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Brompton Cemetery

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by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published August 6th 2010
Seen from above Brompton Cemetery's layout probably looks a lot like the floor plan of a great cathedral, with one long, tree lined avenue running towards a round central path and a shorter walk running perpendicular to it. The smaller path-enclosed grounds coming off the main walks are like side chapels. And within that layout there are over 35,000 monuments, many of them of a religious bent, which helps create the impression of a huge open air church which must have been the designer's intention.

This effect is added to by domed chapel at the very centre of the cemetery which is like a mini St. Peter's basilica, underneath which there are gated catacombs under a raised colonnade sided verandah. The catacombs were supposed to offer people a bargain alternative to burial when the cemetery opened in 1840, but it turns out not many people fancied the idea of it and only about 500 people opted to be interred here, in a space that could hold thousands. You can peek inside today but not go past the gates. This is the only spot in this cemetery, which is often pleasantly sunny in the warmer weather, where the blood will run a bit chilly.

Far from being a hang out for emos and those of a melancholy disposition, the rest of the cemetery is peaceful and green, and home to an irreverent army of squirrels and polite little birds. When the sun's out and the roses are in bloom this is more like a quiet park than a place to mourn the dead. But it's possible the dead prefer it that way.

As with all of the Magnificent Seven 19th Century London Cemeteries there are celebrities interred here, and it's interesting to see which sort have gone the distance when it comes to being remembered. Most of the actors and actresses were well known in their time, but few of them get recognised today – it's more the people known for their thoughts, deeds and words that people still pay homage to: you can tell by how well kept the graves are. Some of the best recognised graves, according to one warden, belong to John Snow, anaesthetist, epidemiologist and the person who linked cholera to dirty water, Sir Andrew Scott Waugh, who named Mount Everest, Samuel Cunard, founder of Cunard, Emmeline Pankhurst, the famous suffragette and Fanny Brawne, the muse of Keats. There are also thirteen holders of the Victoria Cross, though one's in an unmarked grave, and many military and naval men – those graves have some of the most interesting stories written on them.
Henry Cole is also buried here, and while you may not have heard of him you'll definitely recognise some of his achievements: the Victoria and Albert Museum, Albert Hall, the Great Exhibition, the Royal College of Music and the Christmas Card – yes, that's right, apparently Cole is responsible.

One of the less well known Brompton Cemetery facts – one that the wardens often only tell younger visitors – is that Beatrix Potter, who lived nearby 'borrowed' the names for her animal characters from grave stones and monuments. If you look carefully apparently you can find Peter Rabbett, Jeremiah Fisher, Tommy Brock, Mr. Nutkins and a Mr. McGregor. There's also talk that Mr. McGregor's garden was the colonnades.

If you want to you can book a plot now... There are still some available, though if it's only for a single coffin, you're only allowed to have a flat plaque and the leases are only for 75 or 100 years. It's no longer possible to join the bodies in the crypt...and if your tastes run to the Gothic that might be just the sort of place you fancy spending your eternal rest... Either way there will be some good opportunities for getting inspiration for your own epitaph; There's one great grave that reads 'In Memory of Charity'.
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Why? Peace and inspiration
When: From 8am to 8pm in the summer and 8am to 4pm in the winter.
Where: Finborough Road London SW10, nearest Tube Stations Earls Court and West Brompton
Cost: Free
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