A cemetery as a garden? Brockley Cemetery in SE London is an old, quiet and peaceful burial ground which has become a wild garden or even a nature reserve. And there is no reason why a sacred site should not be a true Garden of Remembrance.
The history of Brockley Cemetery
Brockley Cemetery was the ‘overflow’ cemetery for St Paul’s Church in Deptford. The Deptford Burial Board bought land from the Earl of Dartmouth to create a new cemetery, the ‘Deptford Cemetery’. The land was next to land owned by the Lewisham Burial Board’s Ladywell Cemetery. The Deptford Burial Board appointed the same architect as Lewisham to create unity of design for the two adjoining cemeteries. A low wall marked the boundary between the cemeteries until 1948, but today there is a line of old plane trees. The new Deptford (later Brockley) Cemetery opened in 1858, and the Ladywell Cemetery two months later. The Burial Board in Lewisham bought an additional 1.21 hectares in 1893 on the south of the cemetery. In 1965 the Borough of Lewisham took responsibility for maintaining both Deptford and Lewisham Cemeteries, although the records of each cemetery remain separate.
Bombing in WWII destroyed the Anglican Chapel and the Nonconformist Chapel in the cemetery. It looks as if some tidying up is being done, or perhaps the site is being excavated?
Original paths in a garden cemetery
Using the map of 1895 I could easily follow the original paths in Brockley Cemetery and the Google map shows that the layout has not changed. Wonderful old trees fill the cemetery. Beeches, oaks, poplars, and plane trees line the meandering paths and the undergrowth is a tangle of ivies and indigenous plants. Gravestones nestle under the trees, some quite hidden away, and many speaking of the sadness of WWI. You read of families whose husbands and sons died and were buried in France, but they are also remembered here.
Line of the wall between the cemeteries
A wide path and the base of a wall separate the two cemeteries today. Beautiful old plane trees line the path.
Triangle and circular section
There are always heart-rending sights in a cemetery and Brockley Cemetery in no exception. Gravestones which list children are always sad. This one 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 their headstones are elsewhere in the cemetery. The memorial includes an additional panel with the names of those killed in WWII and buried somewhere else in the cemetery. Civilians are remembered on a separate memorial. This area was heavily bombed during WWII and many people died.
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 in a cemetery. It looks as if we have forgotten people and we don’t respect the dead. But I also noticed that the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries are very active. They are busy clearing, mending and general tidying up, and it is good to see local people are take such a strong interest in their neighbourhood.
Woodland Burial Plot in Brockley Cemetery in SE London
On the edge of the cemetery is a little woodland burial plot – small, quiet, and very poignant.
Sir Charles Groves of music dictionary fame is buried in Brockley Cemetery, as are several other important people. Unfortunately there is no public plan showing where the graves of these people are located. Quite by chance I found the graves of Margaret and Rachel McMillan. These sisters were notable educationalists in South East London and Margaret McMillan is commemorated in the park named after her.
And a final look at the woodlands of Brockley Cemetery in SE London.
Brockley Cemetery in SE London is a wonderful, magical site. This is a place to wander and be peaceful and somehow it does not feel bizarre that it is a cemetery. I noticed several people were walking through quietly and peacefully through the cemetery, as if they were in a park. I would urge you to visit.