Nature-ist: West Norwood Cemetery

By Londonist Last edited 100 months ago
Nature-ist: West Norwood Cemetery
13659_westnorwood_church.jpg
13659_westnorwood_daisies.jpg
Entrance to the Greek Orthodox section
Entrance to the Greek Orthodox section
13659_westnorwood_flowers.jpg
13659_westnorwood_graveflowers.jpg
13659_westnorwood_headstones.jpg
13659_westnorwood_monkey.jpg
Cones
Cones
Descending the hill
Descending the hill
13659_westnorwood_rose.jpg

What is it? 40 acres of landscaped cemetery built on the site of the ancient Great North Wood from which Norwood takes its name. English Heritage describes it as the first all-Gothic cemetery, although many of its monuments were lost in the interwar years when Lambeth Council cleared them for new burials (illegally, as it happens). It opened in 1837 when the surrounding area was very rural indeed.

Where is it? Norwood Road, a very short stroll from West Norwood Station. Turn right out of the ticket office and walk down the hill. You can't miss it.

Why has it tickled our fancy? One of Lambeth's areas of 'nature conservation value' it feels very different to the overgrown, woody and tad magical Abney Park with clear wide paths and good views, especially from descending the gentle hill which is home to the new crematorium (the Dissenters Chapel having been destroyed in WWII). Look out for a modest headstone to Mrs Beeton, London Underground tunneller, James Henry Greathead, sugar supremo Sir Henry Tate and the fabulous monuments in the Greek Orthodox section. There are also catacombs but they fell outside our Nature-ist remit.

Nature notes: The Great North Wood may have been cleared to make way for the cemetery but many fine mature trees survived. We admired a striking pair of Monkey Puzzle trees and an enormous pine tree with mega cones resting in its branches. This place is a haven for butterflies who were abundant in the more overgrown patches and ladybirds liked the modern rose garden, even if we found it a bit staid. A cat was spied stalking in long grass.

This is largely an orderly place with overgrown pockets, a mix of manicured garden, mature landscaping with wildnerness poking out around the edges.The cemetery is very green, with burial plots enlivened by floral tributes and in some cases, bright artificial blooms, cards and teddies in those plots where clearly, even though the beloved dead has been long gone, their memory is painstakingly attended to.

To find our more visit the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery website. They run guided tours on the first Sunday of the month. For more online info check out the Wikipedia entry

Words by Lindsey Clarke, photography by Dean Nicholas

Last Updated 16 July 2009