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/