Seal of the London Necropolis &
National Mausoleum Company.
Its Latin text translates to
"A good life and a peaceful death".
... and if I threw in our old neighbourhood, a Member of Parliament, the railways, a necropolis, a golf ball or two – we could be in for an interesting ride.
This post is really something I never thought I’d write, as I had absolutely no idea about this facet of the west Surrey heartland and I just had to laugh at the incongruity of it all.
As I write the British Open Golf Championship is being played at a very wet and windy seaside links course at Sandwich in the garden county of Kent – visitors being brought down by a special direct train from London.
|Sandwich, Kent: Links Golf Course - 2011 c/o The Open|
Times have changed dramatically in the past 170 years – the railways have really opened up the heartland of England ... before that the ride by horse, carriage or navigable water was slow and dangerous.
The railways gave us freight, markets, termini, junctions, tourism and holidays by the sea ... and commuting – people started to travel to jobs in the towns and cities.
As far as London was concerned the railways offered more – a way to live in the country: to ‘de-populate’ London – and, more importantly at the time, - a final solution to the problem of London’s dead.
London’s population had risen from just under one million people in 1801 to almost two and a half million in 1851 ... cholera, smallpox, measles and typhoid were rife: what to do with the dead?
It was proposed to purchase an area of ground so distant as to be beyond any possible future extension of the Capital by using the emerging technology of mechanised land transport to construct a befitting gathering place for the metropolitan mortality of a mighty nation.
Little did they know that within 100 years the area was on the outskirts of greater London, and by 2011 definitely within it ... times they have changed.
The place purchased was Woking Common, approximately 23 miles west of London known today as Brookwood Cemetery (Heathrow Airport is 15 miles west of London). We lived just to the north and would occasionally shop in the village, there was a good baker’s I recollect; nearby was a golf course, Worplesdon, where we learnt to play.
|Country Lane and Hump Back Bridge|
Occasionally we would play the left-right-straight-on game – our mother would take us out in the car ... to get us out of the house and change our tune! ... we would each select whether we should go right, left or straight at each junction ... being kids we had no idea where we’d end up.
There were plenty of small country lanes with bridges and tunnels to navigate and amuse us for a while ... including the route to Guildford, the county town, where we shopped on special occasions and I took my driving test a ‘few’ years ago!
We live and learn – but I had no idea I’d be writing about The London Necropolis Company – the organisation formed to run and administer the cemetery, as well as the spur railway line.
The 1800s really were the era of the ‘scientist’ – engineers, cartographers, naturalists, explorers, printers and publishers – so many new trades, new data to be recorded and noted.
|An LSWR M7 class locomotive of|
the type used on the London
Necropolis Railway in its last
decade of operations 1930-40s
One of these – George Bradshaw (1801 – 1853), a cartographer, printer and publisher, specialised in railway timetables at a time when ‘time’ wasn’t yet standardised, and when there were so many railway companies any cohesion for travel or freight was nigh impossible. Bradshaw changed that .... the Bradshaw Timetables came into existence.
I suspect his name would be lost in the milieu of those times, but with our propensity today for history, Bradshaw’s Tourist Handbook has enabled them to be brought back to life through his journeys across the length and breadth of Britain.
The only known complete set of Bradshaw’s Tourist Handbook has been leant, by Robert Humm and Co, Transport Bookshop, to Michael Portillo, a former Member of Parliament turned historian and presenter – for his BBC series entitled “Great British Railway Journeys”.
Bradshaw died of cholera while in Norway, which I’m sure curtailed further publications of the Handbook during his lifetime. It would make a fascinating read before all the history of the last two or three hundred years gets lost in the mists of time, or buried under layers of concrete or tarmac – so I hope it gets republished.
The journey I caught the tail end of ... was the Brighton to London one before its continuation through East Anglia on to the ancient port of Kings Lynn in Norfolk. This was one of the railway lines where those first commuters could travel into London ... and in this instance to Waterloo Station.
Waterloo is where the fun starts – our childhood London terminus – we would travel from Woking to have a beef burger at Burger King (one of the first fast food chains to get to the UK) and to see some comic films at the station cinema (Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Tom and Jerry etc) ... exciting times!
Then we’d get on the train and go home again!! Well it kept us amused – going out was a real treat .. and beef burgers were – well ‘luxurious deliciousness’ to us kids!!
First Class entrance to the London
Necropolis Railway at Waterloo; the
ornate gates were originally made
for The Great Exhibition (1851).
I’m sure like most children we’d have been thrilled to know The London Necropolis Railway had, at Waterloo Station, its own entrances for the first class, second class or third class dead ... the mourners too had their own class of ticket ... think of the ghoulish games we could have played.
If we could have seen that logo – I’d have had nightmares for many a long night ... for those of you who are crime or mystery authors ... you may find some interesting information here that you could draw on for your characters or scenes ...
So this was our neck of the woods as we grew up – in the lee of the largest cemetery in the world, with its own specially commissioned railway line ... under or over which we regularly passed on our way to play golf – two clubs were in close proximity to the railway line ...
Third class coffin ticket, issued
between April–September 1925
... those savvy leisure golfers learnt fast .. and used to ‘jump’ the Necropolis train for a cheap trip into the nether regions of the country to play at one of the local courses, before catching the last ride back ...
A railway journey I never expected to post about ... our history is peppered with interesting fragments of life that can resurface many years later ... who would have thought a necropolis would tie in so well with the railways, golf, a Member of Parliament and us ... I enjoyed this ride into and out of the past ...
The London Necropolis Railway Company - Wikipedia entry
Dear Mr Postman – my mother has a cold-infection, but she is comfortable and we patiently spend time with her ...
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