Friday, 23 April 2004

The London Necropolis Company

The London Necropolis Company BrochureIn keeping with the somewhat macabre mood of the previous post, it's time for me to post an interesting URL : Riding the Death Line :
During the first half of the 19th century, the capital’s population had more than doubled and the number of London corpses requiring disposal was growing almost as fast. Cemetery space in the city had spectacularly failed to keep pace with this growth.
The man who came up with the answer was Sir Richard Broun. In 1849, he proposed buying a huge tract of land at what is now the Surrey village of Brookwood to build a vast new cemetery for London’s dead. The 2,000-acre plot he had in mind – soon dubbed “London’s Necropolis” – was about 25 miles (40km) from the city, far enough away to present no health hazard and cheap enough to allow for affordable burials. The railway line from Waterloo to Southampton, Broun realised, could offer a practical way to transport coffins and mourners alike between London and the new cemetery.

The idea of using the railways to link London to the new rural cemeteries had been in the air for some years when 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.

There were other fears too. In 1842, questioned by a House of Commons Select Committee, Bishop of London Charles Blomfield said he thought respectable mourners would find it offensive to see their loved ones’ coffins sharing a railway carriage with those of their moral inferiors. “It may sometimes happen that persons of opposite characters might be carried in the same conveyance,” he warned. “For instance, the body of some profligate spendthrift might be placed in a conveyance with the body of some respectable member of the church, which would shock the feelings of his friends.”

It is worth remembering that, in 1842, train travel itself was still a novelty....
Worth a read. And I wonder just how many of today's burning issue re Genetic Engineering, Gay Marriage and so on will seem as, er, quaint, 160 years hence as the well-meaning Bishop's notions?

Unlike the London Mortuary station, which was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in 1941, the Antipodean equivalent (built 1867) survived, and was used until 1948. Fully restored, it's visible from every train that departs Sydney Central if you know where to look.

Some more quotes from the article (which really is worthing reading in toto) :
As people got used to the trains, they gradually came to accept them, even giving them affectionately tasteless nicknames such as “the dead meat train” or “the stiffs’ express”.
The discrepancy in ticket prices had arisen because LNC’s fares were fixed by the 1854 Act which created the company, and not increased again until 1939. By 1902, when LNC’s replacement terminus opened, this had produced a situation where a First Class return ticket from Waterloo to Brookwood cost eight shillings on L&SWR’s normal service, but only six shillings on the Necropolis trains. Golfers travelling from London to West Hill Golf Club, which stood right next to Brookwood’s grounds, sometimes took advantage of this, dressing up as mourners to ride the Necropolis train down, and so pay a lower fare. The remains of a rough footpath from Brookwood Station to West Hill’s clubhouse can still be seen at the cemetery, and Clarke believes it was cheapskate golfers who originally tramped it down.
For anyone who could afford it, First Class travel on the Necropolis trains conferred some very definite privileges. First Class passengers were relentlessly pampered at every stage of the journey, and constantly protected from having to mix with the lower orders.
RTWT (Read The Whole Thing).

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