Plumstead Cemetery lies on a sloping hillside below Bostall Woods. I anticipated a rather bleak site but I was quite wrong. Certainly on this autumn afternoon it was very beautiful and very peaceful. I was worried about a friend and I knew that somehow the views, and the trees would be comforting. As I have walked around the green spaces in Lewisham, and now in Greenwich, I have found that I always head for the trees when I am troubled.
A brief history
In the 1880s the railways were expanding into south east London, the dockyards and the Royal Arsenal were increasingly busy. The population was rising and more houses were built. The old churchyard of the parish church of St Nicholas in Plumstead had been closed to burials in 1855 and the extended graveyard alongside the church was also more than uncomfortably full.
In 1888 the Chairman of the Burial Board, Mr ET Smith, asked the vestry to sanction a loan of £7,000 to buy a ‘most convenient and suitable spot for their burial ground, picturesquely placed between Wickham Lane and the wooded heights of Bostall Heath, a site easily accessible from the town, and beautiful to look upon.’
The new Plumstead Cemetery opened in 1890 on a sloping hillside in a ‘quietly spectacular location’ rather like Greenwich Cemetery.
The controversial decision was that there should only be one chapel which would be used by all denominations. The Burial Board went further and proposed that the cemetery should not be consecrated, unlike the churchyard which is consecrated ground. The Vicar of St Nicholas in Plumstead wanted his fees for burials and apparently the Board was hoping to avoid this by not consecrating the ground in the cemetery. Today I believe part of Plumstead Cemetery is consecrated.
The wilder area
Along Wickham Lane, and at the southern corner of the cemetery there are mature conifers, mature London plane trees, birches, and some absolutely glorious ash trees, glowing in the soft light.
Along Cemetery Lane
A little secret burial area lies between the wall along Cemetery Lane and the sloping hillside leading towards Bostall Woods. The gravestones rest quietly under old trees, with a covering of autumn leaves. It is calm and peaceful, and very beautiful.
The Victoria Cross is awarded for ‘most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy’. Only 1356 VCs have been awarded since it was created in 1854. In the cemetery there are two recipients of the Victoria Cross – Private Thomas Flawn for action during the Basutu War in South Africa in 1879. Gunner Alfred Smith in 1885 for action during the battle of Abu Klea during the Nile Expeditionary Campaign to relieve General Gordon.
The cemetery has 187 war graves: 106 WWI and 86 WWII. There are also a number of graves with memorials to people killed in the Boer War of 1899-1902. And a small area near Lodge Lane gate remembers women and children killed in WWII.
Plumstead Cemetery lies on a sloping hillside alongside Bostall Woods and it is particularly attractive in the areas with mature trees.
 The Victoria Cross: https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/medals/victoria-cross