Brookwood Cemetery

WHAT better way to erase the memories of Christmas shopping on Oxford Street, excess food and drink and the trauma of visiting the entire family over the course of just three days? A walk around The Pool of Serenity, that’s what.

The Glades of Remembrance, Brookwood Cemetery

Described as Surrey’s ‘best kept secret’, and built by the Victorians with the intention of containing all of London’s dead, Brookwood Cemetery boasts its own railway station and was once the largest in the World. Opened in 1854 by the London Necropolis and Mausoleum Company (the company which built the famed Highgate Cemetery which houses the graves of philosopher Karl Marx, author George Eliot and poet Christina Rossetti to name but a few), Brookwood cemetery is now approaching its 160th anniversary.

A bright but cold afternoon provided the perfect chance to take a look, and any gloomy thoughts of the cemetery were soon displaced by the towering pines and glinting lake, with a busy woodpecker occasionally chipping in to make up the idyllic scene.

Containing “great and good, the famous and infamous, slaves and sultans with stories to tell”*, it’s a truly multi faith burial ground with graves from Muslim to Zoroastrian, Catholic to Anglican. Famous graves include: King Edward the Martyr who held short reign over England 10 centuries ago; leading American portrait artist John Singer Sargent; English author and journalist Dame Rebecca West; wife of the Captain of the Titanic Sarah Eleanor Smith and the infamous Edith Thompson, who although cleared of murder, was hanged for adultery in 1923. Thankfully times have changed.

The whole site is very peaceful, verging on eerily silent. Finding The Glades of Remembrance and Pool of Serenity close to the grounds offices was a little like walking into a magical fairy-tale world – a pool, a stream, trees and winding paths disappearing off into the distance. I made a mental note to explore those on future rambles once the evenings get a little lighter later in the year. A slightly surreal caged plastic heron standing guard to the pool added to the sense of unreality. (Although fake, animal lovers will be pleased to know he had inexplicably been provided with a bowl of water within easy reach.)

Roaring log fire and glass of red at The White Hart, Pirbright

A word of warning to the cemetery visitor– wear your walking boots or wellies, as it can get muddy underfoot. In the few hours I was visiting I was asked twice for directions – in a 500 acre site, it’s essential to check your destination before you leave. Also no dogs are allowed on the grounds (even on leads), and shooting is expressly forbidden (although why one would take a gun to such a serene and solemn place is rather beyond me).

There are several Grade II Listed Monuments amongst the graves, as well as the Brookwood Memorial in the Military section to commemorate servicemen and women who died in the Second World War. There’s also a small Orthodox monastic community that maintains the shrine and church dedicated to St Edward the Martyr, King of England, whose relics have been associated with miraculous healing powers. Well worth a visit, regardless of your religious beliefs.

As the evening began to close in and site closing time approached, I cut through Saint Barnabus Drive, and took a 15 minute walk down the Oak lined Cemetery Pales which bisects the grounds, straight into Pirbright, where the village pub offered a roaring fire, hearty food and drink to warm me up before heading home, de-stressed (not a ghost story in mind) and looking forward to another visit in the not too distant future.

Brookwood Cemetery Winter Opening Hours:

8am to 5pm – Last Entry 4:45 pm (Oct – March)

Access via the subway at Brookwood Station is available

*London’s Necropolis, a Guide to Brookwood Cemetery, 2004, John M. Clarke.


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