The London Necropolis Railway Or: I'm sure some people know about this but I didn't so now you do!

Feb
13

I've been reading a lot of nonfiction books lately, particularly those dealing with everyday life in various centuries and a few following the lives of one or two notable (or not so notable) people, sometimes in exquisite detail.

I'd recommend this for anyone, since they are always full of gems-I-never-would-have-guessed-at. Yesterday I was reading The Professor and the Madman and the author was listing local trainstations and services and mentioned, in passing, that The London Necropolis Railway operated out of a small station nearby. And I, like any reasonable Babbager thought, "Hang on, Necropolis railway?" So I made a note and this morning hit up ye olde google.

So here's the skinny: From 1854-1941 The London Necropolis Train ran from just outside the Waterloo Terminis to a cemetary 25 miles outside of London named Brookewood. During its hayday it handled upwards of 3,200 burials a year, which I'd call a fairly impressive number of corpses! The trains living passengers were segregate into 1st, 2nd & 3rd class as well as segregated into Anglican and non-Anglican. The corpses were also segregated as it was odious for a person in 1st class to imagine their dead relative/friend/spouse/child/etc being transported in the same car as a 3rd class corpse, and just as bad to imagine a non-Anglican reposed next to an Anglican.

The train service started to fall into disuse with the invention of the motorized hearse, but the final death knell came (as you might have guessed by the dates above) when a german bomb destroyed the tracks.

Anyway, if you find this as fascinating as I do, you might want to take a peep at Last Train Home: The London Necropolis Railway : This site has almost more info than you would ever need and also a lovely little side article on the difference in services that each class received while on the train and upon arrival at the cemetary.  

And also, take a peep Leftovers / The London Necropolis Railway:  it has a lot less information, but does have a scan of a coffin ticket, which is about as amusingly morbid as you can get. 

Enjoy!

10 comments

Petharic's picture
Reply by Petharic | Mon, 13 February - 11:34 am SLT

Live fast, die young and leave beautiful, first class corpses.

Mr Tenk's picture
Reply by Mr Tenk | Mon, 13 February - 11:38 am SLT

in triplicate.

Tepic Harlequin's picture
Reply by Tepic Harlequin | Mon, 13 February - 1:55 pm SLT

It is an interesting history, recently saw Michael Portillo visiting the station and cemetery during his TV train travels in the UK using Bradshaws Guide. Very good TV, educational and interesting.

The Undertaker's picture
Reply by The Undertaker | Mon, 13 February - 2:27 pm SLT

...the final death knell...

*chuckles and goes back to looking up the timetables for such a train*

Edward Pearse's picture
Reply by Edward Pearse | Mon, 13 February - 5:39 pm SLT

I had heard of it before but most recently I encountered it via Charles Stross's The Fuller Memorandum. For those who haven't read any, The Fuller Memorandum is third book in Stross's "Laundry" series. It's sort of Ian Flemming meets H. P. Lovecraft. I really enjoy them.

A large part of The Fuller Memorandum revolves around the supernatural properties of the Necropolis Railway. All that intense emotional energy leaking out over the same route for 100 years...

Queer Hermit's picture
Reply by Queer Hermit | Mon, 13 February - 8:34 pm SLT

How quant! Thank you very much for the interesting material.  The next time Father sends me to England I shall certainly stop over for a look for educational purposes.

Clara Corryong's picture
Reply by Clara Corryong | Thu, 16 February - 4:59 am SLT

It was hardly unique. there were two other cities that bared host to a necropolis railway however as they were both government railways they could both be classified as branch lines..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring_Vale_Cemetery_railway_line

The Springvale Cemetary Line  in my very own Melbourne (I have yet to do any rail archeology on the line myself I wonder what's left?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rookwood_Cemetery_railway_line

the Rookwood Cemetery Railway line in Sydney. One of teh gothic railway stations on this line remains http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regent_Street_railway_station however I know little of New South Wales's rail network.

Edward Pearse's picture
Reply by Edward Pearse | Thu, 16 February - 5:35 am SLT

Pretty much Sweet FA is left of the Melbourne one. A couple of bits of track near Sandown Racecourse are about it. There's a memorial stone in the Necropolis to mark the location of the old station but that's all they have.

Clara Corryong's picture
Reply by Clara Corryong | Thu, 16 February - 5:40 am SLT

So a waste of time then? Darn. I was hoping for something interesting like the old wheat railway from ballart to horsham (still active but a few stations are closed and interesting to explore) or the remains of the railway out past Bairnsdale. (lot of rotting viaducts)

Clara Corryong's picture
Reply by Clara Corryong | Thu, 16 February - 5:46 am SLT

Also pretty much any rail trail is good although ah perfer the City Circle line one because it's entertaning and not too far. Pretty much any time I travel anywhere I keep my eyes open for railway lines. It's in my blood I don t know why but we've been train mad and railwaymen for 3 generations (My father and grandfather were in the Herold Sun apparently) unfortunatly the best I can do is an occasional bit of volunteering.... darn Metlink with their overly high standards....