust at first. One common concern was that carriages carrying dead bodies would later come in contact with living commuters, this was solved by the railway having its own special train stock.
Another concern (typically Victorian) was that there would be a mix of social classes. So carriages were separated in terms of social class and also religion. There was a reserved space for ‘non-conformists!
This used to be the entrance for ‘First Class’ mourners
“Possibly this is the most peaceful railway station in the three corners of the kingdom — this station of the dead. But this is a sad station, the saddest in our islands. For every time it is used means an occasion of grief and pain to those who tread its platforms.” Railway Magazine (1904)
The railway lasted for 87 years until 1941, running nearly every day, and at its peak it carried 2,000 bodies a year. In total 203,041 people were buried in Brookwood Cemetery during that time.
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