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April 19, 2012 / Louisa Yates

Fascinating Fact of the Day: All Aboard the Necropolitan Line!

Anyone who, like me, grew up in Surrey will be familiar with Brookwood Cemetery. You may have even been dragged around it by parents who firmly believed that Brookwood was the perfect post-Sunday lunch stroll. Anyone in the Surrey/Hampshire commuter belt will definitely be familiar with Brookwood Station, and may even have idly wondered why the station opens out into the grounds of the cemetery itself.

Others will know that Brookwood is Victorian – created by land purchased by Royal Act of Parliament in 1852 to ease the overcrowded London churchyards. The boom in population brought about by the Industrial Revolution meant that frankly, the capital’s grave space was stuffed to capacity. The railway came to Brookwood as a result of the cemetery, rather than the other way around. Coffins and mourners would be transported with ease on a ‘funeral train’ that departed from a private station near Waterloo.

Due to my (looking back, unwittingly neo-Victorian) parents and our regular Sunday strolls, I knew this much. I’d never thought much more about it until I read the following passage in Belinda Starling’s splendid The Journal of Dora Damage (2007):

‘Five years before, in 1854, the London Necropolis & National Mausoleum Company had opened its Necropolitan Railway adjacent to Ivy Street, to shuttle corpses and their mourners twenty-five miles down the line to Woking, where they had constructed the largest cemetery in the world’ (p. 4).

Whaaaaaaat?! The NECROPOLITAN LINE?! Run by the ‘London Necropolis & National Mausoleum Company’? Now, Neo-Victorian Thoughts may not have been thinking neo-Victorian thoughts aged 14 but wonderful, wonderful names like that? I would have remembered. Surely this must be Starling’s poetic licence?

Well, there’s nothing hugely official but a quick google throws up a number of websites that confirm this to be true. Opinion seems to be divided as to whether it was known as the ‘Necropolis Railway’ or ‘Necropolitan Line’, but there was certainly a Necropolis Station (brilliant) near Waterloo Station from 1854-1902. There’s even a novel, Andrew Martin’s The Necropolis Line (2002) which now sits proudly atop my Amazon wishlist.

A little more digging reveals (and this pleases me more than I can say) that the Metropolitan Line opened in 1863, giving rise to the exceedingly satisfying thought that the London Underground’s first ever line (and the world’s first underground railway) was named as a pun on London’s funeral train.

Brookwood Cemetery’s official website  is suspiciously quiet on this information, to which the reply can only be a mournful ‘Whhhhhhyyyy?!’  Neo-Victorian Thoughts does not usually hold with straightforward Victorian nostalgia, but this is something quite different, no? Surely someone, somewhere, will pay for the line and statio to be reinstated in all their glory, perhaps as a theme park if necessary? Toot toot!

Links:

http://www.brookwoodcemetery.com

‘The Necropolitan Line’: http://londonparticulars.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/the-necropolitan-line/

‘The Cemetery Railway’: http://www.tbcs.org.uk/railway.htm

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