As part of Open House London 2015, I paid a visit to the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium for a Heritage and History Tour. After having visited so many cemeteries this year, I thought I might as well go for one more. I turned up on Sunday morning in time for the tour, having travelled right across London: despite the name, the Cemetery is actually located in the east, near Epping Forest. Manor Park is the nearest station.
The Cemetery was opened in 1856, as a burial place for residents of the City of London, who prior to this had been buried within their own parishes. The overcrowding issue which led to the establishment of the “Magnificent Seven” also led to the formation of this cemetery, laid out by William Haywood on land purchased from the second Duke of Wellington. The Cemetery is nearly at capacity for burials, although former plots are re-used (sensitively, and only in particular circumstances). The remains from over 30 London parish church yards were also relocated here. Today, the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium is a Grade I listed landscape, open for burial to anyone regardless of religious belief or connection to the City. There are two crematoriums, one built at the beginning of the 20th century and one constructed in 1971. There are Grade II listed chapels and catacombs, a Garden of Rest, and memorial gardens.
Our tour began with a look at some of the documents from the Cemetery’s 150-year history, including fascinating burial and cremation registers. We were then taken on a long, thorough and fascinating tour of the site. Several notable personalities are buried in the Cemetery, including Catherine Eddowes and Mary Ann Nichols (victims of Jack the Ripper), Dame Anna Neagle, and Edith Thompson (one of the last women to be hanged in the UK). However, what I was fascinated by the most was simply the heritage of the place, the mix of time periods and the story behind the burials here.
After being taken round the Cemetery, we were offered the chance to go “behind the scenes” at the Crematorium, and find out what happens when someone is cremated. While this part of the tour was entirely optional, every single person on it opted to go ahead. We were taken through the process by which bodies are cremated, the measures taken to ensure that individuals are correctly identified, how remains are turned into ashes and – most fascinatingly – the bits and pieces left over once the ashes are retrieved. These include things like metal hip and knee replacements, jewellery and anything else that is not combustible. I was hugely impressed by how hard the staff work to make sure everything runs smoothly.
My visit to the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium was one of the most fascinating and enlightening tours I have ever done. I enjoyed the tour of the Cemetery but I feel particularly privileged to have had the tour of the Crematorium, which really helped to demystify the cremation process. Death can be a taboo subject, but I honestly feel it’s important to be prepared and understand how burial and cremation work. Even without a tour, this is a lovely place to visit for a quiet walk.
Address: Aldersbrook Road, Manor Park, London, E12 5DQ
Size: 200 acres
Still in operation?: Yes
Official website: cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/cemetery-and-crematorium
Owners: City of London
Tours: Tours take place at selected weekends throughout the year.