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The Mad, the Bad and the Dead

30 October 2014

In the spirit of Halloween, our PR and Marketing intern Lou has been looking into the gruesome history of Brookwood Cemetery. Read on if you dare…

Woking has been known as the home of the mad, the bad and the dead. The town’s macabre history with the deceased derives from its very own necropolis, Brookwood Cemetery.

By the mid-1800s a rapidly expanding population left London’s graveyards full. As more people died people turned to gruesome solutions. Existing graves were exhumed to make space for fresh bodies. Decaying corpses taken from the ground found their way into drinking water, spreading measles, smallpox, cholera and typhoid amongst the living. An 1842 report concluded it would impossible to bury any new bodies without cutting into old ones. Fresh dirt outside of the city was needed for the sleeping grounds of London’s dead.

The London Necropolis Company and the National Mausoleum Company bought 2000 acres of land in Brookwood, just outside Woking. This was close enough to the city that coffins could be transported without sickness spreading from the putrefying bodies inside. Brookwood Cemetery was opened in 1854 as the largest cemetery in the world. 80% of those brought to the cemetery were paupers buried in unmarked graves.

The London Necropolis Railway Station was built at Waterloo with sombre waiting rooms for grieving families, equipped to hold funerals. Trains to Woking could be diverted to two stations inside the cemetery. The arches below the platforms of Waterloo Station stored bodies, waiting to be taken to Brookwood. In the dead of night, coaches stuffed with coffins rode into town accompanied by carriages of mourners. The Necropolis Railway was destroyed by air raids in 1941.

Today Brookwood still boasts the largest cemetery in Britain. Approximately 250,000 graves stretch across 400 acres of burial land, and the cemetery has become home to unique grave sites, including the oldest Muslim cemetery in the country, the only US military cemetery and mass graves dug for victims of air accidents. There are also sites for Catholics, Zoroastrians and Orthodox Christians, Swedish and Latvian graves, and plots for guilds like the Oddfellow’s Society. Famous graves include artist John Singer Sargent, author Rebecca West, and the remains of St. Edward the Martyr, King of England.

 Image Credits: Banner image of display in Woking's Story, Brochure of charges, 'The London Necropolis Company', Interactive element in Woking's Story.

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