Woking Borough Council has approved plans that will support the ongoing conservation of Brookwood Cemetery and encourage visitors to explore this globally significant heritage site.
The Masterplan and Experience Plan approved at Full Council (30 July 2020) set out a number of broad policies by which the site will be managed and developed in the future. They support a vision of a sustainable working cemetery leading the way in heritage conservation which other sites will look to.
The plans focus on enhancing the cemetery’s unique characteristics such as the route of the railway line that serviced the cemetery up until its London terminus was bombed during the Blitz; the substantial collection of Giant Redwoods thought to be the earliest and grandest in the country; and the cemetery’s historic and high quality Victorian monuments, many of which are Grade 2 and 2* listed.
New visitor facilities including a café, walking trail, education centre and the provocatively titled, ‘Museum of Death’ are among the plans to attract new audiences and promote greater appreciation of this largely hidden public asset.
Ensuring the experience of visiting Brookwood remains that of visiting a cemetery, new information points and zoning will make the site’s historical and ecological landscapes easier to navigate and explore.
Cllr Graham Cundy, Woking Borough Council’s Lead Member for Brookwood Cemetery, said: “We now have a set of plans that will help us take the cemetery forward over the next ten to twenty years.
“First and foremost, the cemetery’s main function is, and always will be, to provide a dignified and respectful resting place for Woking’s deceased, of all faiths and none. As stated in the Masterplan, all future development must sustain and support this objective.
“The Experience Plan is a much about inspiring residents to explore and appreciate this Grade I listed park and garden, as it is about attracting new audiences from further afield. An expanded programme of events, tours, exhibitions and workshops will bring to life the themes and cultural wonders within the cemetery, while highlighting the different aspects that make Brookwood a heritage site with immense local, national and global significance.”
Brookwood Cemetery was founded mid-nineteenth century after a cholera epidemic (1848-49) exacerbated the problem of overcrowding across London’s cemeteries. Built by the London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company (LNNMC) on 2,268 acres of heathland purchased from Lord Onslow, Brookwood was reputed to be the largest cemetery in Europe and the pinnacle of Victorian garden cemetery design.
Cllr Ayesha Azad, Woking Borough Council’s Portfolio Holder for Asset Management, said: “The Council acquired Brookwood Cemetery for the people of Woking. Over time the site has become dissected and lost from public view both physically and metaphorically. We intend to change that and detailed within the plans is a cemetery that is seen as community asset, which supports both physical and emotional wellbeing and provides opportunities for learning and shared cultural experiences.
“I’m extremely grateful to all those who have fed into these plans, including the groups currently represented within the cemetery, who have helped us to explore how we can develop and support the cemetery without compromising its character or respect for the deceased.”
As well as being aesthetically pleasing, Brookwood Cemetery was also at the forefront of burial reform, attempting to accommodate both pauper burials and the needs of the more well-to-do middle and upper class ‘customers’. Careful zoning and a tiered offer went some way to achieving this and patrons (dead and alive), could travel on the London Necropolis Railway in 1st, 2nd or 3rd class depending on their means.
Brookwood Cemetery Manager, Avril Kirby, said: “Many of the issues faced in the mid-nineteenth century, to a greater or lesser extent, still exist. Funeral poverty, population growth, excess deaths and growing concern for the environment are all issues which continue to challenge the funerary industry today.
“It’s exciting to think that by delving into Brookwood’s historical record, and bringing important topics like these into the public consciousness, the cemetery might once again lead the way and change how things are done in the future.”
Reaffirming its heritage ties with London, a new burial site is being prepared at Brookwood Cemetery for those individuals archaeologically excavated and exhumed from St James’s Gardens in Euston as part of the enabling works for the new High Speed 2 (HS2) Ltd station.