Woking Asian Business Forum has been awarded £93,400 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, for a 2-year project aimed at exploring and documenting minority burial grounds in Brookwood Cemetery.
Unknown to most, Brookwood Cemetery is host to the highest concentration of minority burial grounds in the UK. Apart from a wide range of Muslim burial grounds, these include the first Zoroastrian burial ground established in Europe, as well as Swedish, Latvian and Serbian grounds, to name but a few. These burial grounds constitute an important part of Brookwood Cemetery, and they represent a unique cultural heritage that has so far remained undocumented.
That is what the WABF-led project aims to address. Working with Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey History Centre, Brookwood Cemetery Society and The Lightbox, the project will collect information concerning the history and rituals relating to the burial grounds, and ensure that this information becomes widely available. Accordingly, findings from the project will be available on the website ‘Exploring Surrey’s Past, managed by Surrey History Centre, and an app will be developed, enabling visitors to Brookwood Cemetery to access information about the minority burial ground while visiting the cemetery. Additional outputs include a documentary, an exhibition at The Lightbox, and thematic walks in Brookwood Cemetery, in collaboration with Brookwood Cemetery Society.
Woking Asian Business Forum has been actively supporting local communities since its establishment in 2007, and chairman Shahid Azeem is enthusiastic about this new opportunity for expanding on the ongoing work of the organisation: ‘We are very excited that the National Lottery Heritage Fund has decided to support this important project. Moreover, the project is very timely, as it supplements the ambitious plans for Brookwood Cemetery that Woking Borough Council has put forward recently’.
Commencing in September, the project will be managed by Woking-based social researcher Ole Jensen, working with local stakeholders and volunteers. More details about the project can be found at the website of Woking Asian Business Forum, http://www.wabf.org.uk/.
Relocations follow long history of London reburials at Brookwood cemetery
HS2 Ltd, working with the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, have agreed with Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey for reburials as a result of excavations at St James’s Gardens to take place there.
In October 2018, HS2 archaeologists began the excavation of one of London’s 18th and 19th century burial grounds, to the west of Euston station in St James’s Gardens. The disused cemetery is required for the construction of the UK’s new high speed railway line High Speed Two and the new London HS2 station. The site was home to over 50,000 of London’s deceased.
Brookwood Cemetery was conceived in 1849 by the London Necropolis Company to house London’s deceased at a time when the capital was unable to accommodate increasing numbers.
Brookwood was connected to the capital by a special railway branch line, and the capital’s dead were taken there by hearse train carriages. Initially there were two stations at the cemetery – the northern one serving the non-conformist side of the cemetery and the southern the Anglican side.
It is not unusual for the populations London’s burial grounds to be relocated, and Brookwood Cemetery has reburied London’s deceased for over 150 years. The first major reburials took place in 1862 when the construction of Charing Cross Railway station and the routes into it required the burial ground at Cures College in Southwark to be demolished. London’s Euston station was extended westwards in the 1940s and some of the occupants of St James’s Gardens required reburial. Those remains were rehomed at Brookwood so this agreement to rebury the remaining occupants of St James’s Gardens there means that the buried population will remain together.
Helen Wass, HS2 Ltd’s Head of Heritage said:
“Throughout our archaeology programme and the excavation of burial grounds, we have treated the buried population with due dignity, care and respect. The final destination for the human remains excavated from St James’s Gardens is fitting, as they will be reunited with the previously relocated burials, moved over 70 years ago.
“HS2’s unprecedented archaeology work between London and the West Midlands has been a once in a lifetime opportunity to tell the story of our past, create opportunities in the present and leave a lasting legacy for generations to come.”
Cllr Graham Cundy, Woking Borough Council’s Lead Member for Brookwood Cemetery, said:
“Established mid-19 century on heathland acquired from Lord Onslow, Brookwood Cemetery is one of the largest burial sites in the country. A new grassland plot on the south side of the cemetery has been prepared where Brookwood will once again accommodate those displaced by the Capital’s expansion.
“Although you can no longer arrive at Brookwood via the London Necropolis Railway, you can access the cemetery directly from Brookwood mainline train station. The 500 acre site is a Grade I listed park and the grounds are open daily to visitors who want to explore the cemetery’s historic ties to London.”
A team of over 200 archaeologists and related specialists undertook the careful archaeological work, in advance of construction. They have already discovered much about the lives and deaths of ordinary Londoners’ as well as uncover the remains of notable people including explorers, soldiers, artists and musicians. Further analysis of a proportion of the human remains will tell us more about the individuals who inhabited London at this exciting time in its history.
All the human remains are to be reburied in consecrated ground, as per HS2 Ltd’s commitment to the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England.
It was announced in October 2019 that the remains of one of St James’s Gardens population, Captain Matthew Flinders, the British explorer who first circumnavigated Australia and gave the country its name, will be buried in his home village of Donington, Lincolnshire. This follows a request made by the descendants of the Flinders family and the local community for his remains to be returned to the village where he grew up.
The fascinating story of London’s past uncovered through the excavations at St James’s Gardens is currently being showcased in a BBC documentary series, HS2 – The Biggest Dig. The three part series continues on Tuesday 22nd September on BBC Two and is available on BBC iPlayer.
Woking Borough Council has approved plans that will support the ongoing conservation of Brookwood Cemetery and encourage visitors to explore this globally significant heritage site.
The Masterplan and Experience Plan approved at Full Council (30 July 2020) set out a number of broad policies by which the site will be managed and developed in the future. They support a vision of a sustainable working cemetery leading the way in heritage conservation which other sites will look to.
The plans focus on enhancing the cemetery’s unique characteristics such as the railway line that serviced the cemetery up until its London terminus was bombed during the Blitz; the substantial collection of Giant Redwoods thought to be the earliest and grandest in the country; and the cemetery’s historic ‘Ring’ with its high quality Victorian monuments, many of which are Grade I listed.
New visitor facilities including a café, walking trail, education centre and the provocatively titled, ‘Museum of Death’ are among the plans to attract new audiences and promote greater use of this largely hidden public asset.
Ensuring the experience of visiting Brookwood remains that of visiting a cemetery, new information points and zoning will make the site’s historical and ecological landscapes easier to navigate and explore.
Cllr Graham Cundy, Woking Borough Council’s Lead Member for Brookwood Cemetery, said: “We now have a set of plans that will help us take the cemetery forward over the next ten to twenty years. “First and foremost, the cemetery’s main function is, and always will be, to provide a dignified and respectful resting place for Woking’s deceased, of all faiths and none. As stated in the Masterplan, all future development must sustain and support this objective.
“The Experience Plan is a much about inspiring residents to explore and appreciate the cemetery as it is about attracting new audiences from further afield. An expanded programme of events, tours, exhibitions and workshops will bring to life the themes and cultural wonders within the cemetery, while highlighting the different aspects that make Brookwood a heritage site with immense local, national and global significance.”
Brookwood Cemetery was founded mid-nineteenth century after a cholera epidemic (1848-49) exacerbated the problem of overcrowding across London’s cemeteries. Built by the London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company (LNNMC) on 2,268 acres of heathland purchased from Lord Onslow, Brookwood was reputed to be the largest cemetery in Europe and the pinnacle of Victorian garden cemetery design.
Cllr Ayesha Azad, Woking Borough Council’s Portfolio Holder for Asset Management, said:
“The Council acquired Brookwood Cemetery for the people of Woking. Over time the site has become dissected and lost from public view both physically and metaphorically. We intend to change that and detailed within the plans is a cemetery that is seen as community asset, which supports both physical and emotional wellbeing and provides opportunities for learning and shared cultural experiences.
This week (Wednesday 1 July), The Earl of Wessex received a private tour of Brookwood Cemetery, one of the largest and culturally significant burial sites in the country.
His Royal Highness was greeted by Strategic Asset Manager Ian Tomes who gave a presentation on the history of the grade 1 listed park and garden near Woking, and took The Earl with the High Sheriff, Lord Lieutenant of Surrey and the cemetery manager on a tour of the site. His Royal Highness met all members of the cemetery staff who have worked throughout the Covid 19 crisis to provide an important service for the bereaved and their relatives.The Earl was shown the route of the old railway line and south station platforms by which coffin trains brought bodies into the cemetery and from there His Royal Highness was taken to St Edward the Martyr Orthodox Church, which contains the relics of Edward II, the young Saxon King slain at Corfe Castle in 978.
Cemetery Manager, Avril Kirby, said:
“Brookwood Cemetery was founded in 1852 to house London’s dead and was uniquely serviced by its own railway. The Earl was escorted to the South of the cemetery to see historic monuments including the life size marble statue of Elaine Maynard Falkiner (d.1900), first wife of Sir Leslie Falkiner; the plot where Lord Nelson’s granddaughter, Horatia Nelson Johnson (d. 1890), is buried; and the striking memorial of Giulio Salvati (d.1898), the Venetian glass and mosaic merchant whose commissions adorn the domes of St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey.
One of the listed memorials in the cemetery marks the grave of Dr Gottlieb William Leitner (d.1899), who was responsible for making Woking a major centre for Islam. He was a noted linguist and founder of the Oriental Institute Europe on the site of the vacant Royal Dramatic Collage near Woking. Today this site is better known as the home of the Shah Jahan Mosque, Britain’s first purpose-built Islamic place of worship.
In more modern times, decades of neglect saw Brookwood Cemetery placed on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register so in 2014, Woking Borough Council stepped in and acquired the site with a view to restoring the cemetery to its former glory.
Cllr Ayesha Azad, the Council’s Portfolio Holder for Asset Management, said:
“There was a danger that the rich history and architectural wonders within the cemetery would be lost forever but since acquiring the site we’ve been working to turn that around“Brookwood has the potential to be a jewel in Woking’s crown and The Earl’s visit was an opportunity for the cemetery team to talk to him about our extensive renovation and conservation plans, which include a new visitor centre and enhanced access to this vast outdoor space.”
His Royal Highness was shown inside the largest mausoleum in the cemetery, commissioned in 1877 by George Henry, the 5th Earl Cadogan for the burial of his eldest son, Albert Edward George Henry Cadogan, the Viscount of Chelsea. In 1910 it was converted in to a columbarium by its new owners for the storing of ashes. The Grade II listed structure is one of 15 monuments earmarked for renovation if the cemetery’s ambitious conservation plans are approved.
Due to its huge scale and capacity, Brookwood continues to be a favoured resting place. During his visit, The Earl had the opportunity to talk to members of the Surrey Local Response Forum responsible for managing the excess deaths caused by Coronavirus. Via Zoom, His Royal Highness listened to the challenges faced by the county’s coroner, funeral directors, mortuary, and crematoria staff, and conversed with different faith leaders about their experiences during this time.
Before concluding his tour, The Earl thanked all participants for their important role in preserving the dignity and respect of those who have lost their lives during the pandemic and praised the support given to the bereaved and an exceptionally difficult time.
A lost Victorian chapel, discovered in the undergrowth at Brookwood Cemetery, has been fully restored by Woking Borough Council. The exquisitely sculpted, Gothic style chapel, built almost entirely from Bath stone, has been sympathetically restored over the past five months using original materials and specialists’ tradespeople.
Built in 1858, the cemetery chapel was adopted by the Colquhoun’s as their family mausoleum. It was restored in 1924 by Violette Freeman in memory of Eliza Colquhoun Redhouse but subsequently left to disappear behind a thick wall of shrubs and rhododendrons.
The council acquired Brookwood Cemetery in 2014 but the chapel remained cocooned in the dense undergrowth for a further two years.
Woking Borough Council’s Strategic Asset Manager, Ian Tomes, explains:
“Brookwood Cemetery is the largest cemetery in the country and of great historical value. When the council bought the 220 acre site in 2014, it was with a view to restoring this Grade 1 listed park and garden to its former glory. “It was through reviewing historical images of the cemetery that we learnt of the existence of the chapel and set about trying to locate it.”
After a concerted effort, the chapel was found in the back woods, in a poor state of repair. The entrance had been crudely blocked up, the floor of the crypt had fallen in and the wrought iron perimeter fencing had either collapsed or rotted. Nonetheless, the chapel’s beauty and character was still evident.
With support from a specialist conservation surveyor and building company, restoration work started in April 2019. Ten coffins were removed from the chapel and placed in storage while the crypt was rebuilt. Major repairs were made to the roof which included replacing the finials and other decorative features that were carved on site by experienced stonemasons. Internally the chapel was re-plastered, and all the iron fixtures and railings were restored in wrought iron by a blacksmith. The stonework and marble cladding was cleaned, and pathways built to give access to the chapel.
Ian Tomes continued:
“In four years, we have transformed the cemetery and hope to restore many of the memorials and structures on site. Colquhoun Chapel is among the first because it is one of the more beautiful buildings in the cemetery, and one of the oldest. What makes it even more special is the fact that it was a lost building, that hadn’t been seen by anyone for a number of years. There’s a wealth of history within the cemetery walls, which we’re trying to make people more aware of while at the same time, making this fantastic space more accessible to the public.”
Brookwood Cemetery was founded in 1852 to house London’s dead and was uniquely serviced by its own railway. In the early 20th Century, part of the site was sold to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to accommodate the graves of the Commonwealth victims of the First World War. A separate area was also allocated to the American Battle Monuments Commission for American victims.
Twelve Victoria Cross recipients rest within the confines of the cemetery and a further three are commemorated on site.
The cemetery’s immense scale, landscaping, woodland areas and popularity among different denominations, faiths, nationalities, and groups only heighten the site’s historical, cultural, social and nature significance.
“Decades of neglect earned Brookwood Cemetery a place on Historic England’s ‘At Risk Register’ but since acquiring the site we’ve been working to turn that around. “The restoration of Colquhoun Chapel is exciting because it shows what can be achieved and it is now a shining example of the rich history and architectural wonders within the cemetery.
“Brookwood was one of the premier cemeteries in the country and has the potential to be a jewel in Woking’s crown. It’s an important part of our story so it’s down to us to help people understand its value and look after it for future generations.
With regret Brookwood Cemetery has cancelled The Heritage Open Day Event on 12September 2020. This decision was made in the light of increasing numbers of Covid cases across the country and to ensure we eliminate any risk for those attending. You are however still welcome to visit the cemetery at any time to explore our beautiful Grade 1 listed park and garden.