A £6.2m investment has restored and conserved Brompton Cemetery in West London, revealing architectural splendour, uncovering hidden heritage gems and preserving a historic landscape and a wildlife haven for communities in a densely-populated part of the capital.
The 4-year restoration project was funded through the National Lottery with a £4.5m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and BIG Lottery Fund (BLF), plus an investment of £1.7m from The Royal Parks, the charity which manages the cemetery, generous donors, and with support from The Friends of Brompton Cemetery charity. This pioneering project is engaging people and communities with historic cemeteries in a new way so they better understand their value and many benefits.
The 39-acre Grade I registered garden cemetery* is one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries created outside central London in the 1830s-1840s and is a Site of Nature Conservation Interest and there are many unique, listed monuments and architecture. It contains 35,000 monuments. The 205,000 burials there include historic figures such as Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragette movement; Sir Henry Cole, who was instrumental in the Great Exhibition and founded the V&A museum, built the Royal Albert Hall and is believed to have invented the Christmas card; and Dr John Snow, who discovered the link between cholera and contaminated water. There are 2,625 former Chelsea Pensioners, and 13 holders of the Victoria Cross also buried at the cemetery, and many well-known figures from the arts, commerce, sports and horticulture.
Over the decades the cemetery’s condition had deteriorated. Many structures were at risk** and in urgent need of restoration. But the refurbishment programme has restored Benjamin Baud’s original 1840 cathedral-like layout of the cemetery, uncovering hidden features, while restoring the historic landscape, architecture and monuments – including a major refurbishment of the Grade II*-listed chapel.
The project has placed the community at its heart, with a new volunteering and training hub – over 100 new volunteers have been recruited – and now offers a cafe and visitor centre.
And crucially the project has protected and enhanced the cemetery’s diverse wildlife and ecology – which includes 633 trees from around 60 species, 200 moth species and many types of bats, invertebrates and birds.
Wesley Kerr, Trustee of The Royal Parks, said: “The astonishingly beautiful Brompton Cemetery was always intended for respectful enjoyment by the living as well as burial spaces for the dead.
“London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries are prodigious landscapes, full of wildlife amidst amazing architecture, magnificent monuments – a great legacy. Today, 180 years after Brompton Cemetery was conceived , we’re fulfilling the vision, opening up the vistas, installing new community facilities, explaining history in a once-neglected space, but preserving its spirit and magical atmosphere.
“For many years Brompton has been an irresistible backdrop for filmmakers and now, thanks to this important restoration it’s fully accessible for all to discover and enjoy.”
Key features of the restoration include:
- A major refurbishment of the Grade II*-listed Chapel has seen the leaking lead roof replaced. The chapel is double domed with a coffered ceiling remniscent of the Pantheon and it sits in the centre of a 300-foot wide semi-circular arched colonnades – inspired by St Peter’s piazza in Rome. During restoration an original but previously undocumented 1840s York and Portland-stone floor, with radial design, was discovered.
- Digital information is bringing the cemetery to life. Visitors can browse interactive drone-views of the cemetery and explore a mobile-friendly burials database. Display boards narrate the cemetery’s history, and trained volunteers will continue to give educational tours. Accessibility improvements allow wheelchair users to travel widely, including into the chapel.
- Improvements to the Gardenof Remembrance have created a welcoming space for relatives. New planting reflects the species brought to the cemetery by the famous ‘plant hunter’ Robert Fortune, himself buried at Brompton.
- 15 historic memorials have been renovatedincluding the Grade I-listed tomb of Albert Mellon andThe Central Colonnades – now taken off the Historic England’s ‘at risk’ register.
- The North Lodge has been transformed with the addition of two symmetrical bath stone and glass pavilions: The Meeting Place, comprising visitor centre and information hub; and the Cafe North Lodge, with accessible toilets and external seating.
- Wildlife conservation and enhancement has been central to the project and landscape management practices will improve biodiversity and ecology, including the five existing bee hives.
Arthur Tait, Chairman of The Friends of Brompton Cemetery, said: “Thanks to the generosity of our volunteers over the last 20 years, and now through this wonderful restoration project, we’ve helped transformed this cemetery into a true community asset where families can relax, and people with a wide variety of interests can enjoy themselves amid its wonderful history.
“This year we’ve arranged more than 100 different events to help people find enjoyment and interest.
“And crucially, at a time when London’s squeezed green space becomes increasingly precious, this project is cultivating and preserving the spectacular mix of manicured garden areas and wilderness – proving that busy city dwellers can explore a biodiverse slice of nature right on their doorsteps without having to leave London.”
Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of HLF, said: “Historic cemeteries reveal much about the past but their true value to local communities and wildlife is firmly in the here and now. “Brompton Cemetery is a pioneering project that, with National Lottery investment, is helping people to understand, tap into and enjoy the many benefits these community green spaces provide.”