Victorian remains unearthed at Brompton Cemetery

Contractors working on the restoration of Brompton Cemetery have unearthed two discoveries showing a fascinating glimpse into Victorian life.

The soakaway dates from Victorian times. Image: Royal Parks
The soakaway dates from Victorian times. Image: Royal Parks

The workers found an original Bath and York stone radial patterned Victorian floor under worn lino and carpet during the renovation of the 19th century chapel at the London cemetery.

The flooring is thought to date back to 1840 when the St Peter’s Square-inspired chapel was built. Originally, project consultants had thought the flooring was simply concrete until they started pulling up more of the carpet.

In another discovery, an unusually shaped Victorian brick soakaway has been unearthed under a former car park. Described as looking like an "Alibaba laundry basket", the structure is also thought to be more than 175 years old.

Experts from Historic England and the Museum of London Archaeology have been informed about both discoveries. The flagstone floor will be restored and take pride of place in the newly renovated chapel. The soakaway will be retained as an important historical feature but sit below a removable flagstone cover in the centre of the floor of the soon-to-be-built visitor and interpretation centre.

The discoveries were made as work started on the £6.2million Brompton Cemetery Conservation project, which has secured £4.5 million Parks for People funding from the BIG Lottery Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The remaining funding will come from The Royal Parks and a fundraising campaign, which has already raised more than half of its £500,000 target.

The work underway will see the garden cemetery undergo a major facelift which will help recreate the vision that Benjamin Baud and John Claudius Loudon originally designed in 1837.

Nigel Thorne, The Royal Parks’ project manager for the conservation project, said: "As if this project wasn’t exciting enough, making unexpected discoveries like this makes it even more worthwhile.

"Brompton Cemetery is one of the UK’s most important garden cemeteries, which is why we’re investing so much in this historic site. We have a great team of experts working on the project who are all dedicated and passionate about creating a sustainable future for the cemetery and its local communities and residents."

The project involves turning turning the North Lodge into a visitor/interpretation centre and café, restoring the chapel, central colonnades and catacombs, conserving the historic landscape, buildings and monuments, wildlife conservation and improving the community use of the garden cemetery with facilities and a volunteer programme.

Brompton Cemetery is listed as Grade 1 on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Historic Importance and is one of the oldest designed Grade 1 cemeteries in the country. Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, Queen Victoria’s surgeon Sir Thomas Spencer Wells and thousands of former Chelsea Pensioners are among the 206,000 people buried there. The original plan for the 15.8 hectare cemetery was for it to be a garden for public recreation as well as providing burial space.

Royal Parks has raised half of the £500,000 it needs to complete the project and has launched an appeal for further funding.

The 12-month construction work is expected to be completed by the end of December.

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