A garden cemetery in SE London

A cemetery as a garden? This seems unlikely but today many of these old, quiet and peaceful areas have become wild gardens or even nature reserves. Of course they are also sacred places, gardens of remembrance if you like. Brockley Cemetery is a garden cemetery in SE London and together with its neighbouring Ladywell Cemetery certainly fits this description. 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). It was next to a piece of land owned by the Burial Board in Lewisham, Ladywell Cemetery. A low wall separated the two cemeteries until 1948 when the Burial Board appointed a single architect to create unity of design for the two adjoining cemeteries. The new united Cemeteries opened in 1858…’. The Burial Board in Lewisham bought an additional 1.21 hectares in 1893 on the south of the cemetery.

The Borough of Lewisham was formed in 1965 and it took over the maintenance of both Deptford Cemetery and Lewisham Cemetery. However, each cemetery holds separate records. LGO says that Brockley was closed to burials in 1966, but I found new graves when I visited.

Ordnance Survey Map 1895 (https://maps.nls.uk/os/)
3D map of Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries (Google)

Original paths in a garden cemetery

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.

The cemetery lodge and the entrance to Brockley Cemetery at the corner of Brockley and Ivy Roads
Brockley Cemetery
The path along Ivy Lane with oak, ash, and beech trees.
Graves in Brockley Cemetery
The gravestones under the trees alongside Ivy Lane
Trees in Brockley Cemetery
Dense undergrowth between the trees

Line of the wall between the cemeteries

The path along the wall (removed) between the two cemeteries
The path along the wall (removed) between the two cemeteries
Large old London plane trees along the line of the wall

Triangle and circular section

Garden cemetery in SE London
The triangle near the large circular section of the cemetery with a old beech tree
Brockley cemetery is a garden cemetery in SE London
The circular section of Brockley cemetery. Apparently this round bed used to be planted with flowers
Brockley cemetery is a garden cemetery in SE London
The avenue across the circular section of the cemetery

There are always heart-rending sights in a cemetery and Brockley Cemetery has many instances, For example there is this gravestone which lists the deaths of several babies in one family.

Family deaths

War Graves Commission

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.

The War Graves Commission Memorial

The Chapels in the garden cemetery

The ruins of the Church of England and Non-Conformist Chapels stand on the edge of the large circular section of the cemetery. It looks as though the ruins are being excavated, or perhaps removed.

The site of the Mortuary Chapels (CoE and Nonconformist)

Roman Catholic Cemetery

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.

View up an avenue in a garden cemetery in SE London
Looking from Brockley Road up the avenue with the RC Cemetery on the right
The gates into the Roman Catholic cemetery
Gates of the RC Cemetery in Brockley Cemetery
The gate into the Roman Catholic Cemetery
The top corner of the avenue
The very grand tomb of a Belgian husband and wife
Brockley Cemetery
In the RC Cemetery
Alone in the RC Cemetery

Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries

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.

Brockley Cemetery
Path in the RC Cemetery in Brockley Cemetery, a garden cemetery in SE London
The path in the RC Cemetery along the wall backing on to housing on Merritt Road
This must have been a separate entrance into the RC Cemetery from Brockley Road

Woodland Burial Plot

On the edge of the cemetery is a little woodland burial plot – small, quiet, and very poignant.

Brockley Cemetery

The new area next to Brockley Grove

In 1893 a ‘new’ area was added to the cemetery alongside Brockley Grove. It is a more open area and a mass of closely positioned graves. The area is also untreed, and as a result it feels very different and very bleak compared to the main body of the cemetery, which is a woodland.

Brockley Cemetery
The boundary between the originals Brockley Cemetery and the additional land
Tombstones in Brockley Cemetery
The ‘new’ part of Brockley Cemetery
New part of Brockley Cemetery
The ‘new’ part of Brockley Cemetery

Many famous people are buried in the cemetery, including Sir Charles Groves of music dictionary fame. But unfortunately there is no public plan showing where the graves of these people are located. It was quite by chance I found the graves of Margaret and Rachel MacMillan. These sisters were notable educationalists in South East London, and Margaret MacMillan is commemorated in the park named after her.

The grave of Margaret and Rachel MacMillan

And a final look at the woodlands of Brockley Cemetery.

Brockley Cemetery is a garden cemetery in SE London
Brockley Cemetery

Brockley Cemetery is a wonderful, magical garden cemetery in SE London. This is a place to wander and be peaceful and somehow it does feel bizarre that it is a cemetery. I noticed that several people were treating the area more like a park than a cemetery, walking through quietly and peacefully.

Further information
The layout and information


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