What Not To Miss In Nunhead Cemetery
Around 5 miles from the centre of London stands 52 acres of tranquil wilderness. Nunhead Cemetery was established in 1840 and is the second largest of London’s ‘The Magnificent Seven’.
No, not the 1960s Western film*
In the 19th century London was becoming overcrowded and Parish church ground could no longer keep up with the demand for burials.
Seven large, private cemeteries were established in what was then the outskirts of central London. Today they open as public parks or nature reserves and include; Kensal Green, West Norwood, Highgate, Abney Park, Brompton, Tower Hamlets and Nunhead Cemetery.
*The term ‘magnificent seven’ was actually inspired by the 1960s film and only coined in 1981 by Architectural Historian; Hugh Mellor.
The first person buried at Nunhead Cemetery was an 101-year old grocer called Charles Abbott and today there are almost 2,000 graves. Walking around the cemetery I feel that ‘graves’ as a term seems an unsuitable description for their grandeur.
The picture below shows two of the most monumental tombs, on the right is the grave of Vincent Figgins (1766-1844) who worked as a printer in Peckham.
On the left is the tomb of John Allen (1790-1865). He was a partner in a City of London shipping firm but also an amateur archeologist. This explains the unusual design, thought to be based on the Payava Tomb which dates from the Greek Empire around 370 BC.
The original can be seen in the British Museum;
The building that dominates the entrance view is a former Anglican chapel, built by Thomas Little in 1843.
RELATED POST: THE CITY’S BEST SECRET GARDEN
A lone obelisk stands tall among the memorials, commemorating the Scottish Martyrs.
In 1794 five political radicals were transported to Australia for sedition (provoking riots and rebellion). They wanted parliamentary reform – at the time only a small percentage of the population had the vote – and were forerunners of the Chartist movement of the 1830s.
Even if graves aren’t your thing, it’s worth going for the geography…
I don’t know about you but I’m constantly surprised by evidence that London isn’t as flat as you might think.
Nunhead Cemetery overlooks the rest of London and provides some stunning views of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral (though apologies for the pesky crane!)
and the London Eye.
By the mid 20th century, the company that owned Nunhead went bankrupt and the cemetery fell into neglect. The well-kept lawns transformed into an unruly woodland. In 1975 Southwark Council purchased the site for the princely sum of £1 but it was only in the 1990s that heritage lottery funding was secured and the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery could restore it.
It’s still looked after by the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery (FONC) who host events and tours. You can read more about them here.
More London Inspiration
The oldest democracy in the world, based in a building with parts from the 11th century. If only those walls could talk. Thankfully, with the help of a Parliament guide they sort of do. Here's 10 things I learned from a guided tour of Parliament....
Often listed as one of the greenest cities in the world, London is blessed with 8 Royal Parks and surrounded by woodland. However, I've made a list of the more esoteric green places to visit in central London, spots with an interesting tale or simply in an unexpected place....