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Nunhead Cemetery (London)

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It is perhaps the least known, but the most attractive, of the seven Victorian cemeteries on the outskirts of London.

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    2 Reviews
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      22.02.2011 17:37
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      Worth visiting if you have the time

      I'm not really sure why the picture refers to the Nunhead Cemetery in Southwark whilst the title says it's in Southampton. My review covers the one in London.

      In London in the 19th century, the so-called "Magnificient Seven" were set up in different locations in what was then the suburbs of London but today seems rather central. The Magnificient Seven were seven cemeteries created to prevent overcrowding in Parish burial sites, London had seen a population rise and as a consequence had more bodies to bury. A government bill was passed in 1831 and within a decade the following 7 cemeteries had been put in place.

      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

      Whilst Brompton and Kensal Green garner tourist attention, Nunhead Cemetery in South East London is a bit off the beaten path. Some parts of the Borough of Southwark may be catching on with tourists but few make it as far south as this.

      Nunhead Cemetery is a nice place for a stroll, a good point of entrance is The Main Gate located on Linden Grove close to the junction with Daniel's Road. Nunhead Railway station is a short walk down Linde Grove and public transport is available from the Nunhead Green/Evelina Road area which is connected to Daniel's Road by a trot along Brock Road.

      There aren't too many hills in Southern London but walking to the summit of this cemetery might have you out of breath. The view from the top is vast but a little awkward as trees tend to block the view. As you would hope, the cemetery is a peaceful place, not only popular with geaneologists but also wildlife lovers too. 52 acres of park and forest left in a rather wild state provides a great haven for birdlife.

      Many of the graves are rather simple, some without headstones and some with. There's ample space between graves and for the most part they blend in well with the nature in their current, somewhat decrepit state. Saying that, the cemetery still has its fair share of grandiose tombs and angel type statues, the pinnacle is surely the ruined Gothic chapel at the top of this hilly cemetery.

      This might not be a visitor's priority when visiting London but if you get fed up with the hustle and bustle of the capital, it's a good place to see some history and get some fresh air.

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      • More +
        07.10.2009 19:03
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        Nunhead cemetery makes for a surprisingly good visit

        *London lying in state*

        While a cemetery might not be the first place that comes to mind when planning a fun day out, London's historic cemeteries are full of beauty, steeped in history and ripe for re-discovery. As well as these very good reasons for paying a visit to your local necropolis, they're typically very peaceful, chock full of interesting architecture and most of the residents are long dead, so there's little risk of appearing to be an insensitive tourist interrupting the solemnity of any grieving families.

        Nunhead Cemetery (originally 'All Saints'') first opened in 1840 as part of the ongoing need for an expansion of London's burial grounds. It was originally ran by a private company and continued to be used throughout both the first and second World Wars, suffering damage from Luftwaffe bombs during the London blitz. It was eventually abandoned by its owners in 1959 and was purchased later by Southwark Council for the bargain price of £1. It re-opened to the public in 2001 after dedicated restorative work made possible, in part, by a series of Lottery grants and a lot of specialised repair work.

        While great steps have been taken to restore the cemetery (both by Southwark council and voluntary groups such as the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery), much of the cemetery is effectively in disrepair having been effectively absorbed by the dense woodland that overtook the site during the years when it was neglected. This is what gives it its unique charm. It is a beautiful, green wilderness where crumbling ruins, ornate Victorian grave sites and an air of mystery provide an unparalleled shadowy gothic charm.

        *Location and getting there*

        The cemetery is very easy for Londoners and visitors to get to, with trains to Nunhead running from Victoria station among others. For further information see:

        http://www.southwark.gov.uk/YourServices/ParksSection/Cemeteries/

        The area around the cemetery was a little run down, but it was also deserted and we felt safe enough.

        *What is there to see?*

        Although lacking quite the collection of famous guests that some of London's cemeteries lay claim to, Nunhead cemetery has a lot to offer and is a great place to while away a couple of hours.

        An obelisk dedicated to Scottish political martyrs gave pause for thought - it's incredible that only a couple hundred years ago brave souls were risking their lives and fighting for suffrage and yet many eligible voters can't even bother taking the time to drive to the polling booths nowadays!

        Nunhead cemetery originally had several chapels built to handle funerals and the restored Anglican chapel by Thomas Little is an impressive example of restoration gothic architecture. It has narrow windows, well finished walls of Kentish ragstone and highly stylised jagged arches and wouldn't look out of place in an Ann Radcliffe novel.

        It's well worth spending some time looking at the beautiful and grand monuments that line the paths in the cemetery. There is some incredibly ornate carving (a mixture of pagan and Christian motifs, with lots of anchors, inverted torches and angels) and many of the larger monuments are in very good condition. Obviously the graves nearer the walkways are usually those of wealthier patrons - I was a little shocked to see how frequently people were living to 85+ in the Victorian era, as many of us will be lucky to live that long even after 200 years of advances in medical science.

        A large part of the cemetery is covered in woodland and many of the graves bar the largest sites are effectively hidden by forest. Great work has gone into recording the details of those resting in some of these hidden plots, although I doubt that it will ever be completely finished. I'd recommend going for a wander into some of the more secluded parts of the cemetery with a stout pair of shoes as there's a wealth of social history to be discovered beside marvelling at the scale of the graves of the rich!

        As with any cemetery, watch where you're going, be respectful and try to avoid walking across any of the graves (although this can be hard to avoid in the slightly topsy-turvy landscape where tree roots are the predominant landscaping force). Each hidden pocket held its own secrets and you couldn't help but feel sorry for fallen soldiers, infants and mothers and some of the other tragic inhabitants.

        As well as taking the chance to discover a little bit about some of the residents of the cemetery, it is if nothing else an idyllic green space and is great for a relaxing walk away from the noise of London. There are a few steep inclines, however and a lot of pieces of flint in the paths. Watch where you're going, especially if you're visiting with young children who insist upon scraping their knees at least once a day..

        Most of the people we saw when we visited were young families picking brambles among the chaos of vines, stonework and ivy that is the cemetery and I couldn't help but smile at the way that an area dedicated to the memory of death had been reclaimed as a functional, cheerful space by subsequent generations.

        *Would I recommend it?*

        Absolutely - it's a fascinating slice of social history, it's full of natural beauty and tranquillity and it doesn't cost a penny.

        *Opening times*

        April 1 to September 30
        Daily 8.30am to 7pm

        October 1 to March 31
        Daily 8.30am to one hour before sunset

        *Further reading*

        The following sites are well worth a look if you're interested in finding out more about Nunhead cemetery or any of London's other Victorian cemeteries.

        http://www.southwark.gov.uk/YourServices/ParksSection/Cemeteries/
        http://www.fonc.org.uk
        http://www.londonforfree.net/outdoors/cemeteries/cemeteries.shtml
        http://www.bbc.co.uk/london/content/articles/2005/05/10/ {delete this} nunwood_cemetery_feature.shtml
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nunhead_Cemetery

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      • Product Details

        It has many magnificent monuments in memory of the most important and well respected people of the day. These monuments sit alongside smaller headstones, which mark common or public burials. Nunhead Cemetery's formal avenues of towering lime trees and original Victorian planting gives it a truly Gothic feel. Its history, architecture and stunning views make it a fascinating and beautiful place to visit. It has many magnificent monuments in memory of the most important and well respected people of the day. These monuments sit alongside smaller headstones, which mark common or public burials. Nunhead Cemetery's formal avenues of towering lime trees and original Victorian planting gives it a truly Gothic feel. Its history, architecture and stunning views make it a fascinating and beautiful place to visit.