West Norwood Cemetery Catacombs

February 25, 2011 | Posted in Bramah, catacombs, catafalque, Dissenters Chapel, Episcopal Chapel, London, Major John George Richardson, Sir George Carroll, Sir William Tite, West Norwood Cemetery | By

It’s not a well known fact but there are actually two sets of Underground Catacombs present at West Norwood Cemetery and there were originally two chapels, the Dissenters Chapel and the Episcopal Chapel (both with catacombs beneath them).

At 05:12am on 17th July 1944 a V1 Flying ‘Doodlebug’ Bomb fell in West Norwood Cemetery and destroyed the Dissenters Chapel and caused severe damage to surrounding buildings, including the Episcopal Chapel. Plans from 1946 have only recently been discovered that show architect Alwyn Underdown had planned to rebuild the Dissenters Chapel but sadly after laying derelict for many years and hoping to be repaired by the Ministry Of Works, both were eventually demolished and in 1955 a more modern crematorium and chapel was constructed (also an Underdown design).

In total West Norwood SE27 was to suffer from 13 V1’s and 1 sole V2 and 47 People died in the area. As well as this the cemetery was hit multiple times by Luftwaffe bombers who used the A23 as a guide into Central London as well as many ‘own goals’ caused by unexploded Anti-Aircraft shells falling to ground!

The modern crematorium that stands today on the site of the Dissenters Chapel has the furnaces installed in the old catacombs below, they simply boarded up the few dozen internments in one of its original four aisles and installed the cremators in the remaining space. (The Dissenters Catacombs would have originally had capacity for approximately 1500 internments). Over the years the cremation equipment has been changed and upgraded but today there is now an ugly above ground Heat Exchanger in Square 51 causing much controversy due to it being placed over graves…

Across the path all that remains of the Episcopal Chapel is a Rose Garden which today lies beneath scaffolding and sheets of plastic in place to protect the catacombs beneath from further environmental damage. These catacombs have a tall central gallery and six main aisles (three on each side) containing some 95 bays (see plan below).

The bays were used in a variety of ways, some contain private vaults while others contain mixed internments. Other bays today contain gravestones from the cemetery above and some are totally empty.

All shots : Canon 40D & 11-16 Tokina glass – Thanks for looking

Some ‘proper’ history, © Professor Bob Flanagan, Friends of West Norwood Cemetery:

The Norwood Catacombs
By 1900 the cemetery was becoming largely filled with graves, and even some of the roadways were used for burials.  In 1915 a crematorium and columbarium were
installed beside the Dissenters’ Chapel. Sadly, both chapels were damaged during World War II, and a number of monuments were also destroyed or damaged. 

The cemetery lodge, only just rebuilt in the 1930s, was destroyed by a flying bomb in 1944.  The Dissenters’ Chapel was demolished in 1955, and replaced by a modern crematorium.  The Episcopal Chapel was demolished in 1960 and replaced by a rose garden. Nonetheless the catacombs below the Chapel still survive: those beneath the crematorium now house the furnaces, but those on the site of the Episcopal Chapel remain complete with some 2,000 coffins, unique architectural features, and a unique hydraulic coffin lift. Now listed Grade II, they are sadly closed to public access because of Health and Safety considerations.

Mediaeval tradition allowed for burial in churches for those who could afford it. Thus, at Kensal Green and at Norwood, provision was made for interment in catacombs
situated beneath the mortuary chapels.  Of the other commercial cemeteries founded in London at this time – Highgate (1839), Nunhead (1840), Abney Park (1840, wholly for dissenters), Brompton (1840) and Tower Hamlets (1841), catacombs only featured in the designs of Brompton and Nunhead, although the famous Egyptian Avenue at Highgate performed a similar function above ground level.  The Brompton catacombs, whilst still accessible, are not on the scale of those at Kensal Green or Norwood, whilst the small catacomb at Nunhead beneath the remains of the Episcopal Chapel is sealed. Catacombs were of course provided in some other English cemeteries, such as those at Church Cemetery, Nottingham, built into the site of a former quarry.

At Norwood the catacombs beneath the Dissenters’ Chapel, never very popular, have been so modified as to have lost almost all their original character as they now
house cremators and associated equipment.  The fate of the coffins they once held is unknown. The corresponding catacombs at Kensal Green have been sealed.  However, the catacombs beneath both Episcopal chapels survive.  Those at Norwood consist of a series of brick vaults supported on brick walls and piers.  The layout is regular and symmetrical, and consists of a tall central gallery, which corresponds to the location of the demolished chapel, and six corridors running at right angles to this gallery to the North and South that give access to the vaults.  Access to the catacombs is now via an external staircase to the East end.  There is a further staircase, which would have led down from the interior of the now vanished chapel above.

The six narrower vaulted passages, three on each side of the main vault, each have 7 bays on either side (see plan). Some bays contain gated vaults. Whole bays, half
bays, or any number of individual loculi could be purchased and modified either with cast-iron gates, sealed, or set with stone memorial tablets. Some were simply
left open – in many the remains of funeral tributes placed there by mourners are still visible. An estimated 2,500 coffins are located in those vaults and are supported either on stone shelves, on cast-iron bars suspended between the brick pier supports, or rest on the floor.

At the end of each of the vaulted passages there is an open grating designed to allow air to circulate through the catacomb. By law all above-ground burials must be
in lead-lined coffins. There has been much decay over the years, but generally the lead coffins are intact, although a few have been desecrated. Some massive hardwood coffins, however, remain in fine condition, although many brass nameplates and fittings have been stolen.

The central bay contains some impressive mortuary chapels with elaborate architectural detail in Portland stone and in cast iron, much of it now sadly rusted. 

Pride of place goes Sir William Tite (1798-1873) himself, who is interred in Catacomb 90 together with his wife. Vice-Admiral William Young ( ?-1847) has an impressive catacomb chapel part sealed behind an open ironwork door. Young was an officer in the Royal Navy for nearly seventy years, and was at one time in charge of Deptford Dockyard.  ‘He was distinguished not less for zeal, ability and courteousness in the discharge of his public duties than for simplicity of manners, love of truth and practical benevolence in private life. Erected by widow and children to testify their affectionate and reverential attachment to his memory’. He was a Vice-Admiral of the Blue and lived at Denmark Hill, Camberwell.  He was buried on 19 February 1847, aged 85.
Elsewhere in the catacombs are stored various items such as Victorian grave diggers’ spades and the memorial plaques removed from the chapels and arcades when they were demolished, including that to Sir William himself. There is also an attractive carved wooden plaque to Pilot Officer Edmund H(ugh) C(raft) Theobald RAFVR (1915-1942) that records that his Hurricane fighter-bomber of 30 Squadron was shot down during ‘Operation Crusader’, the final relief of Tobruk, on 28 December 1942.  He is buried at Halfaya Sollum Cemetery, Egypt.

The Norwood Coffin Lift
In the middle of the central gallery is a unique hydraulic catafalque by Bramah & Robinson dated 1839, which was used to transfer coffins into, and presumably out of, the catacombs – it is thought that the catacombs had a subsidiary function in providing temporary interment for some coffins whilst vaults or mausolea were completed in the cemetery grounds. A major advantage of the hydraulic system was its silent operation, but reliability may have been a factor in view of the problems
encountered with the screw-jack coffin lift at Kensal Green.

Norwood – The Future
In 1965 the South Metropolitan Cemetery was compulsorily purchased for £6,000 by Lambeth Council, using Public Health Act powers. A condition of the deed of transfer was that the rights of existing grave owners were to be maintained, and the Act of Parliament establishing the cemetery and governing its operations was never
repealed.  The importance of the cemetery and the quality of its monuments were emphasized in 1978 when it was included within a conservation area, and in 1981 when the entrance arch, gates, walls and railings and 44 monuments were listed (seven Grade II*, the rest Grade II – a further 21 monuments have since been listed). 

It has been recently been awarded Grade II* status on the English Heritage Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. Despite this apparent protection in law, the cemetery was subjected over a couple of decades by Lambeth Council to a programme of ‘lawn conversion’. During this period, well over 10,000 monuments were removed, ignoring rights of grave owners and keeping no proper records of the position of graves.  Moreover, nearly 1,000 private graves were resold illegally for new burials.  The destruction was eventually stopped in 1991 (by which time two listed monuments had disappeared and several others had been badly damaged), by the Archdeacon of Lambeth who referred the matter to the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Southwark (80 percent of the cemetery is consecrated ground). The power of management of the cemetery was delegated to a Scheme of Management Committee composed of representatives from both the Diocese and Lambeth Council.

As ordered in the judgment, the Council has restored/repaired the disappeared/damaged listed monuments, and a landscape management survey has been carried out.  In the past few years, a concerted effort by the Council, English Heritage and the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery has resulted in the restoration/repair of numerous monuments, as well as parts of the wall and railings; plans were in hand for improvements to the drainage system and, perhaps eventually some restoration of the catacombs. But the Council is currently aiming to undo all this good work, remove monuments, and reopen the cemetery for burials. This despite the its unique place in the history of London, and indeed in the history of British cemetery architecture. Sadly the future for the catacombs looks increasingly bleak.

Others notable catacomb interments at Norwood include
(i) Hon Colonel Sambrooke Anson (1778-1846). Gazetted Lt-Colonel on 15 September 1809, he commanded the 1st Foot Guards in the Peninsular Campaign, 1809-13.
(ii) Edward Charles Mackintosh Bowra FRCS (?-1874). One of the first British Commissioners of the Chinese Customs Service.
(iii) Major-General Charles Alfred Browne (1801-1866) (Catacomb 16 D), son of William Loder Browne, merchant, of Kennington. He joined the Madras Army in 1826 and was gazetted Major-General in 1862 (see www.fownc.org/newsletters/no52.shtml for further information about the Browne family).
(iv) Sir George Carroll (1784-1860) (Catacomb 11 North). Carroll was a stockbroker in1811 and also a contractor for the State Lotteries until 1826 (when lotteries
were abolished) with offices in Cornhill, Oxford Street, and Charing Cross. He was Sheriff of London and Middlesex, 1837-8 and was knighted in 1837. He was Lord Mayor of London, 1846-7, and died at Loughton, Essex on 19 December 1860. [In total there are 17 Lord Mayors interred at Norwood.]
(v) Sir John Cowan (?-1842) (Catacomb 36).  Lord Mayor of London, 1837-8.
(vi) James, Lord Hannen (1821-1894). A barrister and judge, Hannen was educated at Heidelberg University and was called to the bar, Middle Temple, in 1848. He became Junior Treasury counsel (government prosecutor) in1863 and was made a Judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench in 1868.  He was knighted in 1868 and appointed to the Privy Council in 1872. A judge in the Courts of Probate and Divorce from 1872 and President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty division of the High Court, 1875-91, he was made Life Baron and Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 1891.  He was President of the Parnell commission, 1888-9, and an arbitrator in the question of the Bering Sea seal fisheries, 1892. He lived at Kingswood House, Sydenham, later the home of John Lawson Johnston (1839-1900, ‘Mr Bovril’), also buried at Norwood (grave 29,462, square 38). Hannen is commemorated on the family monument in the cemetery (square 61), but is interred with his wife and the cremated remains of his daughters in the Catacombs.
(vii) John LOCKE (1805-1880) (Catacomb 31 North).  A barrister and politician, he was MP for Southwark, 1857-80.  He introduced a bill to give witnesses in criminal
cases the right to affirm as in civil cases, 1861.
(viii) Sir Chapman Marshall (1787-1862) (Catacomb 37). Lord Mayor of London 1838-9.  He died at Pembridge Crescent, Bayswater on 9 January 1862.
(vii) Major John George Richardson (1786-1867). A Royal Marine, he was severely wounded in the mouth, in an arm and a leg on board HMS Africa in action with a Danish flotilla of gun and mortar boats while becalmed near the Malinor Channel, Sweden, in 1808.  He died on 25 January 1867.
(ix) James Bogle Smith (?-1870). A director of the Union Bank of Australia (now ANZ Bank), a post he held from 1837-70. From 1840 the UBA helped to finance settlers to New Zealand.  Smith was also London agent for merchant-shipowners William Smith and Son of Liverpool, a trustee of the National Life Assurance Society, and Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths Company. He lived at Lavender Hill, Wandsworth.
(x) Francis Sheppard Thomas (1794-1857) (Catacomb 34). Secretary to the Public Record Office, Chancery Lane, 1826-57. He wrote A History of the State Paper Office, 1849; Handbook to Public Records, 1853, and related works. He died at Croydon on 27 August 1857.

Image Credit: Subterranea Britannica


Quenby Price/Cargills Grain Store

September 16, 2010 | Posted in Agriculture, BOCM Silcock Ltd, Bromham, Cargills, Industrial, Quenby Price, Turvey, United Agricultural Merchants | By

In 1910 R.Quenby & Sons were first listed as millers after buying a 21 year lease on a local mill in Bromham, Bedfordshire. In 1938 they became a registered company as Quenby Price Limited. In 1969 they moved out of the mill and into nearby Turvey Station that had closed in 1962 (the last train left this station in March 1962) as a result of Dr. Richard Beeching’s ‘Beeching Bombshell’ report that resulted in more than 4,000 miles of railway and 3,000 stations being closed over a 10 year period. (During 1962 780 miles of track were closed across the country). The station buildings were used as offices but sadly they did demolish most of the platform.

In 1971 Quenby Price Limited leased the orignal Bromham Mill buildings, mill house and 6½ acres of land to Bedfordshire County Council as a picnic site, selling them to the council two years later. After Quenby Price moved out, the Mill was taken over by artisans making pottery and leather goods until a fire broke out on 20 Feb 1974. Bromham Mill is now a popular Bedfordshire tourist destination

The Turvey Station site grew over the years under the name Quenby Price and many of the original buildings were demolished and rebuilt to keep up with mechanisation and modernistation techniques in agriculture. The company changed hands several times over the years, falling into the hands of Unilever under the name United Agricultural Merchants (BOCM Silcock Ltd). I was lucky enough to have a tour of the site in the early 1980’s when it was fully operational and remember visting the old silo building and climbing the ladders to a high dusty gallery (long demolished).

The site changed hands again several times before being finally taken over by Cargills PLC and then ultimately its closure several years ago, it now lays derelict having been ‘made safe’ and also fairly well stripped by travellers.

The site comprises of two wet grain storage bins, a pre-cleaner, two grain driers, six storage silos with 10,000 tonnes of grain storage and two despatch bins. Everything is linked with grain elevators, conveyors and horizontal augers. In addition to this are workshops, admin buildings offices and a Laboratory.

UPDATE – March 2011
This site has been levelled to the ground over the last three weeks, totally demolished, nothing exists.

There was a development company involved who bought the site several years ago and I suspect it will soon be redeveloped as a residential site.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy the pix

Despatch Bins

Grain Dryer

Button Porn
Button Porn Part 2
Grain Elevator

March 2011 shots…


Collyweston ESA (RAF Wittering Bomb Store) – Part Two

August 20, 2010 | Posted in airfield, An Watt, BL755 Cluster Bomb, Bomb Store, Hunting Engineering, Kings Cliffe, nangs, Project E, RAF, RAF Lakenheath, RAF Wittering, SNEB Rocket, SSA, whippits, Yarnold Sangar | By

Here are some more pictures from our recent explore at Collyweston ESA (RAF Wittering Bomb Store), the full write up and history can be found here
Note the Substation that is the size of a small car, someone has even tried to ‘remove’ that from the site…


Market Deeping ROC Post – Northamptonshire Group

August 4, 2010 | Posted in Bunker, FSM, Nuclear, ROC, Royal Observer Corps | By

Opened – March 1960
Closed – September 1991
The last post visited as part of an ‘8 ROC Posts in one day’ tour and probably the mintiest ROC Post i’ve visited to date. Actually I didn’t really want to post this one up as it just serves as temptation for some morons to come and trash it and steal its contents but then I thought if I don’t post it up then someone else will…..its fate is sealed either way I guess…..hopefully someone will put a massive lock on it to protect this for future generations of visitors, who knows.

Some pix suffer from me experimenting with camera settings which I promise not to do while out in the field again…


Castor ROC Post – Northamptonshire Group

August 3, 2010 | Posted in Bunker, FSM, Nuclear, Observation Post, ROC, Royal Observer Corps | By

Opened – February 1962
Closed – October 1968
Explored as part of an 8 ROC Posts in one day tour we visited Castor ROC Post, location of a well publicised suicide by a local farmer some years ago who hanged himself in the access shaft. Perhaps this has put off the chavs as the post is in no worse condition that when Sub Brit visited back in 1997, apart from the fact that the compound is now totally overgrown and it took us several laps of the site to locate the hatch and crawl on our hands and knees through the undergrowth.

Good deed of the day was rescuing a sick looking toad that probably fell down the severed at ground level FSM tube and bringing it back to the surface.

Also present at this site is a great example of an Aicraft Observation Post, originally this would have had a canvas cover on top and some steps.

I was experimenting with camera settings so apologies for the quality on some shots.


Spalding ROC Post – Lincolnshire Group

August 2, 2010 | Posted in Bunker, Nuclear, Observation Post, ROC, Royal Observer Corps | By

Opened – October 1964
Closed – October 1968
Yet another post visited as part of an ‘8 ROC Posts in one day’ tour. We walked right past this one as the compound was totally overgrown. The hatch has been torn off for years but surprisingly it was bone dry inside. Some internal fittings still present such as the bed and no vandalism which is neat. Really nice and peaceful site with fantastic light outside.

As mentioned in my other reports for this day I was experimenting with camera settings (epic fail on most which got deleted ) so apologies for the quality.


Moulton Chapel ROC Post – Lincolnshire Group

July 30, 2010 | Posted in Bunker, FSM, Nuclear, Observation Post, ROC, Royal Observer Corps | By

Opened – July 1960
Closed – October 1968
Explored as part of an ‘8 ROC Posts in one day’ tour sadly this was one of several sorry looking posts we came across. ‘Decorated’ my local morons in a fetching yellow and blue colour scheme, some smoke damage to the roof tiles and a shattered sump grate welcoming us below ground. The cupboard had been partially destroyed but there was an intact hand operated siren crate.

The compound was in a fantastic location on the edge of a cornfield and contains the demolished remains of a brick Aircraft Observation Post, also in the compound are several beehives….complete with LOTS of bees….needless to say we chose a swift and different exit on the way out as we had accidentally disturbed them on the way in.

Yet again I was experimenting with camera settings (epic fail on most which got deleted…) so apologies for the quality on some shots.


Wansford ROC Post – Northamptonshire Group

July 29, 2010 | Posted in Bunker, FSM, Observation Post, ROC, Royal Observer Corps | By

Opened – February 1962
Closed – October 1968
Even more from the ‘8 ROC Posts in one day’ tour. We knew in advance that this one was badly trashed and that was certainly the case but we needed to visit to tick off some remaining Northants Group posts.

As previously stated I was experimenting with camera settings (epic fail on most which got deleted ) so apologies for the lame shots.

Also present at this site was a brick Aircraft Observation Post from an earlier time in ROC history, this would have been linked up to HQ with a land line using a Magneto Telephone.The other unusual item in the pictures is a very old cashbox from a BT pay-on-answer public phone box, quite what that was doing up here I don’t know, unless it was robbed then dragged up here to be prised open…


Upwell ROC Post – Norfolk Group

July 28, 2010 | Posted in Bunker, FSM, Nuclear, ROC, Royal Observer Corp | By

Opened – October 1959
Closed – September 1991
More from the ‘8 ROC Posts in one day’ tour. Once we caught sight of the telegraph poles disappearing into a field we were well happy as this was a Master Post but sadly on reaching the compound it was a major disappointment as it was seriously locked down (pictures elsewhere show this to be very tidy inside). The exterior was a lovely shade of green though with no obvious damage to anything. Not sure if they built this too low by mistake but the FSM tube has an extension and the hatch is well low in the ground!!

Supposedly this has been bought by someone but I don’t know for sure. Whoever is taking care of it has secured it very well and as we were tight on time we couldn’t really spend time finding out.

A Tube Cam was also out of the question unless we had a monster can of EAC Plus Gas and a spare day…..we had neither 🙁


Parson Drove ROC Post – Cambridgeshire Group (FSM Tube Cam)

July 27, 2010 | Posted in Bunker, FSM, Nuclear, ROC, Royal Observer Corp | By

Opened – March 1960
Closed – September 1991
Another post visited as part of an ‘8 ROC Posts in one day’ tour, Parson Drove had been ingeniously locked with a cleverly fitted mortice lock so became our first ‘fail’ of the day in respect of underground shots. The post was recently sold on eBay to someone in Oakham, Rutland but it looks like nothing has been done to it apart from the fancy lock.

Never one to be outwitted I broke out the Tube Cam Kit and did some ‘remote photography’. The interior looks to be the same as its always been with the red spray paint noted by Sub Brit back in 1999. My Tube Cam Kit is due to be modified in the future to provide precise shots, these ones are a bit poor but its better than nothing.

The famous Shetland pony is still there, it crept up on us and was attempting to eat Winch It In’s Canon kit while we had our backs turned doing the Tube Cam !!