Background Information on Kensal Green Cemetery
Located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Kensal Green Cemetery was first opened in 1833 and is special for not only being the first of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ to be built, but also because it was London’s first ever commercial cemetery. Although primarily a cemetery and crematorium, Kensal Green also holds two separate conservation areas in its grounds, which have consequently attracted thirty-three different species of bird as well as an array of wildlife, trees and plants.
Many have called Kensal Green Cemetery ‘The Belgravia of Death’ for its prestigious register of aristocrats, royalty, and endless notable figures, and it has also been noted by many as being the most remarkable of all seven cemeteries for its beautiful array of architectural styles, tombs and catacombs – all of which we will now explore in the top five things you cannot miss at Kensal Green Cemetery.
Top 5 must see sights at Kensal Green Cemetery
- The Catacombs–
Fascinatingly, Kensal Green Cemetery is home to three separate Catacombs systems which makes it unique amongst the other cemeteries of its kind. The first, Catacomb A, is located beneath the North Terrance Colonnade which is unfortunately now sealed off. The second, Catacomb Z is beneath the Dissenters’ Chapel and suffered significant bomb damage during the Second World War which means it too, is closed to further deposits. Lastly, located in the centre of the cemetery beneath the Anglican Chapel is Catacomb B, although this catacomb is currently not maintained by the cemetery staff, it can be visited as a part of a guided tour of the cemetery. The Chapel also has a working coffin-lift (catafalque) which was restored by The Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery in 1997.
- The Grave of Charles Blondin (1824-1897)-
Born in 1824 in St Omer, France, Charles Blondin was a famed tightrope walker and acrobat. Blondin toured the United States of American in 1885 and owed his fame to crossing the 1,100ft Niagara Falls Gorge on a tightrope in 1859. Blondin repeated this challenge several times, often including theatrical variations into the routine, such as being blindfolded, on stilts and even carrying a man (his manager Harry Colcord) on his back! In 1861 he appeared at the Crystal Palace in London, with a routine of somersaults on stilts again, on a tightrope and continued his routine throughout the UK. In 1897, Blondin sadly died of diabetes at the age of 72 and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery alongside his second wife, Charlotte Lawrence.
- West London Crematorium-
Like many other cemeteries, Kensal Green Cemetery is also home to the famous ‘West London Crematorium’ which was developed in the eastern part of the grounds in 1939. Similarly maintained by the General Cemetery company, the crematorium has played its part in a number of notable cremations which include Hollywood icon Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982), actor and director Alan Rickman (1946-2016) and lead singer of Queen Freddie Mercury (1946-1991) who is commemorated by a small plinth under his real name, Farrokh Bulsara.
- The Sarcophagus of Princess Sophia (1777-1848) –
Daughter of King George III (Mad King George) and Queen Charlotte, Princess Sophia was born in 1777 and led a relatively cloistered life due to her father’s possessiveness (as he preferred his daughters to his sons) and insanity and mother’s strictness. When her father died, Princess Sophia was allowed greater freedom under the Regency of her brother, the Prince of Wales, although she still could not escape the royal institution through marriage. Sophia fell deeply in love with Major-General Thomas Garth who was a British Army officer and chief equerry to her father King George III, and it was believed that during the winter of 1799 at Windsor Castle Sophia conceived his illegitimate son Thomas Garth junior (1800-1873). In her final years, Sophia resided in the household of Princess Victoria of Kent (the future Queen Victoria) where Victoria’s infamous comptroller, Sir John Convoy, who took advantage of her senility and blindness by bullying her into spying on both the Kensington household, as well her two brothers, all whilst he stole most of her inheritance. Sophia sadly died in 1848 at Kensington Palace and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery upon her wish to be near her brother, Prince Augustus Frederick who lies on the opposite side of the path.
- Dissenters’ Chapel and The Reformers Memorial-
Located in the E corner of the cemetery is the Greek revival ‘Dissenter Chapel’, which was built for all non-Anglican denominations/ non-believers. Since the cemetery was a favoured spot for nonconformists, free-thinkers and atheists etc, this chapel became the ‘it’ place for a number of them to be buried in, which was unique for the period. The chapel is currently being used as the office for the Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery, however it can also be used for secular and dissenting funeral services. Following on from the Dissenters’ Chapel is The Reformers’ Memorial which was erected in 1885 by Joseph Corfield, in memorial ‘to the memory of men and women who had generously given their time and means to improve the conditions and enlarge the happiness of all classes of society’. Comprised of 75 social reformers and activists, the memorial is a testimony to a plethora of incredible people who used their positions to try a shape Victorian society for the better. The Reformers’ Memorial is located in the non-conformist section of the cemetery, which was created to be a burial area for those who did not conform to the governance of usages of the established Church of England. As previously mentioned, many of those ‘non-conformists’ were radicals, atheists such as Elizabeth Fry, William Cobbett and Robert Owen.