A Brief History of the London Necropolis Railway

london-necropolis-railway (Image: Unknown author, public domain)

The London Necropolis Railway was the city’s connection to what was allegedly once the largest necropolis in the world and London’s very own ‘City of the Dead‘. Created by the London Necropolis Railway and Mausoleum Company in 1854, the LNR took corpses, funeral parties and exhumed remains across 20 miles of pleasant countryside to the quiet Brookwood Cemetery (the London Necropolis) in Surrey.

london-necropolis-railway-station (Images: Davidmpye, cc-sa-3.0; John M. Clarke)

Necropolises contain tombs as well as traditional graves and can be found outside ancient cities worldwide. This modern necropolis was designed (as the LNRMC’s Latin motto states) to ensure ‘a healthy life and a peaceful death’ for Londoners, at a time when local burial grounds were overcrowded and rife with disease. Despite not being as popular as predicted, by the time the London funeral train ceased proper operation in the 1940s, it had transported over 200,000 corpses.

london-necropolis-railway-map (Image: iridescent, GNU licence)

Most of the LNR route ran along the South Western Main Line, which was managed by the London and South Western Railway. Its original London station was at Waterloo Bridge but this was demolished when the LNR relocated to the other side of Westminster Bridge Road in 1902 to allow for the expansion of regular LSWR commuter services at Waterloo. Much of this second station was destroyed during air raids in 1941 but the grand first class entrance and offices still remain today in the form of Westminster Bridge House.

london-necropolis-railway-westminster-bridge-road (Image: US Federal Government, public domain)

Two temporary stations were constructed at the cemetery end of the line. The ‘South Station’ was used for Anglican burials while the ‘North Station’ catered for other religions. Neither of these stations exist today but both became refreshment kiosks in the 1940s. In 1864, 10 years later than expected, the LSWR opened Brookwood ‘Necropolis’ Station – coinciding with plans for the construction of Brookwood Hospital, a new lunatic asylum.

london-necropolis-cemetery-station (Images: John M. Clarke via Wikipedia)

A funeral train was a new concept and its speed and clamour were not widely considered ideal for ceremonial transportation. Passengers were segregated using different carriages which corresponded to social class. The various ticket fares included three different one-way prices for corpses. The LNR would typically only run one return-service a day, and that was only if there was a first class funeral or more than one second or third class funeral waiting to travel from London in the morning.

london-necropolis-brookwood-cemetery (Images: Ron Strutt, cc-sa-3.0)

As the LNR fares were kept fixed for decades, some passengers pretended to be mourners in order to access what became relatively cheap transport. Unfortunately, the destruction of LNR’s London station in 1941 led to the death of the funeral train. Although some funeral train services limped on in one form or another for a few more years, the LNR was never reinstated.

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