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.
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.
Line of the wall between the cemeteries
Triangle and circular section
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Woodland Burial Plot
On the edge of the cemetery is a little woodland burial plot – small, quiet, and very poignant.
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.
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.
And a final look at the woodlands of 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.