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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Full Circle on the London Underground

Tube and Celtic Cross in St Patrick's Roman Catholic CemeteryFuneral Trains & coffins on the Tube

On what might be the hottest day of the year so far in London, I thought I'd brighten your day with a post about coffin transportation on the London Underground.

Did you know that Victorian Prime Minister W E Gladstone and Dr Barnardo were the only two people to have their coffins transported by Tube? This is pretty ironic as Gladstone was on the private opening of the London Underground in 1863, making him one of the very first people to travel on the Tube.

Little did he know that in 1898 he would be making another journey on it - in his coffin.

However, I learnt from one of my colleagues that railways in London were used to carry coffins quite often in Victorian times. Brookwood cemetary over 25 miles from Central London had its own private railway running through it which would carry both coffins and mourners, by the London & South Western Railway.

"The idea of using the railways to link London to the new rural cemeteries had been in the air for some years when Sir Richard Broun presented his plan, but not everyone was convinced. Many thought the clamour and bustle they associated with train travel would not suit the dignity demanded of a Christian funeral." However he managed to covince the powers that be and the service started operating from 13 November 1854 when the Cemetery opened to the public.

Westminster Bridge Road Station
"Necropolis" terminus by by R~P~M

There was even a private "Necropolis" terminus just outside Waterloo station between York Street and Westminster Bridge Road. "The funeral trains ran from this private station, down the railway company's main line, and was then reversed into the Cemetery grounds at Brookwood. The trains ran once a day, assuming that funerals were booked to take place. The Sunday service ceased after October 1900. Thereafter the trains operated largely on an 'as required' basis. By the 1930s they were running at most twice a week. The service was never reinstated after the Second World War, and the track in the Cemetery was removed c1947-48."

"In the Cemetery grounds two private stations were provided, one for each main portion of the burial ground. 'North' station served the Nonconformist sections (nearest the main railway line), whilst 'South' station served the Anglican sections (close to the A322). After calling at North Station, the railway crossed Cemetery pales (the road which runs through the Cemetery grounds) on a level crossing."

Apparently if you're feeling particularly ghoulish or generally interested, you can follow the track-bed of the railway through the grounds, and there are also guided walks during the course of the year. Check out this site for more on this particular cemetery railway line. My colleague, Phill, also sent me a link to a feature from Fortean Times on the Brookwood Necropolis Railway, which apparently was the world's first funeral railway.

Quite a few Tubes pass cemeteries now (me and Neil did took pictures at St Patrick's Roman Catholic cemetery - pictured above - last year), but its certainly amazing to think that trains once carried the dead and their mourning families. Thanks Phill, and if anyone else has any more ghoulish stories about the Tube or railways in London, email me and if I haven't already covered them I'll blog them in due course.

; Posted by Annie Mole Thursday, May 04, 2006 Permalink COMMENT HERE Add to Stumble Upon