Brookwood Cemetery is the UK’s largest graveyard. It was built in 1854 and covers around 400 acres. In Victorian times trains carried the dead, divided by class, from the London Necropolis Station to this quiet, leafy town.
I’ve wanted to visit Brookwood ever since reading ‘Necropolis: London and its Dead‘ by Catharine Arnold. I’ve passed it on the train many times, and it was by train we arrived on our visit. You can easily walk straight in from the current station, although the ones in the cemetery no longer exist.
Unlike inner-city cemeteries, like Highgate and West Green, Brookwood was designed to feel spacious and natural. Graves and memorials line ‘streets’ with names like ‘All Souls Avenue’, and vast trees sway in the breeze.
It’s a place where people from every background are catered for, both religious and not. There are sections for Roman Catholic, Muslim, Zoroastrian and Latvians amongst many others. As you wander around, you encounter everything from the fanciest tomb to the most modest grave marker.
You’ll also find a separate military burial area, accessible from the main cemetery. Here you’ll find soldiers from a variety of countries. Long rows of meticulously kept white crosses and memorials are surrounded by green lawns and colourful flowers.
It’s always an interesting experience to walk around a cemetery, the nearness of death and the pervading knowledge of ghostly tales set in just these places. But meandering through Brookwood on a breezy, sunny day just felt peaceful rather than morbid or scary. Many graves felt like an expression of whoever was buried there, allowed space to be themselves even in death. The towering trees are sentinels, watching over the cemetery’s inhabitants like the mighty Ents in Tolkien’s books.
The inspiration of the place lies in the calmness you feel walking around it, letting your mind drift. And it can be found on the graves themselves, many telling the stories just asking you to find out more.
It may not seem like a usual day out, but it’s a fascinating place, with a great history. Have you ever visited? What did you think?