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Thread: Catacombs, West Norwood Cemetery, April 2010

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    Default Catacombs, West Norwood Cemetery, April 2010


    Warning - this one may not be for people of a nervous disposition or those with strong beliefs about Christian Burial. You have been warned!

    When I put some photos up last year of West Norwood, I said that I thought that it was probably the 3rd most interesting cemetery in London after Highgate and Kensal Rise. I stand by that, though at the time I didn't think that it could really get up there unless you could see the catacombs, which at that point were firmly inaccessible. Anyway, time moved on, and an opportunity came up that couldn't be missed - namely a chance to get down under the ground.

    West Norwood is one of what have come to be known as "The Magnificent Seven" (Abney, Nunhead, Kensal Rise, Highgate, Brompton and Tower Hamlets being the others) - the metropolitan cemeteries built in Greater London during the Victorian era when churchyards became too full of graves to accommodate either the bodies or the increasingly ornate architecture.

    To my knowledge, all of the magnificent seven either have or had catacombs - underground burial chambers for the extremely wealthy. West Norwood originally had two sets, one under its Anglican Chapel and one under its Dissenters (Non-Conformist) Chapel. Each was laid out as a set of bays arranged along a number of aisles, all meeting in a central chamber occupied by a hydraulic coffin lift (or catafalque) . This was used to lower coffins from the chapel above into the catacombs below.

    The original Anglican chapel was pretty much destroyed by a V1 during WWII, but the catacombs have remained. No coffins have been interred there since the 1930's and many have been moved at the requests of families, but some remain, untouched and unclaimed.

    This is the central chamber with the coffin lift in it.



    These are the aisles running off the central chamber





    The individual vaults frequently had tremendously detailed stone or ironwork on the front of them to let you know who was interred there. A lot of this is seriously rusted and decaying but there is still some interesting stuff here.





    On the Western side of the Catacombs there are still a lot of coffins just stacked in bays. Here the ironwork was either removed or has just collapsed completely. The coffins are lead lined - just as well, as some of the residents died of smallpox!






    There are also a lot of bays that are just empty (either unsold or the remains have been removed). These are now full of all sorts of things from all over the cemetery, but they all still have their numbers on them, so that the relatives of the deceased could find them:







    We thought this last one might have been part of the coffin lift machinery at one time


    A really fascinating trip. Not for everyone, admittedly, but a real insight into how the Victorians treated their dead.
    For those that are interested you can see more photos at http://s336.photobucket.com/albums/n...est%20Norwood/

    Cheers
    GDZ
    "You never planned on the bombs in the sand/Or sleeping in your dress blues."

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  3. #2
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    Brilliant. I'd love to visit a place like that.

    M
    Beware the weird woman of Welbeck!

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    Thanks given by: godzilla73

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    Amazing stuff. I didn't realise there were still remains like that...no pun intended, honest!
    Very interesting explore.
    "...If we lose our spiritual bond with the land they'll be nothing left of us as a nation..." Phil Rickman.

    I can't read and I can't write, but that don't really matter,
    I come from the west country and I can drive a tractor.


    Website Story

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    Now THAT is seriously good.

    Great report and good write up.
    Silence is golden but duck tape is silver.

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    Absolutely amazed that even in the catacombs, they still bothered with gravestones.

    By the way, nothing unChristian about the practice. Once your gone, it doesn't matter what you do with the remains. Burial is for the living, if you catch my drift.
    Do it safely, or not at all.

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    Thanks given by: godzilla73

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    Like you say, not for everyone but a really cool place to visit. I am surpiesed at the lack of vandalism. Are they lit or is it a opticl illuson? are they still available or are they deemed full? so many questons....edit: just reread it and see they are unused sinc 1930's
    The sound of children laughing makes me happy.

    Unless I'm all alone in an abandoned hospital and my torch isn't working properly.

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    Jaw-dropping, it's good to see photos from here again.

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    Thanks given by: godzilla73

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    Did the coffins go down there never to be seen again or would the families be allowed to visit?
    Full of underground surprises

    My Flickr

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    Thanks given by: godzilla73

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    Thanks for your comments guys. There is some lighting down there which has been recently installed by the friends of the cemetery, Faing, though it is pretty dark in places. Families would be allowed down there to visit (RichardB, Seahorse) hence the name plates and stones. I know what you mean now about burial being for the living Seahorse - its clear from West Norwood that for Victorians a lot of it was about showing off!
    GDZ
    "You never planned on the bombs in the sand/Or sleeping in your dress blues."

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    Rather than start a complete new thread, i'd like to tag a few extra pics on the end of Godzilla's report.

    We were supposed to spend an hour underground on yesterdays visit but it ended up only being about 40 mins so didn't spend as long as we wanted down here. It truly was a bizarre feeling being so close to people who died 100-200 years ago...!!!

    I'd also like to make one slight correction to Godzilla's report re no one being interred since the 1930's. I found one coffin down there that had a date of death on it(on a brass plaque) from 1985. There was also a wreath on it from a relative dated 1987. I reckon they must have been related to other burials in there.

    The hydraulic catafalque


    19 coffins


    3 of a kind


    Decaying coffins
    All my pics are now here Flickr

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