Why Are The Camberwell Cemeteries So Far From Camberwell?

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 21 months ago
Why Are The Camberwell Cemeteries So Far From Camberwell?
The entrance to Camberwell Old Cemetery at the junction of Wood Vale and Langton Rise. Photo: Joe Pepper

Just to the north of Denmark Hill in south London sits Camberwell, with its many lovely pubs and restaurants, Camberwell Green, St Giles Church and more.

Head more than 2.5 miles south east from Camberwell, south of East Dulwich to the area between Forest Hill and Honor Oak Park, and you'll find not one but two Camberwell cemeteries. Both have the postcode SE22, whereas Camberwell's is SE5.

So why are these cemeteries so far from the place that gave them their name?

Let's start with Camberwell Old Cemetery. It was opened in 1855 as the Burial Grounds of St Giles Church in Camberwell. The Camberwell Burial Board realised that the local cemeteries were running out of room, and that they needed to do something fast. So they purchased 30 acres of meadowland where Camberwell Old Cemetery sits today and started burying the dead there.

Why Camberwell was suffering more from overcrowded cemeteries than other areas in unclear, but it's likely that the hospital (opened in 1840 and now King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust) contributed.

Camberwell New Cemetery was opened in 1927, as things were getting pretty crowded in what then became known as Camberwell Old Cemetery. By 1984, 300,000 burials had taken place at the Old Cemetery, and the New Cemetery is now used for the majority of burials.  

Last Updated 31 May 2016

Glenshane Pass

The Camberwell cemeteries are so far away from what is now Camberwell because Camberwell is much smaller than it used to be. The Metropolitan Borough was abolished in 1965, becoming part of the London Borough of Southwark. Both the Old and New Cemeteries are well within the boundaries of the old Metropolitan Borough. So the answer to why they are so far from what is currently Camberwell is not that they were built far from Camberwell, but that Camberwell itself was reduced in size.

Simon E

Until 1965 Camberwell used to be a glorious borough in its own right encompassing Dulwich, Peckham and parts of Herne Hill with a total population of around 175000 people.

I wonder if Camberwell would be better known today if instead of being incorporated into Southawrk Camberwell had remained as a borough name so that you would have the situation that you have today in places like Camden, Wandsworth and Ealing which are significant places within the wider borough of that name - in comparison the actual places Southwark or Lambeth are minor parts of the wider boroughs and hardly known.