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Victorian Londoners ran into a rather serious space crisis – they ran out of room to bury their dead. So they commissioned seven grand new cemeteries for the city, now nicknamed the Magnificent Seven. Each boasts peace and quiet, beautiful architecture and fascinating history, and they’ve now inspired a brand new choral work which will premiere this Saturday night in Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington. The London Requiem was written after composer Benjamin Till spent time reflecting in the capital’s great cemeteries. If you fancy some graveyard exploration yourself, here are our top three.
Abney Park Cemetery (1840)
The Egyptian Revival-style entrance with hieroglyphics is one of the earliest examples of the style in a cemetery in the world. Another feature that marks Abney Park out among the Seven is its landscape, designed by George Loddiges who arranged exotic plants around the perimeter of the garden in alphabetical order, aiming to educate visitors. The park is now run as a nature reserve and memorial park with a small stone carving workshop that gives classes.
Notable internments: William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army, and many missionaries
Spot the monument: The life-size lion guarding the grave of Susannah and Frank Bostock, menagerists who brought African animals like lions to public attention in Britain.
Kensal Green Cemetery (1833)
Kensal Green is the oldest of the Magnificent Seven, designed with tree-lined avenues and gravelled paths wide enough for carriages to pass. In an new move continued by the rest of the Seven, most of the site was reserved for members of the Church of England but one area was for dissenters – those of other Christian denominations. It now covers 72 acres in Kensington and Chelsea and is an active burial ground today.
Notable internments: Engineer Sir Isambard Kingdom Brunel, merchant W H Smith and more than 650 members of the titled nobility
Spot the monument: The armchair-shaped gravestone for composer Henry Russell who died in 1900. It was constructed in reference to one of his 800 songs, My Old Armchair.
Highgate Cemetery (1839)
As its name suggests, Highgate offers sweeping views over London. The cemetery was so popular with Victorians that an extra 20 acres were bought in 1856, creating the East cemetery where Highgate’s most famous resident, philosopher Karl Marx, lies. The original West Cemetery can only be visited as part of a tour, and on Saturday afternoons the Dickens Tour takes you to the graves of the novelist’s wife Catherine, parents John and Elizabeth, sister Frances and brother Alfred as well as several of his friends buried in Highgate.
Spot the monument: The family mausoleum of Julius Beer, millionaire owner of The Observer newspaper. It contains a life-size sculpture of his daughter Ada who died when she was just eight.