London’s Magnificent Seven Cemeteries: A Guide

Magnificent Seven Cemeteries
Magnificent Seven Cemeteries, London
The Magnificent Seven Cemeteries, London

We discovered the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries at Brompton Cemetery. We’d passed the cemetery hundreds of times but never visited until a colleague mentioned heading there for a look around.

Surprisingly, we’d never even heard of the Magnificent Seven. How, when one of them is a popular tourist destination? After Brompton, we visited all of London’s so-called Magnificent Seven cemeteries.

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West Norwood Cemetery

Magnificent Seven Cemeteries History

In the first half of the 19th century, London’s population doubled from 1 million to 2.3 million. Typically, most Londoners were buried in small parish churchyards, but this rapid population growth proved too much for the existing burial grounds, which became increasingly overcrowded and unsanitary.

There’s a cemetery in Paris called Père Lachaise, which is regarded as the inspiration behind the Magnificent Seven. British tourists, including George Frederick Carden (credited with starting the garden cemetery movement in the UK), visited this cemetery, which sparked enough interest to devote some time and money to reforming cemeteries on UK soil.

Parliament passed a bill in 1832 to encourage the establishment of new private cemeteries outside central London. Seven cemeteries had been established within ten years, but they wouldn’t get their Magnificent Seven label for almost 150 years.

Architectural historian Hugh Meller called them the ‘Magnificent Seven’ in 1981 and even published a book about London cemeteries in the early 1980s.

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Abney Park Cemetery

What are the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries in London?

In alphabetical order, they are Abney Park, Brompton, Highgate, Kensal Green, Nunhead, Tower Hamlets and West Norwood.

What’s quite unusual about each cemetery is that each has a unique character despite being built at similar times, for the same purpose, and with similar inspiration.

Some have become nature reserves, some are heavily overgrown, some are popular tourist destinations, and some are still active burial grounds with crematoriums. And, of course, they had different architects and landscape designs. These differences have created very different spaces.

You’ll find links in each cemetery section to take you to the posts containing all the information you need to visit, from history, famous residents, tours, practical visitor information, website details and photos.

However, they weren’t all created equal, nor were they all as worthy to visit as one another. So, here they are, ranked in order of which we recommend visiting and why.

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Highgate Cemetery

1 | Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery takes the top spot among the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries. It’s a fascinating place with an interesting history, famous graves, and impressive architecture. Take a look in the link below to see tons of photos and find out who the famous residents are.

Highgate is the only one of the Magnificent Seven you have to pay to enter, but it is worth every penny. You can also take tours, which are also very good and get you access to the catacombs, which you can’t otherwise access.

If you decide to take a tour, allow yourself enough time to explore the rest of the cemetery. It’s split into two parts, each with a different feel and lots to see.

The west side opened in 1839, and the east in 1860. You’ll notice a significant difference between the two sides, probably due to the eras in which they were built.

Read: Highgate Cemetery post

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Highgate Cemetery

2 | Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery was the first of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries we visited. Established in 1840, this is the only one owned by the Crown and managed by The Royal Parks.

Unlike Highgate, Brompton is free to enter like the rest of the cemeteries. Brompton Cemetery has many reasons to visit, too – it’s easy to access, tours are available, and there’s a cafe and great architecture. A few notable figures are buried there, too, such as suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.

Brompton is one of the easiest cemeteries to visit, given it’s topped and tailed by multiple bus routes, and the London Overground and the Underground District line stop right next to it.

Read: Brompton Cemetery post

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Brompton Cemetery

3 | West Norwood Cemetery

West Norwood Cemetery isn’t the biggest of the cemeteries, but it’s a lovely place to visit. Originally known as the South Metropolitan Cemetery, the cemetery opened in 1837 and was the first cemetery in the world to use the Gothic style. It’s still in use today and has a crematorium.

It has some interesting features, such as the Greek Enclosure and is the resting place of Henry Tate, the sugar merchant and man who started the Tate Gallery.

The cemetery is also adjacent to West Norwood High Street, a vibrant street worth visiting.

Read: West Norwood Cemetery post

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West Norwood Cemetery

4 | Abney Park Cemetery

Abney Park Cemetery opened in 1840 and became the principal burial place of English nonconformists when a nearby burial ground closed. Abney Park is heavily overgrown but has a beautiful chapel in the centre, which has been refurbished to repair it from damage.

Abney Park doesn’t have many notable residents, but it has William and Catherine Booth, who started The Salvation Army.

It’s also surprisingly busy, probably due to its proximity to Stoke Newington High Street, a vibrant and trendy part of London.

Read: Abney Park Cemetery

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Abney Park Cemetery

5 | Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park was established in 1841, making it the last Magnificent Seven to open. It’s also known as Bow Cemetery and closed to burials in 1966. As the name suggests, it’s more of a park these days than a cemetery and has become quite the arboretum, given it’s designated as a local nature reserve.

It’s a great place to escape the urban sprawl. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were walking around a woodland, not a former functioning burial ground.

Tower Hamlet Cemetery Park is also really easy to get to. It is just a few minutes’ walk from Mile End Underground station, which is serviced by the Central, District, and Hammersmith & City lines.

Read: Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park post

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Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

6 | Nunhead Cemetery

Nunhead Cemetery opened in 1840 and was known as All Saints’ Cemetery then. It’s considered the least known of the Magnificent Seven, but we’re not entirely sure why.

It could be its geographical location—tucked away in south-east London, just over a mile from Peckham—or maybe it’s because there’s no tube station nearby, or perhaps it’s because it’s one of the smallest—who knows. Still, it’s a pleasant little place with a unique view of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Read: Nunhead Cemetery post

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Nunhead Cemetery

7 | Kensal Green Cemetery

Kensal Green Cemetery was the first Magnificent Seven cemetery, established in 1833. Kensale Green Cemetery was initially known as the General Cemetery of All Souls. It’s still in use today and is a relatively busy cemetery, as we experienced when we visited.

The most famous resident of Kensale Green Cemetery is Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the world’s greatest engineers.

It’s last on this list because it was our least favourite, and here’s why. It felt slightly uncomfortable to be walking around the cemetery as tourists when so many people were visiting their deceased family and friends to pay their respects.

West Norwood is also a functioning cemetery but doesn’t have the same feel. It is so close to the high street that it attracts people who are simply going for a walk.

Read: Kensal Green Cemetery post

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Kensal Green Cemetery

Magnificent Seven Cemeteries Map

So, where are all the cemeteries? Below is the map of the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries on Google My Maps. You’ll notice a ring around London indicating where they are all located.

Each cemetery post has Google Maps locations, so you can easily find directions to each.

The Magnificent Seven Cemeteries, London

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