Kensal Green Cemetery, London

In Cities, Days Out, London, Our Journeys, Trip-Types, UK Travel by JanisLeave a Comment

The final resting place of Brunel, Babbage and Blondin

Yes, you’re right, I’ve dragged Gary around yet another one of London’s “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries. This time we visited Kensal Green Cemetery in north-west London.
 
My interest in searching out these historical cemeteries hasn’t waned at all. Visiting at wintertime, they seem even more mysterious and fascinating.

A path through Kensal Green Cemetery leading to the disused Anglican Chapel built in a neo-classical design with 4 Doric columns at the entrance.  Either side of the way are tombs & gravestones.

Anglican Chapel in Kensal Green cemetery

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Kensal Green Cemetery located along the banks of the Grand Union Canal was originally named General Cemetery of All Souls. It is the oldest of the seven cemeteries and was consecrated in January 1833 and covers 72 acres. It still conducts burials and cremations today.

An ornate raised tomb to Major General Sir William Casement, K.C.B. The stone coffin chest is draped with a cloak and bicorn hat. The Canopy is supported by four Indian bearers, each wearing a turban and with his arms crossed.

Tomb of Major General Sir William Casement, K.C.B.

The cemetery was founded by the barrister George Frederick Carden. He gained his inspiration for Kensal Green after he visited the garden cemetery of Père-Lachaise in Paris. And yes, I’ve visited Père-Lachaise too.

The Magnificent Seven

So far, the “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries that we have visited are Brompton, West Norwood and Nunhead. We just have Abney Park, Tower Hamlets and probably London’s most famous of cemeteries, Highgate.

From parakeets to ravens

So, on a winter Sunday morning in January, we don our comfy shoes and coats. Then go in search of those quirky little tales and heartfelt stories, that lay dormant behind the twisting ivy.
 
We strolled through the Main Gate and similar to the other Magnificent Seven cemeteries that we’ve visited, it has that intriguing muddled feel about it, with no precise symmetry.

A selection of old gravestones at Kensal Green Cemetery that are all leaning at different angles.

Leaning graves

The first of the seasons snowdrops growing between the headstones of Kensal Green Cemetery

Snowdrops in January

As we ambled along the main path beside more recent burials, we could hear green parakeets squawking high above us. It was strange as we headed further and further into the encroaching cemetery, ravens were swooping in front of us. Settling on headstones that were struggling to bear their own weight. The parakeets were then long gone until we headed out again.

A series of historic tombs and headstones line the path to the chapel at the centre of Kensal Green Cemetery

The main path to the Anglican chapel

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The Brunel’s

One of Britain’s most famous engineers is Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He became one of the most influential figures in the Industrial Revolution. Following on in his father’s footsteps, Sir Marc Isambard Brunel, who is also buried in this family grave.

The white marble block headstone at the Brunel family plot that includes the graves of Sir Marc Isambard Brunel, and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel at Kensal Green Cemetery

Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his father, Sir Marc Isambard Brunel

Many of Brunel’s incredible feats of engineering paved the way in transportation today. Brunel designed three ships, one of which is the SS Great Britain, and now a museum ship in Bristol.
 
Also, in Bristol head to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, another of Brunel’s magnificent legacies.

At the age of 7

This intricate grade II* listed tomb was designed by William Burges and is the last resting place of Commander Charles Spencer Ricketts, of the Royal Navy.

The raised tomb of Commander Charles Spencer Ricketts, of the Royal Navy, with its ornate canopy in  Kensal Green Cemetery

Commander Charles Spencer Ricketts, of the Royal Navy

Charles Ricketts was born in 1788, and unbelievably at the age of seven, he enlisted in the Royal Navy. His career was an amazing progression from ship to ship fighting off the shores of southern Spain.
 
He retired at the age of 27 and survived until 1867. His tomb was restored in 2017.

Want to discover more than about London?

We've a little book on our shelves that we sometimes delve into when we're about to hit an area of London.

Packed full of historical facts, and broken down into the different regions of London, it's a great resource to help you see what's hidden in plain sight.

Available in Kindle & Hardback editions, it's an excellent addition to anyone's collection who loves London.


Circus Performer

Andrew Ducrow’s crypt is immediately eye-catching, as this British circus performers grave was guarded by Egyptian sphinx.

The wrought iron railing around the crypt of Andrew Ducrow, a British Circus performer, in Kensal Green Cemetery

Crypt of Andrew Ducrow a British Circus performer

A close-up of detail of the tomb of Andrew Ducrow focusing on the Egyptian sphinx guarding the entrance to the crypt.

Egyptian sphinx guarding the tomb of Andrew Ducrow

Andrew Ducrow was born in 1793 and was the owner of Astley's Amphitheatre in London, which unfortunately has long gone. He was also believed to be the first to perform with horses in circus acts and performed in Covent Garden.

Tightropes across Niagara River

Moving from one performer to another, this reserved crypt is the last resting place of Charles Blondin (1824–1897).

Charles Blondin was a French acrobat and tightrope-walker and became famous with his death-defying acts of tightrope-walking across the Niagara Gorge.

The decorative headstone of the Blondin family including Charles, the famous tightrope walker.

Charles Blondin (1824–1897), acrobat, tightrope-walker

Blondin first performed this act in 1859 and continued many times after. Often blindfolded or carrying out outrageous feats while crossing.

Do you have a favourite?

Have you visited any unusual cemeteries around the world, I’d love you to share them with me? Please drop a comment below.

Babbage

Although the grave of Charles Babbage is quite unassuming, the legacy he left behind for us is monumental.
 
Charles Babbage was a mathematician, engineer, computer scientist and a genius. Where would we be today without his invention of the first mechanical computer?

A simple grey granite tomb to the father of computing Charles Babbage

Charles Babbage grave in Kensal Green cemetery

Head to the Science Museum in London to find out more about Charles Babbage and his inventions. If you don’t have a weak stomach, you can also see half of Babbage’s brain in the museum.

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The Royals

Yes, there are even a few Royals buried at Kensal Green Cemetery. The first is Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex and son of King George III, who died in 1843.

A weathered grey granite tomb of Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex and son of King George III.

The tomb of Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex and son of King George III

The second is Prince Augustus’s sister Princess Sophia and daughter of King George III. Then also Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, grandson of George III and commander-in-chief of the British Army.
 
Even though these tombs are quite large, they mingle so well with so many the other prominent crypts, within the cemetery.

A raised tomb of Princess Sophia, sister of Prince Augustus Frederick and daughter of King George III

Crypt of Princess Sophia, sister of Prince Augustus Frederick and daughter of King George III

The simple Mausoleum of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, grandson of George III at Kensal Green Cemetery.

Mausoleum of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, grandson of George III

Find out a little more

If you’d love to discover more about Kensal Green Cemetery take a look at the Friends of Kensal Green website.
 
The Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery also offer guided tours of the cemetery every Sunday from March to October. Then in November, December, January and February, it is the first and third Sunday.

War Graves

In Kensal Green cemetery, there are 473 World War I commonwealth war graves and 51 from World War II.
 
Although a significant number of the graves were together, I found it unusual that so many were dispersed around the cemetery. As so often, they in close vicinity of each other.
 
Once again, they are so lovingly maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

A stone within the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of Kensal Green Cemetery with the inscription 'There Name Liveth for Evermore'

There Name Liveth for Evermore

So many incredible stories

Although Kensal Green cemetery is still used as a burial ground today, it is incredible how many beautiful mausoleums and monuments still remain from centuries gone by. There are 153 Grade II* and Grade II Listed structures within the grounds and so many other beautiful headstones.

The O’Brien family mausoleum at Kensal Green Cemetery

O’Brien family mausoleum

The weathered family crypt of the Robertson Aikman at Kensal Green Cemetery

Robertson Aikman family crypt

Another tomb at the Kensal Green Cemetery, surrounded by columns with a canopy and four angels on the roof.

Beautiful honour after death

The grave of Thea Canonero Altieri at Kensal Green Cemetery, decorated with a winged lady, similar to the spirit of ecstasy bonnet ornament on a Rolls-Royce car.

Elegant grave of Thea Canonero Altieri

Anglican Chapel & Catacombs

The Anglican Chapel in the centre of Kensal Green cemetery is awaiting its well-deserved restoration. I can only imagine what it must have looked in its prime, surrounded by an elegant colonnade.

The Anglian Chapel at the centre of Kensal Green Cemetery, which is now in need of restoration.

Anglian Chapel with the catacombs hidden below

Underneath the Anglican Chapel and also currently inaccessible are its catacombs, one of the very few catacombs that still exist in London.

Kensal Green Crematorium

At the far end of Kensal Green cemetery are the crematorium and its beautifully kept tranquil gardens. Also, still used today and like the rest of the cemetery, utmost respect is expected here.
 
A few notable cremations that have taken place at Kensal Green over more recent years, and all of which have had their ashes taken care of privately. Are; Freddie Mercury, Alan Rickman, Ingrid Bergman, Christine Keeler, Joe Strummer and very recently Gary Rhodes.
 
RIP one and all.

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Inspired to visit Kensal Green Cemetery?

One of London’s “Magnificent Seven”, there is so much history to be discovered.

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About the Author

Janis

Janis, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born in London and raised in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Along with Gary her partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, they decided that enough was enough with the 9 to 5, so armed with the knowledge and experience that they had gained on their adventures, that they wanted to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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