Brompton Cemetery lies within the shadow of Chelsea FC’s football stadium but you’ll find many more famous people buried under its 40 acres. It’s one of the 7 great cemeteries that sprung up around London from the 1830s to solve the chronic shortage of burial plots. Highgate Cemetery might be the most famous one but Brompton gives it a run for its money.
The construction of the cemeteries coincided with the coming of the railways, which meant the trains could transport the stone and granite needed to construct the impressive monuments that fill the grounds. For the first time funeral directors sprung up, and you could order your memorial from a shop in Regent Street. Location mattered, with the more prestigious plots to be found on the main avenue. Catacombs became a new feature but didn’t prove as popular as abroad. Cheaper than a dug grave they appealed to those who feared being buried alive!
Brompton started burying Londoners from 1840 and was run as a commercial concern - not that the owners managed to make a profit. Eventually it was taken over by the council but now it’s curiously part of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Recently the Cemetery received funding to restore the space and chapel, and build a new visitors’ centre and cafe. For £1 you can pick up a map and start discovering the deceased, which include:
- John Snow: aside from being a pioneer of the use of chloroform, it was he worked on finding the cause of cholera - which he did, when he traced an outbreak to a polluted water pump in Soho. There’s a pub named after him.
- Emmeline Pankhurst: the eldest of 10 children, this founder of the Women’s Suffragette Movement and her husband, who was 20 years her senior, were both politically active. Her memorial may well be by Eric Gill.
- Sir Henry Cole: this developer of the Victoria & Albert Museum lies in a sad and broken grave on the eastern side. There are hopes it can be restored.
- Frederick Leyland: a shipping magnate and philanthropist, this lover of all things Pre-Raphaelite had his verdigris tomb designed by Burne Jones.
- Joseph Bonomi: Egyptologist and manager of the Sir John Soane Museum, he lost 4 of his children in a tragic accident.
- Brandon Thomas: playwright, whose play Charley’s Aunt continues to delight audiences.
- Flight Sub-Lt Reginald Warneford: won a VC for shooting down a Zeppelin but sadly killed in an accident a few weeks later.
- John Wisden: his annual cricketing almanack is a must for any cricketing fanatic.
- Brian Glover: his tomb has the epitaph ‘Wrestler, Actor, Writer’ - and he excelled in all three.
- Kit Lambert: son of composer Constant Lambert and manager of The Who