Grave Hunting in Brompton Cemetery
Updated: Mar 16, 2021
Traveling to London has been on my life bucket list for as long as I can remember. I've been listening to the Beatles since I was in the womb (literally) cream tea has always been a staple in my diet and English comedies and dramas are just...well, better. However the real reason I've dreamt of London has almost everything to do with its history.
English history was my gateway drug into historical obsession. I would spend my free time as a child learning about Henry VIII, the plague, medieval torture and reading about Jack the Ripper. There has always been something so utterly macabre about the city, probably due to the fact that the city has seen unheard of amounts of death in its lifetime.
I'm a firm believer that if you want to get a feel for a city, you must start in their cemeteries and also because like, I fucking love cemeteries (duh.) It's also where I can go to meet the people I've read about all my life so that is why the very first (and I mean first) place I went to when arriving in London was Brompton cemetery.
Brompton cemetery, or Westminster cemetery as it was once known opened in 1840 and is one of the Magnificent 7 Victorian cemeteries to circle the city of London. Quick history lesson - a lot of people died in London, like, A LOT so much so that the local church yards were no longer quaint and tasteful graveyards but instead, stinking burial pits so overflowing that it was causing health issues. Also, it was a completely undignified way to treat the dead....well, the wealthy dead. The poor still had potters fields.
Basically, the dead were posing a threat to the living so a group called "Magnificent 7" came up with a plan to build large cemeteries further out from the center of town that could accommodate the current dead and the future dead.
Let's not forget though, this is London, and it's the Victorian era so these cemeteries had to be gorgeous parks that just happened to also be cemeteries. In fact, Brompton, which currently has some 200,000 graves is the ONLY cemetery in the COUNTRY to be owned by the Crown....take that in.
Architect Benjamin Baud had the idea to design the graveyard like an open air cathedral which is why you have a central dome flanked by catacombs and colonnades. Truthfully, the design of this place is so foreboding, so beautiful, that you really do feel like you're walking somewhere sacred.
Naturally, with a place this impressive and being in the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea, you're going to have a lot of notable burials, here's just a few of my favorites;
Henry Cole - Possibly one of the most underrated British citizens ever, Not only did he INVENT the first commercial Christmas card, he was Prince Albert's right hand man in many, many things. They were both science and technology nerds and together they brought the Great Exhibition of 1851 into fruition. His other achievements include founding the Victoria and Albert museum as well as Royal Albert Hall.
Samuel Cunard - Founder of the Cunard ship line that would famously produce ships Britannia and for my WWI lovers, Lusitania. Why he's cool? He founded the ship company that would eventually partner with White Star and help finish one of my favorite ships, the Queen Mary.
Thomas Crofton Croker - This guy IS AWESOME. Ok, so he basically devoted his life to documenting Irish legends, fairy tales and the Irish way of mourning the dead. Almost all we know about the custom of keening the dead comes from Thomas. Also, the first part of his Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland was published in 1825; and then the freaking BROTHERS GRIMM translated it into German in 1826......big deal folks.
Joseph Thomas Clover AND John Snow - these two guys are pioneers in the medical field especially in regards to hygiene and anesthesia. If you're interested in Joseph Lister, you'll love these guys. John Snow is the reason we know Cholera is spread through water....I went and found the water pump he made the connection at (find it on my Instagram @macabremondays)
These are literally just like, a handful of the incredibly awesome, brave, ingenious and fascinating people buried at Brompton, honestly you should really look up all of who is there because it's amazing. That being said, none of these men are why I traveled to Brompton, that reason lies below a rather hard to find and unassuming grave. The hopeless romantic in me needed to make a pilgrimage to the grave of the woman who inspired my favorite romantic poems; the muse and finacée of poet John Keats - Fanny Brawne. And after 30 minutes of following the strangest treasure map, I found her.
There a many reasons why I love Keats and Brawne's relationship. Perhaps it's because it's perfectly tragic due to him dying before they were ever able to be married. Perhaps it's because the majority of their love was spent apart; so much of his love poems were written with longing in the most romanticized way. Because of this I feel like their love is documented in the most perfect way; untouched by the jade that grows in relationships over time and forever stuck in the honeymoon glow. Although she ended up marrying after Keats died, I like to think she never got over him. Whatever the truth ended up being, I was beyond moved to sit at the grave of the woman that inspired my favorite love poems.
One thing you'll notice when wandering the grounds is how crowded it is. Believe it or not but what you see above ground is just a fraction of the story. There are over 500 more coffins in the catacombs and the graves? Well, many have multiple tenants. In fact on my birthday this year, August 19th 2019, Brompton just renewed the rights to be able to reuse graves, something very uncommon here in the states. So unlike here where we start with graves at 6ft under, in Brompton? You're probably starting at 1o or 12. The more ya know, huh?
London is full of incredible things to see, but I highly recommend stopping by Brompton to spend an afternoon wandering this beautiful park. You'll find friendly cats to pet and tons of jaw dropping effigies, tombs and sculptures. There are 7 incredible graveyards to choose in this city but in my opinion? This one tops the list.
Been to Brompton? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!!! <3