Brookwood Cemetery: Kings, bodysnatchers & dissenters

Friday 21 June 2013

A little while ago my friend surprised me with a mystery day trip. He knows my penchant for the slightly odd and morbid places of the world and so (despite some of my other friends declaring I have 'messed up hobbies') a day at the famous Victorian cemetery, Brookwood, was a great surprise. It was set up when London began to become overcrowded and a new place was needed for the dead - people are still buried here today, though it's fairly pricey!

First opened 1854, it was once the biggest cemetery in the world, and remains one of the largest in Western Europe - over 250,000 people have been buried here. The cemetery holds some incredibly interesting people: Abdul Rahman Andak, who helped the Malaysian state of Johor remain free from further British colonisation; Charles Bradlaugh, an early champion of birth control, peace and anti-imperialism and the first atheist MP; Edith Thompson, hanged for the murder of her husband, committed without her assistance, by her lover - doomed simply because she was 'an adulterer' and therefore 'wicked'; feminist author Rebecca West, who housed Yugoslav refugees in her house during WW2; Dr Robert Knox, one of the best customers of 'bodysnatchers' Burke and Hare; Zdenka Pokorna, who was forced into exile in 1948 after challenging Nazi and Soviet occupations of her homeland Czechoslovakia; even King Edward the Martyr!

It's incredibly beautiful and spacious at about two thousand acres. We went for a look around and it provided some great photographs, though it would be impossible to begin to photograph everything that was worthy of it. As we left a rainstorm started, culminating in one of the most spectacular rainbows I've ever seen - two separate, with the lower being nearly triple itself (I felt a little like this). We also came across some bizarre blue-green stained wood (third from bottom), which I've since found out is down to the chlorociboria aeruginascens fungus - a pretty cool little discovery!

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