Brookwood & Beyond

Once the largest cemetery in the world and now the largest in Western Europe, this super-cemetery has held over 250,000 burials since it opened in 1854.

Three different types of burial were available;

A first class funeral allowed the buyer to select their plot anywhere within the cemetery along with the erection of a permanent memorial of some type.

A second class funeral allowed some control over the buyer’s choice of location and if a permanent memorial (at an extra cost) was not erected, the LNC (London Necopolis Company) reserved the right to reuse the burial space in future.

The third class was reserved for pauper funerals and those buried at the expense of their parish (according to their section of the cemetery), there were no rights available to erect a permanent memorial unless the family upgraded, which was rarely carried out.

During the massive London civil engineering projects of the mid-19th century, many graves that were unearthed were relocated to Brookwood along with some of the existing headstones, many other graves were left unmarked.  Mass graves were not permitted, however there has been an exception to this that I knew about before visiting the site and one which I wanted to specifically visit.

On 9 January 1923, Edith Thompson was executed for adultery after her lover murdered her husband.  Her body had originally been buried in an unmarked grave in the grounds of Holloway Prison but was moved in 1971 (along with the remains of three other women also executed at Holloway between 1903 and 1954) due to the rebuilding of the prison.  Their grave (plot 117) was left unmarked until it was acquired in the 1980s by René Weis and Audrey Russell (who had spent time during the 1970s interviewing Edith Thompson’s only surviving sister, Avis Graydon).  On 13 November 1993, the grave was finally marked with a grey granite headstone, mainly dedicated to Thompson and the injustice of her death, with the three other women’s names also buried there marked around the edges.

It should be noted that Avis Graydon was not notified by the Home Office’s representatives of the move of her dead sister’s remains and that she had the right to take control of the funeral arrangements.

I was curious about the amount of lives that have been and gone, permanently forgotten by those who follow unless some kind of intervention occurs as did with Edith Thompson.  Continuing my walk around the cemetery, I was struck by the amount of memorials placed there immortalising the names of those lost in disasters who were not actually buried in situ

This notion of ‘in memorandum’ is a thought-provoking one.  How do we mark people, places and things…does it need to be at a particular space; physically containing the individual or memory itself, or is it something that can be transported much as memories are…notions placed within an object that can be held or experienced elsewhere rather than remaining static…using what is to hand and in the process giving that object itself a new direction of meaning?


All images ©Kate Grimes

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