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The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven is the colloquial name given to seven privately owned cemeteries that were established in the 19th century. Up until the early 1800’s, the city’s dead were buried in their local parish’s churchyard cemetery, however, with the population of London rising from 1 million to 2.3 million from 1800 to 1850, the churchyards were getting extremely overcrowded. This overcrowding led to extremely unhygienic sanitation with water supplies being tainted and epidemics such as cholera spreading around the city. Parliament tackled this overcrowding issue head on and established a bill in 1832 allowing seven private cemeteries to be set up outside the city walls; these were Kensal Green Cemetery; West Norwood Cemetery; Highgate Cemetery, Abney Park Cemetery, Nunhead Cemetery; Brompton Cemetery and Tower Hamlets Cemetery.

Kensal Green Cemetery

Kensal Green Cemetery was the first member of the Magnificent Seven and can be found a short distance away from the executive rooms by shaftesbury, in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It was formed in 1832 and consecrated in 1833 and was designed to mirror the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris with an array of monuments, mausoleums and headstones that depict both Gothic and Grecian architectural styles. It holds 250,000 people in 65,000 burial sites including over 500 British nobles and 500 people who have all been immortalised in the Dictionary of National Biography. Notable burials include Sir John Barbirolli; Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Wilkie Collins, Kitty Melrose, Harold Pinter and Anthony Trollope.

West Norwood Cemetery

Opened in 1836, West Norwood is a 40 acre site that is the second oldest cemetery in the Magnificent Seven. It is a perfect mix of history and modern day with catacombs, lawn cemetery, monuments and cremation plots and a crematorium that is still in working order today. In 2000, it was noted that nearly 165,000 burials had taken place within 42,000 sites as well as a staggering 34,000 cremations and up to 5,000 catacomb interments and, even though people are still being buried in the cemetery; these plots have been previously purchased and further burials cannot take place without a new Parliament act. West Norwood Cemetery is known for its War Memorial and burials; the memorial depicts a Cross of Sacrifice and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives a list of 188 burials within the cemetery of those who served in World War I and World War II, including Victoria Cross recipient Spencer John Bent who was cremated and commemorated in the cemetery. Other notable burials include Willam Burges; Joseph Barnby; Dr William Marsden, Sir Henry Tate and Isabella Beeton.

Highgate Cemetery

Located in North London, Highgate is possibly the most famous of the Magnificent Seven and has over 170,000 people buried in 53,000 graves. Its gothic style made it a tourist attraction in the Victorian era as well as the wildlife and plant life such as the birds, trees and wildflowers and today, there are frequent tours that allow visitors to explore the oldest and most impressive mausoleums and tombs in London. Highgate is known as the burial place of Karl Marx, the famous sociologist and philosopher, but also because of the legend of the “Highgate Vampire” who apparently roamed the cemetery in the 1960’s right up until the end of the 1980’s. Highgate is divided into the East and the West Cemetery’s and each have their very own impressive list of famous burials: in the East Cemetery, you will find Douglas Adams, George Eliot, Henry Gray; Karl Marx, Bruce Reynolds, Edward Richard Woodham and Sir Leslie Stephen. In the West Cemetery, visitors will get to explore the gravesides of Jane Arden, Charles Cruft, Michael Faraday; Christina Rossetti, Jean Simmons and Adam Worth. Highgate Cemetery runs daily tours and it is advised that you book in advance as the guided tours are incredibly popular.

Abney Park

Opened in 1840, Abney Park opened as a garden cemetery for those of all faiths as well as a much celebrated educational institute. As of the early 2000’s, nearly 200,000 burials have taken place here and it has been dubbed as a local and protected nature reserve. It has a slightly different look to the rest of the Magnificent Seven as it was given an Egyptian entrance with added hieroglyphics, the earliest Egyptian revival monument to be erected in a cemetery in the world. Burials include the Salvation Army founders, William and Catherine Booth, as well as many advocates for the abolition of slavery such as Christopher Newman Hall, Rev. James Sherman and Samuel Morley all of which had their own part to play in freeing the slaves.

Nunhead Cemetery

Nunhead Cemetery is the least known out of the Magnificent Seven and was one of the later cemeteries to be opened in the 1840’s. It’s first burial is somewhat legendary as it was of Charles Abbott, a grocer from Ipswich who died at the staggering age of 101 years old and as of 2000, a total of 1685 burials have taken place here, a small number compared to the other cemeteries.

Brompton Cemetery

Opened in 1840, Brompton Cemetery is very close to the heart of London, close to Earl’s Court. It is known for being the resting place of leading Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst; John Snow, who brought the link between cholera and infected water to everyone’s attention, and Sir Thomas Spencer Wells, Queen Victoria’s leading surgeon. Its holds a breathtaking 205,000 burials within 35,000 monuments that range from humble headstones to grand and elaborate mausoleums and tombs and it is still a working cemetery today with many plots for interments and a Garden of Remembrance for those who wish to lay their loved ones cremated remains to rest.

Tower Hamlets Cemetery

Tower Hamlets Cemetery is synonymous with the East End of London and, by the end of the 19th century, nearly 250,000 people had been buried on its site. Most of these burials were public graves which were used to bury families who could not afford their own plot of land and, by the mid 1800’s, over 80% of the plots were public burials. There have also been horror stories of graves containing 30 bodies of people who were completely unrelated simply to save space. Notable burials in Tower Hamlets Cemetery are Dr Rees Ralph Llewellyn, who performed the autopsy on Mary Ann Nichols who was a Jack the Ripper victim; John “White Hat” Willis who owned the Cutty Sark and several victims of the notorious Bethnal Green disaster where 173 people were crushed to death in 1943.

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