The Rolling English Road…to Kensal Green

Kensal Green Cemetery was the first of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ garden-style cemeteries to be developed in London. Kensal Green consists of a 72-acre cemetery in the west of London, which was consecrated by the Bishop of London, on 24th  January, 1833.  Originally known as the General Cemetery of All Souls, founded by barrister, George Frederick Carden; its grounds were inspired by Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. This distinctive cemetery has a host of different memorials ranging from large mausolea housing the rich and famous to many distinctive smaller graves; as well as including special areas dedicated to the very young.

kensall greenThe landscaping transformed the Cemetery into a form of memorial garden and an attractive location for the tombs of the rich and famous. The burial of Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843) and his sister HRH The Princess Sophia (1777-1848) established Kensal Green as a society burial ground. Some famous inhabitants include: Gaetano Stefano Bartolozzi (1757-1821); William Powell Frith (1819-1909); Daniel Maclise (1806-1870); John William Waterhouse (1849-1917); John Aldred Twining (1770-1857) and Richard Twining (1772-1857); Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) and Sir Marc Isambard Brunel (1769-1849); William Wilkie Collins (1824-1889); William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) and Anthony Trollope (1815-1882).

Still in operation today, the historic and Grade II listed Kensal Green sits on a 55 acre site within the Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, where it received its first funeral in January, 1833. Many would regard it as the most distinguished of London’s cemeteries, due to its age and surviving architectural and historical interest from the Victorian period. It was the first commercial cemetery in London. The winning design for the landscaped layout for monuments was won by Henry Edward Kendall (1776-1875) for his designs for buildings in the Gothic style which can be seen in his perspective drawings in the RIBA Architectural Library. However, the Chairman of the General Cemetery Company preferred a neo-classical design of building and persuaded the Surveyor to the Company, John Griffith to draw up new designs in the Greek Revival Style. It was Griffiths’s design which were eventually built. The Cemetery was divided into the consecrated Anglican section and an unconsecrated one for Dissenters. The chapel in the neo-classical style used the Doric order for the Anglicans and the Ionic for the non-conformists.

For literary lovers: Kensal Green was immortalized in the lines of G. K. Chesterton’s poem “The Rolling English Road ” from his book “The Flying Inn” .

“For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen; 
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.

The cemetery is the burial site of approximately 250,000 individuals in 65,000 graves, including upwards of 500 members of the British nobility and 550 people listed in the Dictionary of National Biography. Many monuments, particularly the larger ones, lean precariously as they have settled over time on the underlying London clay.

For further examples of cemetery and monumental art see my “Dark Art” page.

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