The combination of architecture, sculpture, landscape, wildlife, and poetry makes cemeteries like no other place in the historic environment.
Many of our historic cemeteries are still being used for burying and mourning. But they are also valued as places for quiet reflection, as green spaces, and for their wildlife interest.
If you’re looking for somewhere to take a peaceful walk, check out the following.
1. Highgate Cemetery, London
By the mid-19th century, many urban churchyards had become overcrowded with burials, and there was a desire for alternative burial grounds.
In the 1830s, a programme was devised to provide London with seven privately funded and developed cemeteries, commonly known as ‘the Magnificent Seven’.
Highgate Cemetery was founded in 1836 by architect and civil engineer Stephen Geary.
It’s an example of an early Victorian commercial cemetery in the garden style.
Among the people buried or commemorated in the cemetery are writers George Elliot and Christina Rosserri, poet Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall, philosopher Karl Marx, mathematician Jacob Bronowski, professional boxer Tom Sayers, and the landscape painter Charles Landseer.
2. Abney Park Cemetery, London
Abney Park, another of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries, opened in 1840.
It was laid out from the grounds of two 17th-century private houses by architect William Hosking and planted as an arboretum by the Loddiges family.
Famous people buried in Abney Park Cemetery include the lion tamer Frank Bostock and Joanna Vassa, the daughter of the anti-slavery campaigner Olaudah Equiano.
Abney Park is still a working cemetery, but only a few burials are carried out yearly. Since 1992, it has been managed as a historic landscape and managed wilderness by the Abney Park Cemetery Trust.
3. Kensal Green Cemetery, London
Kensal Green Cemetery opened in 1833 and was the first commercial cemetery in London.
A competition was held to design the layout of the new cemetery, with architect Henry Edward Kendall winning first prize for his Gothic design. However, he was overlooked in favour of a now little-known architect named John Griffith.
Landscape designer Richard Forrest laid out the designs.
The cemetery was consecrated in 1833, and the first burial occurred seven days later. Four years later, the cemetery received the remains of Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, the sixth son of King George III.
Others buried here include the playwright Harold Pinter, novelist Anthony Trollope, and inventor Charles Babbage.
4. Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol
By the mid-19th century, the burial grounds attached to Bristol’s churches were essentially full.
Arnos Vale Cemetery was laid out between 1837 and 1840 by the Bristol General Cemetery Company to designs by architect Charles Underwood, with planting by the Bristol nurserymen James Garraway and Martin Mayes.
Look out for the Bengali-style chhatri from 1844 containing the tomb of Raja Rammohun Roy, the influential 19th-century socio-religious reformer.
5. Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey
Brookwood is the largest cemetery in England. It was founded in 1852 to house London’s dead and even had its own railway line.
The cemetery was divided by paths and avenues into separate ‘grounds’, allotted to different London parishes and various religious denominations, as it catered for all classes and faiths.
Famous names buried at Brookwood include the artist John Singer Sargent Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, anatomist Dr Robert Knox, and writer Denis Wheatley.
6. St James’ Gardens, Liverpool, Merseyside
Opened in 1829, St James’ Cemetery (now known as St James’ Gardens) is an early example of a garden cemetery.
A former stone quarry, the site was bought by the Anglican community of Liverpool and laid out as a cemetery, the first of its kind.
7. Undercliffe Cemetery, Bradford, West Yorkshire
Undercliffe Cemetery opened in 1854 and was designed by architect William Gay. It is considered to be his finest work.
The site contains many grand 19th-century monuments and has been described as ‘one of the most striking achievements of Victorian funerary design’.