Brompton Cemetery is a London cemetery in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, managed by The Royal Parks. It is one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries. Established by Act of Parliament and laid out in 1839, it opened in 1840, originally as the West of London and Westminster Cemetery. Consecrated by Charles James Blomfield, Bishop of London in June 1840, it is one of Britain's oldest and most distinguished garden cemeteries. Some 35,000 monuments, from simple headstones to substantial mausolea, mark more than 205,000 resting places. The site includes large plots for family mausolea, and common graves where coffins are piled deep into the earth. It also has a small columbarium, and a secluded Garden of Remembrance at the northern end for cremated remains. It is also known as an urban haven for nature. It was awarded a National Lottery grant to carry out essential restoration and develop a visitor centre, among other improvements.
It is the only cemetery in the country to be owned by the Crown.
By the early years of the 19th century, inner city burial grounds, mostly churchyards, had long been unable to cope with the number of burials and were seen as a hazard to health and an undignified way to treat the dead. In 1837 a decision was made to lay out a new burial ground in Brompton, London. The moving spirit behind the project was the engineer, Stephen Geary, and it was necessary to form a company in order to get parliamentary permission to raise capital for the purpose. Securing the land – some 40 acres – from local landowner, Lord Kensington and the Equitable Gas Light Company, as well as raising the money proved an extended challenge. The cemetery became one of seven large, new cemeteries founded by private companies in the mid-19th century (sometimes called the 'Magnificent Seven') forming a ring around the edge of London.
The site, previously market gardens, having been bought with the intervention of John Gunter of Fulham, was 39 acres (160,000 m2) in area. Brompton Cemetery was eventually designed by architect, Benjamin Baud with at its centre a modest domed chapel dated 1839, in the style of the basilica of St. Peter's in Rome at it southern end, reached by long colonnades, and flanked by catacombs. It was intended to give the feel of a large open air cathedral. It is rectangular in shape with the north end pointing to the northwest and the south end to the southeast. It has a central "nave" which runs from Old Brompton Road towards the central colonnade and chapel.
Below the colonnades are catacombs which were originally conceived as a cheaper alternative burial to having a plot in the grounds of the cemetery. Unfortunately, the catacombs were not a success and only about 500 of the many thousands of places in them were sold. The Metropolitan Interments Act 1850 gave the government powers to purchase commercial cemeteries. The shareholders of the cemetery company were relieved to be able to sell their shares as the cost of building the cemetery had overrun and they had seen little return on their investment and there were few burials at first.
Brompton was closed to burials between 1952 and 1966, except for family interments, but is once again a working cemetery, with plots for interments and a 'Garden of Remembrance' for the deposit of cremated remains. Many nationalities and faiths from across the world are represented in the Cemetery.
From 1854 to 1939, Brompton Cemetery became the London District's Military Cemetery. The Royal Hospital Chelsea purchased a plot in the north west corner where they have a monument in the form of an obelisk; the Brigade of the Guards has its own section south of that. There are 289 Commonwealth service personnel of World War I and 79 of World War II, whose graves are registered and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. A number of veterans are listed in the Notable Interments. Although the majority of war graves are in the dedicated railed section to the west – also containing 19th century services graves – a number of servicemen's graves are scattered in other areas. Besides the British there are many notable Czechoslovak, Polish and Russian military burials.
In the late 1880s when the nearby Earl's Court Exhibition Grounds played host to the American Show with Buffalo Bill, a number of First Nations American performers in the show, died while on tour in Britain. The Sioux chief, Long Wolf, a veteran of the Oglala Sioux wars was buried here on 13 June 1892 having died age 59 of bronchial pneumonia. He shared the grave with a 17-month-old Sioux girl named White Star believed to have fallen from her mother's arms while on horseback. 105 years later a British woman named Elizabeth Knight traced his family and campaigned with them to have his remains returned to the land of his birth. In 1997, Chief Long Wolf was finally moved to a new plot in the Wolf Creek Cemetery (ancestral burial ground of the Oglala Sioux tribe) at Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
His great grandson John Black Feather said "Back then, they had burials at sea, they did ask his wife if she wanted to take him home and she figured that as soon as they hit the water they would throw him overboard, so that's why they left him here."
There was a Brulé Sioux tribesman buried in Brompton named Paul Eagle Star. His plot was in the same section as Oglala Sioux warrior Surrounded By the Enemy who died in 1887 from a lung infection at age 22. Like Long Wolf, he took part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Paul died a few days after breaking his ankle when he fell off a horse in August 1891. His casket was exhumed in spring of 1999 by his grandchildren, Moses and Lucy Eagle Star. The reburial took place in Rosebud's Lakota cemetery. Philip James accompanied the repatriation.
Little Chief and Good Robe's eighteen-month-old son, Red Penny who travelled in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show is also buried here. The resting places of both Surrounded and Red Penny remain a mystery.
General Michał Karaszewicz-Tokarzewski – founder of a Polish resistance unit in WWII and war hero, who died in Casablanca on 22 May 1964. The urn containing his ashes was reburied at Powazki in September 1992.
Major General Felicjan Sławoj Składkowski – prime minister of Poland before outbreak of WWII, who died in London in August 1962, was reburied at Powazki on 8 June 1990.
The richness of the art and symbolism contained in many graves traces art movements across two centuries. Aside from the stonemason's and sculptor's craft, there is a vast array of lettering, decorative ironwork (sadly in a very corroded state) and ceramics. Some graves and mausolea are the work of noted artists and architects.
Flora and fauna
Although never envisaged as a park, JC Loudon devised the original planting scheme that was not fully realised. There are over 60 species of trees, of which the limes are dated to 1838. The fact of the enclosure of the cemetery by a wall, has preserved almost intact, a distinct area of Victorian country flora. Each season brings its features, like snow-drops and bluebells or wild lupin, broad-leaf pea and ferns. There are small scale wooded areas and meadows. Since the land was used for market gardens, there are wild cabbages, asparagus and garlic among the slabs. In Autumn, there can be a display of fungi, a mycologist's trove. The evergreens and ivy are a haven for birds and countless insects. Over 200 species of moth and butterfly have been identified in the cemetery. Mammals are represented by bats, a range of rodents, including grey squirrels and several families of foxes. Among the birds, there are many garden species with the addition of green woodpeckers and occasionally, kestrels. The macaws are only visitors.
The cemetery is open daily to the public throughout the year, with opening times varying with the seasons. It is regularly visited by the Parks Police Service to monitor and curb occurrences of anti-social behaviour.
Dog walking and cycling, under strict control, is permitted on indicated paths. Through traffic is forbidden and there is no parking. Any visiting vehicles must observe a 5 mph limit. The Bye laws are displayed on boards at both entrances.
The Friends of Brompton Cemetery organise Open Days, regular tours and other public attractions.
It was originally planned that Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame would also be buried there with his family, until Queen Victoria insisted on his interment in St Paul's Cathedral.
Beatrix Potter, who lived in Old Brompton Road nearby and enjoyed walking around it, may have taken the names of some of her characters from tombstones in the cemetery. Names of people buried there included Mr. Nutkins, Mr. McGregor, Mr. Brock, Mr. Tod, Jeremiah Fisher and even a Peter Rabbett, although it is not known for certain if there were tombstones with these names.