“I see dead people” was my first thought when embarking on a tour of Nunhead Cemetery. Although hesitant at first, expecting ghosts to emerge from crypts or finding the odd unearthed skeleton amongst gravestones; it was a highly informative, interesting and certainly unusual tour.
Nunhead Cemetery is one of seven beautiful Victorian cemeteries established in a ring around the outskirts of London. Situated on Nunhead Hill the cemetery offers extensive views of the City of London skyline; a dream photo oppourtunity for any tourist. The overgrown but bewitchingly gothic cemetery is not only a place for mourning, but an attraction for dog walkers, as the cemetery is more of a forest that happens to have graves in it. Walking through the cemetery I couldn’t help but picture myself in a scene from Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’.
The tour takes place on every last Sunday of the month, guided by ‘Friend of Nunhead Cemetery’ Tim Stevenson. I was pleasantly surprised by the crowd of around forty that turned up, as you’d think a two hour long tour of a cemetery isn’t exactly talk of the town. Tour guide Tim was also surprisingly chirpy when telling tales of intricate burial procedures at the cemetery. Being a two hour tour, I applaud tour guide Tim for he made it engaging, intriguing and humorous throughout and at times even the extent of his historical knowledge of the cemetery was fascinating enough.
The 52 acre cemetery is home to 260,000 bodies who are all buried in different ways with various symbolic meanings behind it. There are of course your average gravestones some dating back to the early 1800’s. But bear in mind if you want a shiny, long lasting gravestone I suggest use granite as your cheap limestone grave can look shabby. There is also the option of a crypt if you want to go deeper than six feet under. Or if you really want to impress you can have a monument erected in your honour. One man, John Allan clearly wanted to make an impression with a giant monument which had carvings of naked women weeping over his coffin – quite the Victorian ladies man it seems. Other symbolic monuments show the diversity of London and how graves evolve over time, featuring Egyptian obelisks, Roman Catholic celtic crosses and Christian stone angels and many other Greek and gothic architectural monuments.
If you want to visit Nunhead Cemetery, tours are running every last Sunday of the month and is recommended by Time Out. It’s certainly worth a visit, I will definitely be returning preferably by train rather than hearse.