Years ago a cemetery would have been an unlikely place to include amongst gardens, but as the years have passed they are increasingly seen to have potential as wild gardens as well as gardens of remembrance. Brockley Cemetery in Lewisham certainly fits this bill. The two cemeteries, Brockley and Ladywell, cover an area of 37 acres in total and I am going to talk about them over two posts.
The history of Brockley Cemetery
From 1852 Brockley Cemetery was the ‘overflow’ cemetery for St Paul’s Church in Deptford and it was therefore called ‘Deptford Cemetery’ ( London Gardens Online). The Burial Board in Lewisham had already bought the adjoining piece of land and it was decided at the time to appoint a single architect to create unity of design for the two adjoining cemeteries which were separated by a low wall until 1948. The Cemeteries opened in 1858…’. The Burial Board in Lewisham bought an additional 1.21 hectares in 1893 on the south of the cemetery. When the Borough of Lewisham was formed in 1965 and it took over the maintenance of both Deptford Cemetery and Lewisham Cemetery. Each cemetery holds separate records, however. LGO says that Brockley was closed to burials in 1966, but I found new graves when I visited.
Using the map of 1895 I could easily follow the original paths in Brockley (previously Deptford) Cemetery and the Google map shows that the layout has not changed. The cemetery is heavily treed with beeches, oaks, poplars, and plane trees as well as smaller indigenous shrubs and ivies.
There are always heart-rending sights in a cemetery, such as this gravestone which lists the deaths of several babies in one family.
The War Graves Commission have a simple memorial in Brockley Cemetery, inscribed with the names of 195 soldiers, some of whom also have headstones scattered in the cemetery. The memorial includes an additional panel with the names of those killed in WWII and buried somewhere else in the cemetery. There is also a memorial to civilians killed in air raids in the area.
On the edge of the large circular section of the cemetery are the ruins of the Church of England and Non-Conformist Chapels, which appear to be being excavated, or perhaps removed.
There is a rectangular plot just beyond the site of the Mortuary Chapels. It has a long avenue of trees on one side and a wall on the other. This is the Roman Catholic Cemetery and originally it was all walled and included a Chapel designed by Pugin. Bombing in WWII destroyed the Chapel and I couldn’t find any sign of it on the ground.
It is always sad to see broken graves but I noticed that there is a lot of work ongoing in the cemetery, with clearing, mending and general tidying up. Yet again local people are taking an interest in the site and the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries are obviously very active.
On the edge of the cemetery is a little woodland burial plot – small, quiet, and very poignant.
The new area added in 1893 is alongside Brockley Grove. It is a mass of graves and untreed – very different and very bleak.
Many notable people are buried in the cemetery, including Sir Charles Groves of music dictionary fame, but there is no public plan showing where the graves are. By chance I found the graves of Margaret and Rachel MacMillan who are remembered in another of the parks I have visited.
And a final look at the woodlands of Brockley Cemetery.