A project that matters ...

Brompton Cemetery is a truly enchanting London space, with a magical hush. Restoration and new design have given this important Victorian landmark new life.

Brompton is a place to relax and take in the history that’s all around. Image © Max A Rush

“Historic cemeteries reveal much about the past, but their true value to local communities and wildlife is firmly in the here and now… Brompton 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.”

Ros Kerlake, Chief Executive, HLF

One of the magnificent seven

Following a cholera epidemic, London’s graveyards in the early to mid-1800s were overflowing. The solution was to provide the capital with a ring of garden cemeteries, which became known as ‘The Magnificent Seven’. They included Highgate, Abney Park and, of course, the Benjamin Baud-designed Brompton.

Designed to offer “respectful enjoyment by the living as well as burial spaces for the dead” (Wesley Kerr, Trustee, The Royal Parks), Brompton was to become a green oasis in a densely populated part of the city, an area now notable for its lack of open public space.

Today, Brompton has more than 35 Grade II and II* listed buildings and monuments, 35,000 gravestones, five miles of path and more than 600 trees from 60 species. It is an active cemetery, with 50-60 burials taking place here every year. It is also the only UK cemetery owned by the Crown and managed by the Royal Parks.

Brompton is a green oasis in a densely populated part of London. Image © Mark Laing / Greywolf Studios

The ravishes of time

Over the years, Brompton had fallen into disrepair, suffering from piecemeal design interventions and general neglect. The cemetery’s original layout was still intact, but roofs were leaking and the gardens overgrown. Accessibility was poor, and its catacombs were registered ‘at risk’.

Habitat diversity had also been lost and there was a lack of suitable visitor amenities, as well as poor management and maintenance facilities. Many of Brompton’s buildings were no longer being used to best effect.

The cemetery was also under pressure from the development taking place all around it. Restoration was urgent if it was to remain used and relevant.

The catacombs were filled with soil and inaccessible.

Brompton Cemetery

The North Lodge was used as a mess room and not open to the public.

Brompton Cemetery

Nature was winning.

A new lease of life

Over the years, Brompton had fallen into disrepair, suffering from piecemeal design interventions and general neglect. The cemetery’s original layout was still intact, but roofs were leaking and the gardens overgrown. Accessibility was poor, and its catacombs were registered ‘at risk’.

Habitat diversity had also been lost and there was a lack of suitable visitor amenities, as well as poor management and maintenance facilities. Many of Brompton’s buildings were no longer being used to best effect.

The cemetery was also under pressure from the development taking place all around it. Restoration was urgent if it was to remain used and relevant.

Two, new Bath stone and brick pavilions have been sensitively added to the handsome Grade II* North Lodge, the cemetery’s main entrance, providing useful new meeting spaces for the Friends of Brompton, volunteers and the public. Design challenges for the pavilions included high voltage cables and the discovery of a Victorian brick cistern underneath.

The project has enhanced wildlife habitats and improved biodiversity while retaining its naturalistic feel. Brompton’s Garden of Remembrance now provides a more comforting and welcoming space for relatives. New planting is discreet and includes species first introduced to the cemetery by botanist, Robert Fortune who is buried in the Cemetery, along with plants from the original lists by the cemetery’s garden designer, J.C. Loudon.

The four-year project was funded by the National Lottery Fund and The Royal Parks.

A programme of events is already proving popular, offering up the chance to learn more about Brompton’s history and setting.

Engaging local residents of all ages with the plans was key. A Victorian hat competition

Engaging local residents of all ages with the plans was key. A Victorian hat competition.

Overcoming controversy and stalled plans

As a much-loved historic London space, many held strong views as to what the future for Brompton should look like.

Previous plans to transform the grand North Lodge entrance had failed to gain the full backing of the 500-strong Friends of Brompton. The proposed demolition of the last remaining sections of the Western Catacombs proved controversial, as did proposals for new access ramps. Many also felt a café was not appropriate in a place of rest.

It was clear that any contemporary intervention had to be considered carefully. By giving people and heritage equal weighting and clearly explaining the benefits of key design moves, we were able to unite all stakeholders behind an exciting programme of restoration and renewal.

We worked closely with the local community and Friends, hosting design workshops and other consultation events, including ecology walks and bat evenings, to work through ideas.

For the design of the ramps, we met with specialist access groups, including Kensington and Chelsea Action on Disability, and carried out a series of trials to demonstrate that existing proposals for improved access at the rear of the Chapel were not appropriate and that the far better option was to add ramps sensitively to the front, so that all visitors could enter the Chapel together.

“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 and magnificent monuments.”

Wesley Kerr, Trustee of The Royal Parks

Brompton

Brompton is now a place to relax and enjoy – a precious and defiant urban green space that is both cultivated and wild. Image © Mark Laing / Greywolf Studios

“Brompton Cemetery is alive. Teeming. A continuous conversation between souls, birdsong, plants, stone and sky.”

Wesley Kerr, Trustee of The Royal Parks

Brompton Cemetery

Image © Max A Rush

Client
The Royal Parks

Location
Brompton Cemetery, London

Services
Landscape Architecture

Key contact
Andrew Harland

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