An Introduction to the City of London Cemetery
For a list of the plants that have been found in the cemetery - click here
For more details about the plants of the cemetery - click here
For a list of other wildlife that have been recorded in the cemetery - click here
For a map showing the recording grid - click here
Some views and other aspects of the cemetery are available here
The City of London Cemetery lies in the south of Epping Forest, adjacent to Wanstead Flats to the south-west, the Old Sewage Works Site and Wanstead Park just to the north, the Aldersbrook housing estate to the west and partially to the north, and the River Roding and the Alders Brook to the east. The cemetery is situated within the London Borough of Newham, but immediately outside of part of its boundary fence is the London Borough of Redbridge.
The cemetery is managed by the City of London Corporation, the land purchased by the Commissioners of Sewers of the City of London in 1854 when they bought 200 acres of farmland at Aldersbrook belonging to Lord Wellesley (Sir James Tylney Long) at a cost of £30,721. (For more information on the Aldersbrook Farm and Aldersbrook Manor, click here)
A burial ground was required by the Corporation because of a lack of such space in the City of London itself. The first burial took place in 1856, though the cemetery was consecrated somewhat belatedly in 1857. It was incidentally but most importantly the fact that the Corporation owned this land that enabled them to play such a historic role in the creation of Epping Forest as we now know it. In 1871 the Corporation took up legal proceedings to maintain their right of pasturage (as owners of land adjacent to the Forest) - as the forest was in danger of becoming enclosed. After legal proceedings lasting several years and the City of London having purchased the Forest from 19 manor owners for a little over a quarter of a million pounds, the Epping Forest Act of 1878 was passed and Queen Victoria gave up her hunting rights. This resulted in the forest being available for use by the public.
This is the largest cemetery in London, and in recent years the authorities have tried to encourage visitors to the grounds other than for the more obvious reasons. There are some 250,000 visitors a year, and many of these will appreciate and wander through avenues of trees, appreciate the Rhododendrons in June and gaze at the ancient headstones. There are few famous people buried here - Winston Churchill's nanny, the first two victims of Jack the Ripper, Joseph Merrick - who was known, unfortunately, as The Elephant Man - and the footballer Bobby Moore are perhaps the most notable - but the cemetery has the widest variety of trees in the area outside of Epping Forest, and a variety of wildlife - birds, plants and animals. Even geologists are catered for in the variety of material used for headstones and statues. The authorities were at one time proposing a £600,000 visitor centre and exhibition hall, but this has not come to pass. However, a cafeteria called 'The Gatehouse Pantry', situated behind the gate-house and office buildings and with an outside seating area, was opened and proved a very popular venue for some years. In 2016 this was closed, refurbished and reopened in early 2017 as 'The Poppy Pantry', and was again closed in 2020, refurbished and then reopened in 2021 with the Royal Voluntary Service running the cafe. Unfortunately, this too closed in March 2023. Cafes are perhaps unusual in cemeteries, but this is a quiet and pleasant retreat. More on other aspects of the cemetery, apart from wildlife, are available here
The south-east boundary from the cemetery's main gate is separated only by a low wall and railing fence from part of Wanstead Flats, and where the Flats finish at a corner by a railway bridge a footpath, known as the Bridle Path, separates the cemetery's south eastern edge from the railway. At the eastern end, the path widens and drops down towards the Alders Brook and then turns the corner in a north-westerly direction to continue by the edge of the cemetery fence. A narrow strip of unused land - known locally as the Butts - separates the path from the brook and the wild-flowers here were once a beautiful and most surprising spectacle for the border of Newham and Redbridge. This aspect has now been all-but lost after the cycle/footpath known as the Roding Valley Way cut through the meadow. Now it is mostly brambled over, and is very prone to rubbish-tipping. Beyond the brook is a golf course; not so interesting for plants, but open land nevertheless. In a few hundred yards the path passes between the cemetery and the Bridle Path allotments, and beyond these is more unused land by the River Roding, with the golf course on the eastern bank. Some hundreds of yards farther on the path separates the cemetery from the site of the old Redbridge (Southern) Sewage Treatment Works, which is now part of Epping Forest and known as 'The Exchange Land'. At the north-eastern corner of the cemetery the path turns left, and again serves to separate the cemetery from the sewage works site, the Empress Avenue allotments and eventually the Aldersbrook housing estate, where the path finishes. The rest of the north-west and south west boundary back to the main gate is bordered by the gardens of houses in Empress Avenue and Wanstead Park Avenue.
Excavations took place in 1972-3 in a small area to the north and east of the catacombs. The catacombs are located in what would have been the eastern embankment of the Great Pond, an attraction of Aldersbrook Manor. The strata was found to consist here of heavy gravels and London clay.
The cemetery itself has been said to be one of the finest examples of a Victorian Cemetery in the country (Guy Vaes, Belgium, 1978: Cemeteries of London (an album with photographs by the author). The grounds are maintained to a high standard, and there is an air of tidiness and formality about much of the cemetery. An almost constant process of lawn cutting and strimming takes place so that rank grassland was virtually absent, and even long grass comparatively rare. Indeed from a botanical point of view perhaps too much grass cutting was done, so that species that might otherwise thrive did not get a chance. An example of this is the scarcity of harebell Campanula rotundifolia, which was present in large amounts a few years ago when there was a greater interval between the times when lawns were cut. However in more recent years some areas have been left for a little longer between cuts, so in an ecological sense, this is perhaps beneficial.
Cemeteries of London, Guy Vaes, Belgium, 1978
CITY OF LONDON CEMETERY AND CREMATORIUM CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT PLAN, 1 DECEMBER 2004
The City of London Cemetery and Crematorium HERITAGE BROCHURE Edition 2 August 2004
The Cemetery in a Garden - 150 Years of the City of London Cemetery. By David Lambert. City of London 2006
The City of London Cemetery and Crematorium - update on some of the issues referred to in the above article.
The Corporation of London's Public Relations Office produced a publication - City of London Cemetery and Crematorium Tree Trails which featured almost 70 varieties of tree to be seen on two tree walks. It was available free of charge at the Main Gate, but unfortunately it is no longer available.
A survey of the trees in the cemetery was undertaken by the cemetery authorities, the species recorded and the specimen trees tagged with a number. 3622 trees were identified and mapped, notes being made of their state of health and any remedial work that needed to be undertaken, and about 92 species are known to be present.
A policy of allowing some areas to remain in a state to allow for seasonal wildlife to be enhanced has been instigated - these are called Seasonal Wildlife Zones.
The Birches Nature Reserve opened for visits by the public in 2006. At the Cemetery Open Day on Sunday 13th August, a walk was led around the Nature Reserve by myself (Paul Ferris). About 15 people attended, and although weather conditions weren't conducive to much wildlife activity, the visit seemed favourably received. Future tours may be planned. For more details about the Birches Nature Reserve click here
For photographs of some of the wildlife to be found in the cemetery click here