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The London Necropolis Railway Funeral Train Carried the Dead Out of the City for 87 Years

For almost a century the London Necropolis Railway transported corpses out of the city on funeral trains to Brookwood Cemetery.
North station of the London Necropolis Railway in Brookwood Cemetery
Brookwood Cemetery North railway station, 1907

By the 1800s, London was running out of room for the dead. Overcrowded churchyard cemeteries were causing groundwater contamination and disease, motivating Parliament to pass a bill in 1832 to establish private cemeteries outside of the city. Seven new cemeteries, dubbed “The Magnificent Seven” by Hugh Meller in his book London Cemeteries: An Illustrated Guide and Gazetteer, sprang up between 1832 and 1841. Then, in 1852, the Burial Act gave the Secretary of State the power to regulate and close churchyards to new interments.

Another act the same year paved the way for the London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company to handle the crisis of graveyards closing within the city. The company acquired a massive swath of land and created Brookwood Cemetery. It was intended to be large enough to handle all of London’s future burials for at least the next 350 years, capable of accommodating nearly 6 million graves in a single layer. When it opened, it was the largest cemetery in the world.

At the time, slow and expensive horse-drawn hearses shuttled funeral parties out to the existing seven cemeteries. Brookwood, located 23 miles outside the city, would be different. The London Necropolis Railway was established to transport bodies and mourners efficiently and affordably. Fares were so cheap, in fact, that golfers were known to disguise themselves as mourners to hitch a ride on the funeral train for an inexpensive trip to the courses around Woking.

London Necropolis Railway station
The original London Necropolis Railway station at Waterloo Bridge

With tickets in hand for first, second, or third class funerals, mourners and corpses departed from a private station in Waterloo, London. The station was complete with private waiting rooms where funerals could be held, and a steam-powered lift to convey coffins to the platform level. They were whisked away by the London and South Western Railway down the company’s main line, and then onto a dedicated line into Brookwood.

Prior to the addition of the Brookwood Station and a run-around loop in 1864, there was no way to turn around on the cemetery branch of the railway. The locomotive would stop on the main line at Necropolis Junction, where the carriages were unhooked and pulled down the cemetery branch by two black horses. Meanwhile, the locomotive would be repositioned on the main track for the journey back to London.

There were two stations in the cemetery – the North station for nonconformists, the South station for Anglicans. Each station had two reception and refreshment rooms to separate the first class from the ordinary mourners, as well as apartments for staff. Great care was taken on the train carriages and hearse vans to keep families and remains of different class and religious background separated. According to London: City of the Dead by David Brandon and Alan Brooke, the Bishop of London Charles Blomfield “found the idea of cadavers from widely differing social classes all traveling in the same train from London quite offensive.”

Brookwood was consecrated on November 7, 1854. The first burials, stillborn twins of a Mr. and Mrs. Hore, according to author John M. Clarke in his book London’s Necropolis: A Guide to Brookwood Cemetery, took place on November 13. 64,000 were interred there in Brookwood in the first 20 years. The train ran once a day in those days, but Clarke notes that by the 1930s it was rarely more than twice a week. If there was only a single second or third class coffin for the day, the funeral would have to wait for the next service.

In 1902, the original Waterloo terminus was replaced by a larger, more attractive station on Westminster Bridge Road with its own mortuaries and private chapel. On the night of April 16, 1941, the station was bombed by a German air raid on one of the worst nights of the Blitz. Much of the building was damaged, and the tracks were completely destroyed. It was deemed not worthwhile to rebuild, so the London Necropolis Railway never ran again. What remained of the building was sold. The main entrance still stands today.

Emblem for the London Necropolis Railway

Dancing on the Dead at London’s Enon Chapel

In the mid-1800s, why were dances held at London’s Enon Chapel called “Dances of the Dead?” Here are the results of this week’s contest.
Victorian Golgotha

Week two of the October Instagram contest was a bit trickier than the previous week. The question was: In the mid-1800s, why were dances held at London’s Enon Chapel called “Dances of the Dead?”

Dancing with the Dead at Enon Chapel

Enon Chapel was run by Mr. W. Howse, a greedy Baptist minister who offered premium burials beneath the church for a mere 15 shillings – much cheaper than other options. To keep from running out of space, Howse chopped up the coffins and used them for firewood so he could fit more bodies in. As the corpses piled up in the basement and open sewer, the smell of decay began to creep up through the simple board floor. During the summer months, parishioners and sunday school children were plagued by corpse flies and other insects that feasted on the rotting human remains beneath.

When Howse died in 1844, over 12,000 bodies had been interred beneath the chapel. The new tenants covered the old wooden floor with a layer of brick and capitalized on the morbid curiosities of the time by offering “dancing on the dead.”

Read more about London’s Victorian Golgotha in an article by Carla Valentine right here.

For the contest, correct answers have to be submitted in the form of a photo or video post on Instagram. The more creative, the better. I narrowed down the entries to 4 finalists, then let the Cult community vote. The winner of this week’s memento mori Box of Weird is this multimedia piece called “Victorian Golgotha” by @mybrainchild:

Victorian Golgotha

Here are the grotesque and beautiful entries from the other three finalists:

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Here is my entry for this week's @cultofweird #cultofweird #boxofweird giveaway! This week's question: In the mid-1800s, why were dances held at London's Enon Chapel called "Dances with the Dead"? The answer is because Enon Chapel was once owned by a corrupt minister, who would promise to inter people's loved ones while he actually put them carelessly in the basement of the chapel. Even after he was "found out", he continued his practice of body-disposal. After he passed away, the chapel was bought and the floors redone. It opened as a saloon, with the perk of being able to have "dances with the dead". ๐Ÿ’ƒ๐Ÿป๐Ÿ’€ #art #artist #ink #pen #acrylic #illustration #dark #macabre

A post shared by Dana Huffsmith (@danahuffsmith) on

See all the entries at #cultofweird

Box of Weird: Memento Mori Edition

Memento mori box of weird featuring macabre oddities

There are two more chances this month to win a Box of Weird filled with a copy of the brand new release Ghostland by Colin Dickey courtesy of Viking Books, Hearse Driver’s Union buttons from Dead Sled Brand, a black beeswax spine candle from Grave Digger Candles, morbid patches and stickers from Poison Apple Printshop, real antique coffins screws, a diecast Matchbox hearse, and more macabre oddities. Follow @cultofweird on Instagram.

The next question is coming Monday.

UPDATE: 10/29/2016 The contest has ended. Here are the results of the other weeks:

Dig into the Edible Body Farm this Halloween at Barts Pathology Museum

DELICIOUS DECAY: Bakery and decomposition come together at Barts Pathology Museum this Halloween with morbid confections from the Conjurer’s Kitchen.
Delicious Decay: Edible Body Farm Halloween event at Barts Pathology Museum
Delicious Decay: The Edible Body Farm

Morbid curiosity is getting a little sweeter this Halloween! Annabel de Vetten of Conjurer’s Kitchen, Carla Valentine, Technical Curator at Barts Pathology Museum, and forensic anthropologist Dr Anna Williams are collaborating to host Delicious Decay, an edible body farm where you will have the opportunity to learn about the science of decomposition while enjoying macabre consumables.

“The event is inspired in part by the unusual chemical indole,” the press release states, “which is present in coffee and chocolate as well as the decomposing deceased.”

The event will include talks on body farms and funerary cannibalism, smelling chemicals used to train cadaver dogs, cocktails, many grotesque edibles, and, of course, you get to dig through edible soil to exhume a full size edible corpse.

Talks include:

  • Carla Valentine โ€“ “Mourning Coffee: how funerary cannibalism led to death cakes, death cookies, and funeral biscuits”
  • Dr Anna Williams โ€“ “Nauseating or Necessary? Why we need Body Farms in the UK”
  • Jamie Upton โ€“ “Whatโ€™s Your Poison? Death Cocktails”

There will also be a makeup artist on hand to make you look decomposed.

Delicious Decay Halloween event at Barts Pathology Museum

Delicious Decay is happening October 28-29 at Barts Pathology Museum.
Info and tickets right here.

The Viktor Wynd Museum is Crowdfunding a 1,000-Year-Old Mummy Head

Help London’s quirky Viktor Wynd Museum buy a mummy head for its collection for cool perks like mummy dust, penis bones, and chocolate anuses.
Viktor Wynd Museum mummy head
This 1,000-year-old mummy head would make a great addition to the Viktor Wynd Museum

The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History in London is home to an amazing and macabre collection of oddities, including skulls, bones, shrunken heads, weird medical antiques and more. They even have the gold-plated hippo skull of Pablo Escobar. But they don’t have a mummy.

And quite frankly, who doesn’t want a mummy?

The museum opened two years ago thanks to nearly 500 contributors to their first crowdfunding campaign. So, to celebrate the its second birthday, a new campaign on just launched on Indiegogo to purchase the 1,000-year-old mummified head of a young boy from Peru’s moon-worshipping Chimรบ culture.

Of course, helping a museum buy a mummy that you can visit any time you want is reward enough, but the perks are great, too. Contribute to the campaign to earn things like mummy dust from the bottom of the cabinet, cat skulls, edible chocolate anuses, walrus penis bones, Viktor Wynd’s used underwear, and other bizarre items that would look great in your own personal cabinet of curiosities.

Some of the skulls, bones and other oddities on display at the Viktor Wynd Museum
Some of the curiosities on display at the Viktor Wynd Museum

Help the museum fill it’s mummy-shaped hole right here.

The Guillotine Blade of Marie Antoinette

The guillotine blade that beheaded Marie Antoinette

This guillotine blade on display at Madame Tussauds wax museum in London is believed to be the actual blade that beheaded French queen Marie Antoinette on October 16, 1793. It was purchased from the executioner’s family.

Marie Antoinette’s last words as she climbed onto the guillotine platform were “Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it” after accidentally stepping on her executioner’s foot.