Lesser known than some of London’s other “Magnificent Seven” Victorian-era park-cemeteries, West Norwood holds some of the city’s most beautiful memorial monuments and some of its oldest trees.
Once also known as the South Metropolitan Cemetery, the Gothic Revival burial ground is now part of English Heritage’s National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. The cemetery was built in 1832-41 during the establishment of new park-like burial grounds outside of the city limits. The site selected had once been the Great North Forest, by this time with only a few trees standing. Some of these ancient trees were left standing in the new cemetery, and have recently been dated back as far as the 16th century.
Comprised of Kensal Green, Highgate, West Norwood, Abney Park, Nunhead, Brompton, and Tower Hamlets cemeteries, the Magnificent Seven was created in 1832 as part of an effort to move burials out of the City of London in response to the twin pressures of health concerns about overcrowded churchyard cemeteries and desires for buildable land in the rapidly expanding city.
Like many of the city’s other cemeteries, it was damaged by bombings during WWII, causing the destruction of the former Dissenter’s chapel and damage to other buildings and monuments. Today, ongoing restoration and stewardship work is overseen by Lambeth Council and is largely advised by the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery, who also host regular tours of the cemetery.
There are some notable names and listed buildings scattered amongst the 42,000-plus burials here. Both Sir Henry ‘Sugar Cube’ Tate, (founder of the London Tate Gallery) and the famous potters, the Doulton family, are both interred in separate terra-cotta mausoleums. Sir Hiram Maxim, inventor of the automatic machine gun, and painter David Roberts, RA RBA. As well as famed author Mrs. Isabella Beeton.
Know Before You Go
The Main gate is located on Norwood Road near the junction with Robson Road. Operating hours are seasonal, so be sure to check the website to avoid disappointment.
There are paved paths to wander the grounds, but if one is adventurous, be sure to wear appropriate footwear and know the ground can be unstable.