Nunhead Cemetery was originally called All Saints. Covering 52 acres, it is the second largest of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries established around the outskirts of London between 1832 and 1841 during a time when inner city churchyards were unhealthily overcrowded.
The cemetery was built on Nunhead Hill which rises two hundred feet above sea level with views of the City of London and St Paul’s Cathedral to the north and the North Downs to the south.
The London Cemetery Company, the original owner, went bankrupt and passed the graveyard into to the ownership of the United Cemetery Company (UCC) in 1960. The UCC couldn’t run it profitably, so closed Nunhead in 1969, locked the gates, and left it to decay.
In 1975, Southwark Council bought the site for £1, although very little was done with it until the late 1990s when it was awarded Lottery funding, allowing the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery to renovate and restore it.
Almost 270,000 people are buried here, dating back as far as 1840.
The Anglican chapel is in the Gothic style and constructed from Kentish ragstone, and was one of two built in 1844 to the design by Thomas Little. Little had been a pupil of architect Robert Abraham (Arundel Castle, east wing and Norfolk House, St. James’s Square and Alton Towers, garden buildings). There are almost one hundred drawings of Nunhead Cemetery’s chapels held by the Royal Institute of British Architects.
After the completion of the Nunhead Cemetery chapels Little went on to design the layout of Paddington cemetery, its chapels and lodges, as well as numerous churches in London and Sussex. In 1975, Southwark Council bought the site for £1, although very little was done with it until the late 1990s when it was awarded Lottery funding, allowing the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery to renovate and restore it.
Art in Nunhead Cemetery, 20 Feb – 22 April 2017
Nunhead Cemetery hosts ‘Sacred Bodies’ by Sara Burgess. Read more here
Hazel Baker is a qualified CIGA Tour Guide who delivers guided walks and private tours in London. View all of Hazel’s walking tours.