Exploring London's Magnificent Seven Cemeteries by Bike!
One impact of London’s rapidly expanding population in the early 1800s was that churchyards ran out of space to bury the dead. To alleviate the problem, seven private cemeteries were built outside of central London, which are now referred to as the Magnificent Seven. Twelve members of London Clarion Cycling Club met on a cool, bright late-August Sunday to visit them.
Our starting point was a cafe in Bermondsey. It seemed appropriate, as not only had it originally been built as a watch house to protect the adjacent churchyard from body snatchers, but it also serves excellent coffee and pastries. From here we took a 45 mile clockwise loop around London.
Although the cemeteries were all built between 1833 and 1841, they are each unique and this is very much felt in person. They have different sizes and topographies, and have varied histories. The ride was bookended by the overgrown wilds of Nunhead and Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, and we stopped by tranquil West Norwood, tidy Brompton, expansive Kensal Green, touristy gothic Highgate, and locals’ favourite, Abney Park.
At each cemetery we chose one or two graves to visit, to discover some of the lives associated with them. We learned about John Wade ‘good samaritan of Deptford’, Henry Tate, Isabella Beeton, Chief Long Wolf, William and Catherine Booth, Frank Bostock, Will Crooks, and Harry Orwell.
In addition to visiting the cemeteries, we also stopped by other sites of interest along the route. This included the Brixton Windmill, the Hyde Park Pet Cemetery, a historic pub which had been recently been rebuilt ‘brick-by-brick’ after developers demolished it without permission, and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which until its closure in 2017 had been in business for 450 years and had cast Big Ben and the Liberty Bell.
We are privileged in London to have so much history at our doorstep and in London Clarion we make the most of this by having some rides in our calendar each year which focus on this aspect. I really enjoyed the good fellowship on this ride, and as we compared notes afterwards in the Anchor Tap, I thought to myself, ‘it’s good to be alive’.