When autumn arrives in London, the falling leaves, cooler temperatures and crisp air bring about a unique charm and a certain spooky atmosphere. Leaving summer behind and with Halloween just around the corner, this season provides the perfect opportunity to explore London’s historical and hauntingly beautiful ancient cemeteries. Not only coinciding with the spookier seasons, the autumn months also add a particular charm to these areas, with gentle light filtering through the tree canopy as the leaves turn to hues of gold, amber and red.
The so-called Magnificent Seven is a collection of Gothic cemeteries situated within nine miles of St Paul’s Cathedral and erected in response to the rapid population growth in London during the 19th century. The distinctive sites provide an unusual combination of history, architecture and unique natural habitats. They’ve long been the haunt of photographers, historians, and those seeking a slice of quiet reflection in the city. It’s no wonder people are drawn to the seven sites, with dramatic mausoleums, angels and tombstones entwined with tree roots, covered in ivy and reclaimed by nature. Here are the top cemeteries you should visit this autumn for a blend of history, culture and seasonal allure.
1. Abney Park Cemetery
Tucked away in Hackney, Abney Park cemetery contrasts its edgy urban surroundings. Perhaps the most untamed of the seven, the meandering, dead-end paths and disorderly monuments entwined with tree roots, mosses, and leaves add to the charming and unruly atmosphere. But it’s not always quiet, with frequent live music and other events hosted in the impressive, wild grounds. To really get into the spooky spirit, the Abney Park Trust hosts ghost story tours through the park in October. Find more information here to plan your visit.
2. Brompton Cemetery
One of the only cemeteries maintained by the prestigious group of London’s Royal Parks, Brompton cemetery is the resting place of Emmeline Pankhurst among many other notable names. Quite a contrast to the sprawling wild of Abney Park Cemetery, here you will find carefully maintained walkways and curated wildflower meadows. The site is encircled by imposing columns, with a grand chapel at the end. A coffee shop and information centre ensure that your visit will be well-fuelled and well-informed. For more information, take a look here.
3. Kensal Green cemetery
Opened in 1832 and the oldest of the magnificent seven, Kensal Green is also the largest. If you want to take a walk down memory lane into the echelons of Victorian society, this is the one for you. With many of Charles Dickens’ fellow writers adorning the headstones, it’s easy to spend an afternoon lost in history. The sprawling grounds house a haphazard array of angels, monuments and mausoleums in a record of the city’s rich history. The Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery group provides information on upcoming tours and events, check it out here.
4. Nunhead cemetery
Nunhead Cemetery is the quietest, most tranquil of all on the list. The woodland trails are quiet and draped in gentle, dappled light. The humble, serene setting is a refreshing change to the grandiosity of some of the others on this list. With more than 50 species of birds within the grounds, Nunhead Cemetery is home to as much life as it honours the dead. Friends of Nunhead Cemetery work to promote respectful engagement with the site, visit their webpage here for more information before your visit.
5. West Norwood cemetery
Unlike some of the other cemeteries which transport you into an otherworldly realm, West Norwood provides a stark contrast between past and present. With historic and current monuments all sharing the same areas, a walk through here transcends time. The highlight has to be St Stephen’s Chapel, surrounded by catacombs and adorned with golden mosaics. Find more information here to plan your trip.
6. Tower Hamlets cemetery
Tucked away in East London, Tower Hamlets cemetery was heavily bombed during the Blitz. This cemetery is well and truly returning to nature, as a designated Local Nature Reserve, many of the headstones are completely covered by the rambling wildflower meadows and woodland undergrowth. One of London’s urban green spaces, the area is well-used by the local community. The Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park are responsible for the upkeep and management of the site, so be sure to check here for information for your visit.
7. Highgate cemetery
Last, but certainly not least, Highgate Cemetery is nestled in North London and is perhaps the most famous of the city’s historic cemeteries. Highgate is home to an extraordinary collection of grand tombs and Gothic architecture, including the grave of Karl Marx. Consider taking a tour to walk further into the depths of the stories behind the monuments, with the knowledgeable guides revealing some of the hidden treasures held within. Be sure to take plenty of snaps, as Highgate is one of the most popular spots for photographers across the capital. Check out here to plan your trip.
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