The Horrifying London Necropolis Railway
At the time it was the largest and wealthiest city in the world, but London in the 1800’s was dirty, overcrowded and disease ridden. Millions lived in squalor and poverty, open sewers and cesspools were the norm and the city suffered repeated deadly cholera outbreaks.
Space was at a premium and nowhere more so the in the graveyards. Due to lack of space, existing graves were continually being dug up and the remains simply discarded to allow fresh bodies to be buried. It was not unusual to see stray dogs gnawing on human bones. You could even fashion a career as a bone collector, bagging them up and selling them to bone mills where they would be ground up for fertiliser.
Eventually something had to be done and the “London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company” (LNC) was established along with the “London Necropolis Railway”, or the Railway of the Dead. The whole purpose of this morbid endeavour was to transport the corpses of the dead and their mourners to a huge cemetery complex 23 miles outside London in Brookwood, Surrey.
The plan was not initially met with universal happiness. Many people disliked the idea of train loads of dead bodies being transported through central London. In particular the Bishop of London, Charles Blomfeld, was outraged at the idea of the bodies of decent members of society travelling in the same carriage as those from the lower orders.
The solution to this social conundrum was blindingly simple. As well as first, second and third class tickets for the mourners, corpses were assigned first, second or third class coffin tickets. Coffin tickets were one way only, not returns. The different classes were kept strictly apart from each-other. Third class mourners we not even permitted to watch their loved one’s coffin being loaded or unloaded, thus proving that in death, as in life we are not all equal.
The original London terminus of the Necropolis Railway was established at 188 Westminster Bridge Road beside Waterloo Bridge Station. This was close next to the River Thames to allow corpses to be cheaply transported to the station by water and the viaduct arches were ideal for storing bodies. The original terminus was demolished to allow for expansion but it’s replacement and the first class entrance can still be seen at 121 Westminster Bridge Road.
Over many years an increasing number of funeral parlours sprang up across London making up much more difficult to operate the funeral trains cost effectively. Business gradually died off and by the 1930, only a couple of funeral trains a week were going out. The end came in World War 2 during the Blitz. On the night of the 16th of April 1941 the London terminus suffered extensive damage during a bombing raid. It was decided that it was no longer cost effective to repair and the Necropolis Railway was formally a short while later.
The rather spooky London Necropolis Railway had survived for 87 years and transported the bodies of over 200,000 dead people to Brookwood Cemetery for burial. Brookwood Cemetery itself is still in operation and is currently the largest cemetery in western Europe.