more stations

Explore the enormous Georgian Kensal Green cemetery where many famous - and royal - folk are laid to rest. A truly astonishing variety of tombs and memorials.

On leaving the 1970’s timber-clad Tube station, turn left, cross the main road at the lights and turn right. After a few minutes you will reach the famous Cemetery opened in 1832. This was the first of the ‘Magnificent Sevencreated to solve the problem of overcrowded burial grounds in the capital and has many old trees and interesting family vaults. Many renowned people have their last resting place in Kensal Green. For a list, click on the cemetery link above and go to ’Notables’. It is an amazing roll-call. As in all these old cemeteries, it is difficult to find individual graves, so it is a good idea to buy a guide from the kiosk at the West Gate entrance  (best to check for opening times here). I have picked out a few of the more flamboyant/interesting monuments, but these are only a tiny fraction of the amazing collection. 

To begin your exploration, once past the kiosk, bear left down Oxford Avenue. At the end of this path you will be in West Centre Avenue near a sign for the Cemetery Chapel. Turn left towards a grand colonnade. Just before you get to this you will find on the right hand side the memorial to Blondin, the funambulist (1824-1897), who among, other nerve-wracking feats crossed Niagra Falls on a tight-rope. Continue to the colonnade, which houses the catacombs and chapel. Beyond this is Centre Avenue where the most magnificent of the monuments are situated. One of the most beautiful of these is for HRH Princess Sophia (1777-1848), a daughter of George III, who was rumoured to have had an illegitimate child.

Wander down the length of Centre Avenue to see the final resting places of many distinguished people. On the right hand side, just before you reach the eastern side of the Inner Circle is one of the grandest, that of Andrew Ducrow, (scroll down link web page) a celebrated circus performer of the nineteenth century who specialised in equine dramas. Next comes the elaborate grave of William Mulready RA (1786-1863) painter and illustrator. This is situated further down the main avenue to the left, just before the second pair of unmarked paths that branch off right and left. A little further on, to the right, is the impressive memorial to Roger Casement.

The memorial to Captain Rickets (1788-1867) is an example of one of the many Gothic Revival designs to be found in Kensal Green. You will find it to the right where two main paths split off (South Branch Avenue). Rickets was a naval officer who served under Nelson, having gone to sea at the age of seven.
When you reach the end of Central Avenue look to the left to see the grand main gate (c.1905). You may be surprised to see that straight ahead of you is a somewhat rustic wooden gate. This leads into a separate graveyard, originally reserved for non-conformists of varying kinds. As you enter, glance to the right where you will see the beautiful, simple headstone of Hermes Nicholas, a twentieth-century design engineer. Generally speaking, this is a less grand part of the cemetery, but at the end of the curving is the handsome Dissenters' Chapel.

Now you can enjoy a ramble round the more remote areas of the cemetery, eventually making your way back to West Centre Avenue. Continue in the direction of the Crematorium past the paths that lead back to the gates you came in by until you reach a pair of grassy islands. Here go left down a gravel track that takes you away from the avenue. By the second poplar, just before the way branches off to the right, look to your left and there, several plots in from the path you will find the most unusual memorial in the cemetery - an armchair. This commemorates Henry Russell (d.1900), a musician who wrote such much-loved ballads  as 'A Life on the Ocean Wave', 'There's a Good Time Coming' - and 'My Old Armchair' (a wonderful example of a Victorian 'tear-jerker'!)

Retrace your steps to the islands, go a few steps to the left, then take the path to the right that goes towards the main road. You will pass the Orthodox Christian cemetery, consecrated in 2005, and several stark mausoleums belonging to Italian families.

I feel uncomfortable about criticising the way the cemetery is run, but it is
disappointing to find obtrusive shiny black modern memorials in the once dignified old section. Surely at least the historic Central Avenue could be been saved from such encroachment? Nonetheless, Kensal Green is still a fascinating place, and once you are away from the brooding gasholders there is quite a country atmosphere throughout the 72 acres.

Although there are regular Sunday tours of the cemetery - including the catacombs - on your first visit you may prefer to spend a couple of hours just wandering round at your own pace enjoying the peace and quiet.

Proper shoes are a must, as much of the ground is uneven.

Photos: (To enlarge click on image, then back button)
(l. to r.) Anglican Chapel
Blondin's memorial:Tomb of H.R. Princess Sophia
Ducrow monument:Mulready monument
Captain Ricketts' Gothic tomb
Grave of Hermes Nicholas: Henry Russell's 'chair'
General view of cemetery (note gasholders to left)
Kensal Green is just one walk from the many to be found at London Tube Rambles. There are architectural gems, beautiful country views, historic places and quirky buildings to be found, even in the most unpromising areas covered by the Greater London Underground stations. Usually the places listed are within a mile of the Tube - often only five minutes walk away. If you reached this as an individual page via a search engine, you might like to click on the link above and see the other destinations explored . You'll be amazed at what's out there!

© DR