1 Welcome to West Norwood Cemetery

West Norwood is one of seven large private cemeteries that were created in London between 1832 and 1841. Today these grand burial spaces are known as the ‘Magnificent Seven’ for their elaborate tombs and memorials.

Though expensive, sometimes ostentatious, the ‘Magnificent Seven’ were built to answer an urgent practical need. By the 1830s burial space in London was in short supply because of a rapidly expanding population and fears over public health. So a ring of large private cemeteries were created on the city outskirts.

Opened in 1837, West Norwood was the second one to be built. The others were Kensal Green (1832), Highgate (1839), Nunhead, Brompton and Abney Park (all 1840), and Tower Hamlets (1841). Take a look at the large entrance arch, built in 1836, and you can see West Norwood’s original name - the South Metropolitan Cemetery.

Many of the people buried here during the Victorian era were very wealthy. The British Empire was an era of riches and opportunity, both at home and overseas. Some were British citizens who travelled the world. Others were from other lands who adopted Britain as their home and made major contributions to life here.

This walk visits almost 30 graves, tombs and memorials to explore the stories of some of the people buried here. Along the way we will also discover more about this fascinating cemetery.



The South Metropolitan Cemetery entrance arch 
Rory Walsh © RGS-IBG Discovering Britain


From the entrance arch, proceed along the main tarmac road. Look for a mausoleum on the left hand side with the initials DM on the doors. Directly opposite across the road is a square headstone with the name Maxim. Stop facing this gravestone.

2 A prolific inventor

The first person we are going to hear about is Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim. Born in Sangerville, Maine in the United States he was an engineer and prolific inventor.

Maxim’s earliest inventions were types of artificial lighting, including the first commercially produced light bulb. He founded the United States Electric Lighting Company in 1878 and two years later installed incandescent lightbulbs at the Mercantile Safe Deposit Company in New York.

Maxim settled in London in 1881 where he designed an automatic machine gun. Lightweight and rapid firing, the Maxim Gun was the first self-powered machine gun. They were built in a factory in Hatton Garden, London.

The Maxim Gun was very successful and used in various colonial wars in Africa and south east Asia, and First World War. It has been called “the weapon most associated with British imperial conquest”. However, all the test firing Maxim did at his home near Norwood Road made him profoundly deaf. This led to his son, also called Hiram, to develop the silencer!

Maxim senior also experimented with powered flight, though his large aircraft designs were never successful. Among his other inventions were a mousetrap, a pocket inhaler for asthma and hay fever sufferers, an apparatus for demagnetizing watches, devices to prevent the rolling of ships, an aerial torpedo gun and coffee substitutes!



Hiram Maxim demonstrating his gun, 1884
Wikimedia Commons


About 20 metres further on the right hand side are some low modern black and grey headstones. There is a grey one immediately behind a black one with the name Daby. Stop when you find this headstone.

3 An unusual journey

You will probably have noticed already that this is a very modest memorial compared to others in the cemetery. But Gyandeo Daby’s story is one of great interest. Daby was a Hindu lawyer who held political posts on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.

After Mauritius gained independence from France in 1968, politicians were needed to take the country forward. Daby was elected for the left of centre National Party and was a minister in a coalition government during the 1970s. His portfolio included the Mauritian Co-Operatives, which were set up to assist the country’s poor and least privileged people.

Daby’s grave is also one of the most recent in the cemetery. We will find out more about the historical range of burials here a little later on. First though notice the size of the headstone. As you can see, both Maxim and Daby’s simple headstones contrast with some of the more elaborate ones nearby. As you walk around today, note the variety and size of the monuments. Their design was often a reflection of the person’s status and wealth. Burial at Norwood was not cheap; by 1860 a plot could cost the equivalent today of £3,500.

Norwood Cemetery therefore became a highly fashionable place to be buried. The cemetery even became a visitor attraction. People went on tours of the tombs and mausoleums as Norwood Cemetery became a place to see and be seen. We will see some more elaborate Victorian monuments at the next stop.



Gyndao Daby's headstone
Rory Walsh © RGS-IBG Discovering Britain


About 10 metres further on the left hand side of the road are two pink granite obelisks. The second one has the name Burke, although the lettering is rather difficult to read. Stop in front of this memorial.

4 Heavyweight monuments

There are many sportsmen buried at West Norwood including several early boxers. This pink obelisk celebrates Jack Burke. Burke was born in Killarney in Ireland and was known in boxing circles as ’the Irish Lad’. In 1883 he won the English boxing middleweight title.

Until 1887 Burke was in America where he fought their top middle and heavyweights. Burke also travelled to Australia and New Zealand for fights. He retired from the ring to run the Florence Tavern in Islington and died in Cheltenham.

Next to Burke is another boxer. The monument to the left with an urn on top is that of Tom King. King was known as ‘the Fighting Sailor’. He fought when boxing for money was illegal so bouts were often arranged in remote locations, usually farms, by word of mouth. In 1860 King was offered £1,000 to fight an American, John Camel Heenan – ‘the Benicia Boy’. King won and three years later also became the Heavyweight Champion of England. He retired immediately after and became a successful bookmaker.

These elaborate memorials might strike us as a bit over the top. Across Victorian Britain there were strongly-held beliefs in the soul and resurrection after death. Death had to be observed in a ‘proper’ manner which led to almost cult-like attitudes to mourning. Overall, Victorian people had a rather different attitude to death than many of us today.



Jack Burke's obelisk
Rory Walsh © RGS-IBG Discovering Britain


A few metres further on the road splits. Take the right fork. Walk to the low Gothic chapel on the left hand side. Three graves after the chapel is a headstone with the name Hunte. Stop when you find this grave.

5 Community lessons

Our next stop is to a different kind of fighter. Joe Hunte was a community activist who fought to improve living and working conditions for West Indians in London. He was born in St Vincent then worked in Trinidad as a teacher. He came to Britain in 1958 and studied Politics, Economics and Philosophy at Swansea University, where he won the annual student debating competition.

Hunte then moved to Brixton with his family. In 1968 he took up the post as Senior Community Relations Officer in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, a post he held until his retirement. Hunte became a voice for the growing West Indian community and was active in social and political issues.

After an incident with the police at Lambeth Town Hall, he published a pamphlet suggesting ways to improve relations between the police and immigrant communities. Hunte was appointed to a Home Office advisory committee dealing with race relations – the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants – and was frequently invited to talk to groups of trainee and serving police officers. Many of Hunte’s ideas became standard community police practice. In 1977, he was awarded the Queen’s Silver Jubilee medal for services to the local community.

After his death, Joe Hunte Court – a sheltered housing scheme in Lambeth near Knight’s Hill – was named after him. There is also a memorial to him in St Vincent Close, named after the island where he was born. Hunte’s story – and his grave alongside the many Victorians buried here – shows how much the community has changed since West Norwood Cemetery was established. We will hear about more of these changes at the next stop.



Detail from Joe Hunte's headstone
Rory Walsh © RGS-IBG Discovering Britain


About 20 metres further on the left hand side is a tree growing at an angle. Beside this tree is a headstone with the name Dennison. Stop when you find this grave.

6 The pioneer Columbus

The cemetery is now technically full. Among the last people to be buried here was Oswald Dennison, a Jamaican who arrived in Britain in June 1948. He was one of the young men from the West Indies who came to England on board the former troop ship the Empire Windrush. These men had been invited by the British government to find their fortunes here and help rebuild war-torn Britain.

Dennison was one the first of the immigrants to land a job, an event that was reported in The Daily Express on 23 June1948:

“Oswald M Dennison – the first of 430 job-seeking Jamaicans to land at Tilbury yesterday morning from the trooper Empire Windrush – started a £4-a-week job last night. Wrapped in two warm blankets to keep warm, he settled in as a night watchman of the meals marquee in Clapham Common, SW where 240 of the Jamaicans are staying in deep wartime shelters. Dennison, 35-yearold sign painter, got his job after making a speech of thanks to government officials. He called for three cheers for the Ministry of Labour and raised his Anthony Eden hat. Others clapped. Panamas, blue, pink, and biscuit trilbys and one bowler were waved.”

It has been calculated that some 493 men were on the Windrush. The Colonial Office was forced into short-term measures to house them, so over 200 men spent the night in the Clapham Common air raid shelter. The nearest labour exchange was Brixton. As a result many of the settlers set up home in the area, making it one of Britain’s first Caribbean communities. They included Dennison, who later became well-known as a street-trader with his own fabric stall in Brixton market. Today an estimated 800,000 people of Jamaican background live in Britain.




Empire Windrush 
© Michael A W Griffin Wikimedia Commons


Just to the left of Dennison’s grave is a grass path. Follow this path slightly uphill. Pass some trees on the left and immediately after these are two ornate arched mausoleums. In front of the right hand one is a large, pale, newly-restored headstone with the name Hughes. Stop when you find this grave.

7 Russian revolutionary

This tall white headstone belongs to the Hughes family. Among the names listed on it, look out for John Hughes. He was an ironmaster and engineer who was born in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales but found his fortune
in Russia.

In 1859 Hughes moved to London where he became the manager of the Millwall Docks Iron Works. His job involved producing metal armour plating for wooden warships, which made them less vulnerable to

Because of his expertise in working with iron, in 1869 Hughes was invited to St Petersburg by the Tsar of Russia. He was asked to help develop Russia’s iron and steel industry by setting up a foundry. Foundries need huge amounts of heat to melt and shape metal. At the time, the major source was coal. There were plentiful coal reserves in the Donbass basin, so Hughes established a settlement there with a foundry and several mines. It was named Yuzovka - or ‘Hughes town’ - in his honour. Today the settlement is known as Donetsk and is one of the largest cities in Ukraine.

Hughes died in St Petersburg after suffering a stroke. This 1½ ton headstone was recently reinstated with funds from Donetsk. For many years it had been lying face down on the ground. A little later on, we will find out why this monument and many others in the cemetery fell into disrepair.



Melting metal being ladled for casting 
Wikimedia Commons


With your back to Hughes’ grave walk straight across the grass until you reach the tarmac road. Turn left up the road and after about 5 metres on the right hand side is a large tree. Walk uphill across the grass and look for a white marble headstone with the name Brunton. Stop when you have found this grave.

8 The father of Japanese lighthouses

The lighthouse engraved on this headstone gives a clue to this person’s life and work. Richard Brunton was born in Fetteresso, Kincardineshire in Scotland. After training as a railway engineer, he travelled to Japan in 1868 to help their government build a series of lighthouses. Brunton helped design and build 26 of them and became known as the ‘Father of Japanese Lighthouses’.

Brunton was one of the few trained engineers in feudal Japan at the time. Before he returned to England in 1876, he also helped to redesign Yokohama harbour and founded Japan’s first school of civil engineering. Brunton is still fondly remembered in Japan. His lighthouses are often known as ‘Brunton’s Children’ and a statue of him stands in Yokohama.

His headstone looks quite clean and new. This is because Brunton’s original monument was destroyed and this replacement dates from 1991. It was funded by the Yokohama Chamber of Commerce to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Brunton’s birth. The Japanese Ambassador in London attended the ceremony. A memorial service was also held here in 2001 on the centenary of Brunton’s death, organised by the Inubohzaki Brunton Association.



Kinkasan Lighthouse, off the Oshika Peninsula of Japan
Wikimedia Commons


Retrace your steps to the tarmac road and turn left down the hill. Turn left at the junction. After about 20 metres, turn left onto a grass path marked ‘Ship Path’. Follow this path uphill. After a short distance there is a tall white mausoleum on the right through the trees. Make your way between the graves to the mausoleum, or stay on the path if you prefer.

9 Well catered for

This magnificent mausoleum, almost like a small bungalow, belonged to the Pond family who made their fortune in Australia. Christopher Pond was an Englishman who went to Melbourne in the 1850s in search of gold. Instead he found something arguably more valuable - the foundations of a business empire.

Soon after arriving in Australia, Pond met another expatriate, Felix Spiers. The pair teamed up to buy and run the Café de Paris, which catered for Southern Australia’s rapidly rising population of gold hunters. The investment prospered and the partners diversified into railway catering.

In 1861 Pond also organised the first tour of Australia by a professional England cricket team. It was only the second overseas tour an England team had made (the first was a tour of the United States in 1859). The tour was a sporting and financial success, with Pond reputedly making a large profit in side bets. The idea came after Pond had tried unsuccessfully to encourage the writer Charles Dickens to tour Australia and New Zealand.

After selling their Australian enterprises Pond and Spiers returned to England in 1863. From their base near Ludgate Hill they pioneered railway catering. The Spiers and Pond firm provided catering facilities on the mainline and London Underground network. Eventually they operated over 200 buffets and 60 dining cars. The enterprising pair also founded The Criterion Theatre and Restaurant in London’s Piccadilly Circus and The Gaiety Theatre Restaurant on The Strand. The Spiers and Pond company was eventually taken over in 1960 by Express Dairy.

Take the time to admire the detail of the mausoleum. Mausoleums like these were regarded as part of a family’s estate and were maintained like houses. The Pond mausoleum is now Grade II listed. In fact this cemetery has 66 listed monuments, second only to Kensal Green Cemetery.



The England cricket team that toured Australia in 1861-62
Wikimedia Commons


If you went right up to Pond’s mausoleum, make your way back to Ship Path. Continue up Ship Path and look for a large tomb on the right hand side with the name Wimble and a ship on the top. Stop beside this tomb.

10 All at sea

As you might guess from the ships on the top and sides of this tomb, this person had a nautical career. John Wimble was born in Maidstone in Kent before, as his inscription says, his “eventful life was passed on the seas”.

His first voyage was probably at age 12 or 13 and by 1823, aged 26, he became a ships’ captain for the East India Company. The Company had a monopoly on trade with India, importing goods such as dye, silk, cotton, tea and opium. In India the Company was very powerful with military and legal powers. It was the forerunner of the British imperial administration there.

Wimble’s served on several ships and three are depicted on his monument.

The back panel features the Florentia, the first ship he captained. It is shown off the Cape of South Africa in 1825. Before the Suez Canal was built, ships to India had to take a circuitous route. From England, Wimble would have sailed to the island of Madeira near Tenerife, turned towards Brazil, then stopped for supplies at South Africa and continued to India.

Another of Wimble’s ships was the London, which he took to India five times in the 1830s. It is shown in heavy seas with a broken mast. The inscription reads “off Gangam in October 1832”. This inscription is likely to refer to Ganjam, a coastal district of Orissa in India, which East India Company ships would have passed en route to Calcutta.

The other ship shown on the monument is the Maidstone. In 1840 Wimble took the Maidstone on a round the world voyage. From Calcutta in India, he sailed to New Zealand, then New Jersey and New York on the eastern United States coast. Wimble retired after some 34 years at sea.

His monument is shaped like a sea chest that would have been carried on ships and the base features decorative moulding of a ship’s rope. Perhaps the most striking feature though is on the top. When the memorial was first built, the model ship originally featured masts and rigging!




East Indiamen in a Gale (c.1759) by Charles Brooking
National Maritime Museum via Wikimedia Commons


Continue up Ship Path to a junction. To the right is an impressive and ornate mausoleum with the name Berens. Stop beside this tomb.

11 A fancy monument

This elaborate and imposing mausoleum is another of the cemetery’s spectacular listed monuments. Otto Alexander Berens was a linen draper whose firm Berens, Blumberg & Company imported and dealt in fancy goods such as lace and silk. Berens was born in Prussia which today spans land from present day Germany to Russia.

Berens, Blumberg & Company was based in St Paul’s Churchyard from the 1830s before moving to Cannon Street in the 1850s. Otto Berens’ Grade II* listed monument was designed by leading Victorian architect, Edward Middleton Barry whose work included designing the Houses of Parliament.

Berens is one of many Germans buried at West Norwood as there was once a German church at nearby Forest Hill. Take time to look at the details on Berens’ mausoleum. Look out in particular for his family crest, showing a bears holding swords, and statues and the friezes that show Jesus Christ and the twelve Stations of the Cross.



The Berens mausoleum
Rory Walsh © RGS-IBG Discovering Britain


When you are ready, turn left and continue straight along the grass path. A short way beyond Berens is a headstone on the right hand side with the names Samuel and Isabella Beeton. Stop beside this grave.

12 A household name

Near to the spectacular Berens tomb, this modest headstone could be easily missed. But here is possibly the most well-known person buried in the cemetery, certainly the most famous woman. Isabella Mary Beeton, better known as Mrs Beeton, was the original celebrity chef and one of the most famous cookery writers in British history.

Isabella was educated in Heidelberg in Germany, where she developed a keen interest in baking. Her husband, Samuel, was a journalist and publisher. She wrote articles for his publication The Englishwoman’s
Domestic Magazine and later became its editor.

To ensure that the magazine was considered stylish, the Beetons travelled to Paris to research the latest fashions in ladies’ clothing. They became friends and business partners of French fashion magazine
owners Monsieur and Madame Goubaud.

The Beetons’ research paid off and, from May 1860, each issue of The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine contained an exclusive plate showing a woman dressed in the latest French fashions. This enabled English middle-class women to read about, and even make, the latest Parisian outfits.

But it was cookery not fashion that would make Isabella famous. In 1861, a collection of Isabella’s articles were published in a book, Beeton’s Book of Household Management. It was intended as a guide for middle-class Victorian women on how to run a household. It covered many topics including childcare, religion, industrialism and managing servants.

The main content though was cookery with over 900 pages of recipes. The book was a great success, with 125,000 copies sold by 1868. It made Isabella a household name and is still a prized book today for many readers.

Unfortunately, Isabella Beeton contracted puerperal fever during the birth of her fourth child and died aged just 28. Sadly deaths like this were common in Victorian Britain. Many people suffered poor living and working conditions as Britain rapidly industrialised. Poor sanitation affected people from all classes - Prince Albert himself died from typhoid, a disease spread by infected water. Besides Isabella, two of the Beetons’ four children died in infancy. The surviving two erected this modest headstone in the 1930s after the original one fell into disrepair.



Paris fashions in the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, 1869
Wikimedia Commons


Continue along the grass path until you reach the tarmac road. Go straight across to the building signed Columbarium Recordia. Go inside the main door and then turn left through the doors marked Recordia. Immediately through the doors on the right hand side is a pale wood panel with the title “Willow”. Look for the name Hackenschmidt.

13 The Russian Bear

This memorial plate records George Hackenschmidt who was a champion wrestler and weightlifter. He was born in Dorpat in Russia (today Tartu in Estonia) and in 1898 he won the world Greco-Roman wrestling championship.

Between 1899 and 1911 ‘the Hack’ was the first ever world champion wrestler. He invented the wrestling hold known as the Bear Hug and the weightlifting technique known as the Hack Squat. The former came from his nickname, ‘The Russian Bear’. He travelled to London in 1902 where he appeared on music hall bills. He became famous and tours to America and Australia soon followed.

In later life Hackenschmidt adopted French nationality but became a naturalised Briton in 1950. Fluent in five languages, he published self-improvement and philosophical books. He lived in West Norwood and after cremation his ashes were spread in the cemetery where his French wife is buried.

The memorial tablet we can see today is a replacement for an earlier brass one that would have been elsewhere in the crematorium. The crematorium itself is a replacement too.

West Norwood Cemetery originally had two ornate gothic chapels, one for Church of England services and one for Non-Conformist services. During the Second World War they were both bomb damaged and later
demolished to be replaced by the building that we are in now.




Estonian wrestler and weightlifter George Hackenschmidt (circa 1900)
Wikimedia Commons


Leave the crematorium the way you came in. Turn left on the tarmac road around the back of the building. Where the road splits, keep left on the upper level. There are some stone steps going up into a small walled garden. Immediately before them on the left is a headstone with the name Roberts. Stop when you find this grave.

14 Eastern promise

We are now at another simple headstone that belies a colourful character. Artist David Roberts was born in Stockbridge near Edinburgh. He began his career as a theatrical scene painter, eventually decorating Drury Lane and Covent Garden theatres.

He started painting landscapes and architectural scenes in his spare time which he sent off for exhibition. Accepted as a member of the Royal Academy he travelled through most of Europe and produced various paintings based on places he visited. One of his first commercial successes was a painting of Rouen Cathedral which he sold for 80 guineas.

In August 1838 Roberts set sail for Egypt after fellow artist JMW Turner persuaded him to give up the theatre jobs. Roberts toured Sudan, Jordan, Israel and Palestine where he made numerous sketches and on his return worked them into paintings.

Egypt and the East were highly fashionable subjects at the time and Roberts’ work became extremely popular, which secured his fame. He is still best known today for his paintings of Egypt and the Holy Lands.

The headstone we can see is a replacement dating from 1996. It was made with funds donated by London galleries who still deal in Roberts’ works. Their credits are listed on the back.




The Great Sphinx, Pyramids of Gizeh (1839) by David Roberts
Wikimedia Commons


Follow the path round to the left and round the back of the crematorium. Before the chapel doors is an orange mausoleum with the name Henry Tate. Stop by this mausoleum.

15 Mr Cube

From an artist we arrive at the founder of a worldfamous art gallery. Sir Henry Tate established two British names that have become international brands; the Tate & Lyle sugar company and the Tate Gallery. The first grew from his business acumen and ingenuity while the second resulted from Tate’s modesty and generousity.

Tate was born in Chorley in Lancashire and grew up in Liverpool. He started in business as a grocer and by 1854 had a chain of six stores. In 1859 Tate became a partner in the sugar refinery of John Wright and Co. A decade later he had taken over the company and renamed it Henry Tate & Sons. Liverpool’s huge port was an ideal place to import sugar and the company grew. Supplies of raw sugar cane came from the East Indies, India, Mauritius, South America and the United States.

In 1872, Tate bought a patent from the German inventor and engineer Eugen Langen for a method of making sugar cubes. The process transformed the sugar industry and Tate became known as ‘Mr Cube’. He also became a multi-millionaire. After he opened another refinery at Silvertown in London, Tate moved to the capital. He donated large amounts of his fortune to charities, education and health organisations. He also funded three public libraries in the London Borough of Lambeth.

Tate was also an art collector. He donated his collection of paintings to the nation and spent over £100,000 to build a gallery to display them. The National Gallery of British Art opened in 1897 on the site of the old Millbank Prison. It became known as the ‘Tate Gallery’, a title officially adopted over thirty years after his death.

In 1921, Tate’s sugar company merged to become Tate & Lyle. Today the company has sugar refineries and food factories throughout the world. There are now four Tate galleries in Britain each displaying international art works. The Tate Modern on London’s South Bank is the world’s most visited modern art gallery with an average of 4.7 million visitors each year.

Tate’s mausoleum is Grade II* listed. It is made from terracotta and has recently been refurbished by the Tate family. On the way to the next stop look out for a similar looking mausoleum made for Sir Henry Doulton, founder of Doulton pottery.



Sugar packets at Tate Modern art gallery
© Julian Stallabrass via Flickr.com


Retrace your steps to the road junction and turn left downhill. On the right is a grass path called Doulton Path. Go along the path then at the Doulton mausoleum turn left and walk across the grass for about 3 rows. Find a cross decorated with palm fronds bearing the names of the Cross family.

16 The Odysseus of cricket

The Cross family grave we have reached also contains the ashes of Martin Bladen, generally known as Lord Hawke. Hawke was a cricketer who played for England and helped to spread the game around the world. Though born in Willingham in Lincolnshire, in 1875

Hawke’s family moved to Wighill Park near Tadcaster in Yorkshire. The move meant Hawke could play cricket for Yorkshire’s county side and he soon became the captain. His leadership transformed an erratic team once described as “ten drunks and a parson” into winners. He led Yorkshire to eight County Championship titles.

As an England player, Hawke toured the world for matches including in Australia, India, the United States and Canada, the West Indies, South Africa and Argentina. Fellow cricketer Sir Pelham Warner called Hawke “the Odysseus of cricket” because “he was the first to preach the gospel of cricket throughout the Empire”.

After retirement Hawke was president of Marylebone Cricket Club (or the MCC) which was then the governing body of the sport. After his death in Edinburgh, Hawke was cremated. His ashes are interred here with his late wife and her first husband Arthur Cross.



Detail from an 1892 Vanity Fair cartoon of Lord Hawke
Wikimedia Commons


About 10 metres downhill, in the same row of graves, is a polished pink pillar and urn with the name Reuter. Cross the grass to this grave.

17 News of the world

This stop leads us to one of the world’s largest companies - the Reuters news agency. This is the grave of its founder, Baron Paul de Reuter.

Reuter was born in Kassel, Germany as Israel Beer Josafat but changed his name after converting to Christianity. In 1848 he moved to Paris and worked as a translator for Agence France Presse – the world’s oldest news agency.

The next year, Reuter founded his own news agency in Aachen in Germany. His company was the world’s first centre for collecting and transmitting news by electric telegraphs. Telegraphs sent information by code along cables which meant messages could be sent quickly across continents.

When a telegraph cable was laid under the English Channel in 1851, Reuter moved his company to London where he negotiated a contract with the London Stock Exchange to transmit share prices. Reuters soon
developed a reputation for news scoops, including the first European reports of US President Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.

Today Reuters is a global news agency that continues to embrace new technology to gather and communicate news. Reuters has headquarters in London, New York and Singapore, operates in over 200 cities in 94 countries and uses about 20 languages. Almost every major news company in the world subscribes to their services.

Reuter took British nationality then became a Baron in 1871. His monument is Grade II listed and is maintained by Reuters. Look closely at the inscription. Have you spotted the spelling mistake? The grave says ‘Juluis’ rather than Julius. You might be surprised to know that there are several graves in this cemetery that have spelling errors on!



Detail of Paul Julius Reuter by Rudolf Lehmann (1869)
Wikimedia Commons


Make your way back across the grass to the tarmac road. Go to the opposite side of the road and look for a gravestone with the name Siebe which is in the front row and next to a litter bin. Stop when you have found this grave.

18 The godfather of diving

We have now arrived at another German entrepreneur. Augustus Siebe was born in Saxony and became a mechanical engineer. He served in the Prussian army During the Napoleonic Wars and then came to London where he established a watchmaking and silversmith shop.

Siebe worked on various inventions and made others under licence such as an ice-making machine. Siebe then met Charles and John Deane who had developed a copper helmet with windows that firemen could wear to reduce smoke inhalation.

Siebe suggested that with a few changes the helmet could also be used underwater. The Siebe diving helmet was born. The helmets were a success and were eventually used by the Admiralty.

Siebe continually improved the design and received a prize for it at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London’s Hyde Park. He also won prizes in Paris (1855), the 1862 London Exhibition and in Dublin (1865).

The Siebe company produced a range of diving equipment and breathing apparatus until it closed in 1998. Siebe’s original headstone was destroyed in 1987. This replacement one was erected in 1996 by the Historical Diving Society.

Before moving on, it is worth thinking about Siebe’s prize at the 1851 Great Exhibition. This Exhibition had a great effect on the development of Norwood and the land around the cemetery. The Exhibition was held in a huge glass building which became known as ‘the Crystal Palace’. When the Hyde Park exhibition finished this building was moved to Sydenham Hill, just a mile from the cemetery. The new suburbs that developed around the building also became known as Crystal Palace. Many people buried at West Norwood had connections with the Exhibition or the palace. The palace building overlooked the cemetery until it burned down in 1936.



Diving helmet, Augustus Siebe's headstone
Rory Walsh © RGS-IBG Discovering Britain


With your back to Siebe’s grave, go along St Mary-At-Hill path opposite. Follow this path for about one hundred metres until it starts to bend right and go uphill. Look for a headstone on the left with the name Dr Normandy.

19 Clean water and clear ground

Alphonse René Le Mire de Normandy was born in Rouen in northern France, where he studied medicine before devoting himself to chemistry. After he settled in England in 1843 he anglicised his name and became known as ‘Dr Normandy’. A prolific inventor, he registered a number of medicinal patents including indelible inks and dyes (1839) and a process for hardening soap (1844).

He also invented a method of distilling sea water for drinking. The apparatus was very successful and used widely on ocean liners. One such ship was the Confiance, which in 1858 took emigrants to Australia. During the four-month voyage from Plymouth, the distiller made 3,770 gallons of drinkable water.

The ship’s chief surgeon noted “Such is the quality of the later that the whole of the emigrants on board used little else”. The need for clean drinking water on board ships was vital and Dr Normandy’s patent earned him a medal at the 1862 Great Exhibition.

Looking around Dr Normandy’s grave you will notice that this area is quite open, with none of  the elaborate tombs, mausoleums and graves we have seen elsewhere. Norwood cemetery was originally private rather than municipal. By the 1960s it had fallen into disrepair and was taken over by Lambeth Council. As the cemetery was full, the council demolished many of the old monuments and cleared large sections to make space for new burials.

Unfortunately this was done without going through the proper legal process and the old graves were demolished before they could be recorded. This area by Dr Normandy’s grave is one that was cleared and reused. Dr Normandy’s original headstone was destroyed in 1990 but reinstated by the council in 2002.



Diagram of Dr Normandy's sea water distiller
Via chestofbooks.com


Retrace your steps along the St Mary at Hill Path until you are in line with the end wall of the factory over the cemetery wall on the right hand side. From this point, turn left onto the grass and go to the tree. Four rows behind the tree is a tall headstone marked Fairlie.

20 On track

So far we have heard about many of the great advances of the Victorian era, including light bulbs, telegraphs, iron foundries, diving suits and distilled water. But probably the most far-reaching Victorian development was the railway.

This grave records a man who expanded Victorian Britain’s rail network and also helped build railways overseas. Born in Glasgow, Robert Fairlie was a railway engineer best known for developing a new kind of train - the Fairlie locomotive.

Fairlie began his career at Crewe in northwest England before joining The Londonderry and Coleraine Railway in Northern Ireland. From 1856 he worked in Bombay in India before moving to Wales in the 1860s. There he worked for Ffestiniog Railway, a line in north Wales that ran through the mountains and forests of Snowdonia.

Trains often struggled to run along this narrow and steep route so Fairlie developed a new locomotive design featuring double boilers and swivelling bogies. These produced extra power for going uphill and enabled the trains to go round tight corners.

In February 1870, Fairlie invited railway engineers from across the world to trial his new trains. Fairlie’s design was a great success and he received orders and commissions from many countries. Within six years, 43 railways worldwide used Fairlie’s patent.

Many trains today still use a similar system. The Ffestiniog Railway meanwhile is now a heritage line and Fairlie’s original trains are tourist attractions.

The next stop is at the end of St Mary-At-Hill path. As you walk back along it, look at the headstones on either side. How many international names can you spot?

Look out for gravestones with writing in Chinese and another one with engraved with an African tribal language. There are Italian, Greek, Spanish, West Indian and other names, all reflecting Lambeth’s increasingly multi-cultural population over recent decades.




Livingston Thompson, a Fairlie Patent steam engine, 1879
Wikimedia Commons


Return to the path and turn left, retracing your earlier route. At the junction, turn right down the main tarmac road and continue down the hill for another 10 metres or so. On your left hand side is a litter bin. From the bin, go across the grass towards the trees for about 10 metres to a marble cross on a stepped base with the name Lanner.

21 Dancing across the world

This grave records a musical family. Katharina Lanner, commonly known as Katti, was a ballet dancer and choreographer from Austria who popularised ballet worldwide. The daughter of composer Joseph Lanner, Katti was born in Vienna and studied at the Court Opera. She then moved to Germany and appeared in several ballets there and in Scandinavia.

During this time she married ballet director Johann Geraldini. The couple established the Viennese Ballet Company and travelled the world. Katti appeared in New York in 1870, with her first British appearance the following year at Drury Lane in the ballet ‘Giselle’.

From 1875 Katti spent the rest of her life in Britain, first as a dancer then a choreographer. Two years later she was appointed director of the National Training School of Dancing.

During the 1880s and 1890s she worked with Italian composer and conductor Leopold Wenzel. Ballet had fallen into decline in Britain in the late nineteenth century but their spectacular ballet shows helped to revive its popularity.

Katti’s marriage was unhappy and by the time she had moved to London it was with another man, Italian dancer Giuseppe de Francesco. Katti is buried alongside him and his aged mother. Look closely and you will see Giuseppe’s name is wrongly spelt!



Austrian ballet dancer Katti Lanner, 1861
Wikimedia Commons


Retrace your steps back to the litter bin and then turn left down the tarmac road. There is an enclosed section of elaborate mausoleums and tombs on the left hand side. Go through the gateway into this area.

22 Necropolis

This corner is the architectural jewel in the crown of West Norwood cemetery. The Greek Orthodox enclave, or Greek Necropolis, features some of the largest and grandest memorials. London’s wealthy Greek
community grew from the 1820s when Greece was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. In 1821 war broke out after Greece fought for independence from Turkey and many Greeks emigrated to escape persecution.

In December 1842 the cemetery company agreed to lease a plot of land to members of the Brotherhood of the Greek community. The plot cost £300 (or £250,000 today) and was used for Greek Orthodox community

Early Greek migrants settled in north London. Despite being on the other side of the capital, West Norwood became their cemetery of choice and hosted over 1,000 Greek Orthodox funerals.

Many of the Greeks buried here were wealthy merchants and ship owners who traded across the British Empire, the Mediterranean, Russia and United States.

Many monuments in the Necropolis feature neoclassical Greek designs. ‘Classical’ architecture refers to building styles in ancient Greece and Rome. Neo-classical means a more modern interpretation of these styles. Neo-classicism was very fashionable in Britain from the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century and was used on many memorials and public buildings.

In the Necropolis, look for columns, portico roofs, stepped bases and statues in togas. Also look for Greek writing on the inscriptions.

Between 1850 and 1870, London’s Greek population grew from a few hundred to several thousand. The Necropolis was extended three times (in 1860, 1872 and 1889) but was soon full.

In 1882 St Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral opened in Bayswater. St Sophia’s obtained plots at two newer cemeteries, Hendon and New Southgate, and these succeeded Norwood for Greek Orthodox burials.

Today, an estimated 12,500 Greek-Cypriot people live in London. Many remain in the north of the city, especially Wood Green, Green Lanes and Palmers Green – affectionately known as Wood Greek, Greek Lanes or Palmers Greek. In fact, Palmers Green has the largest Greek- Cypriot community outside of Cyprus.



Greek Necropolis statues
Rory Walsh © RGS-IBG Discovering Britain


Go through the arch of the Greek enclosure and stop by the largest building at the back left corner of the plot.

23 Riches, royal and rackets

Among the many remarkable structures in the Necropolis is the huge mortuary Chapel of St Stephen. It was built in neo-classical style after the Parthenon and the Temple of Hephaestus, which are both in Athens. The Chapel was built for merchant Stephen Ralli to house his son, who had died as a schoolboy in 1872 of rheumatic fever.

It is one of several memorials in the Necropolis to members of the Ralli family. The Rallis settled in Britain from 1815 and became very wealthy textiles and grain merchants. Their company Ralli Brothers shipped goods all over the world.

Another wealthy family in the Greek enclave are the Vagliano brothers. They are buried in the tall octagonal mausoleum to the right of the Chapel of St Stephen. The Vagliano brothers were grain merchants who are rumoured to have sometimes bought Russia’s entire annual wheat crop! After death, Panaghis Vagliano left a fortune of over £3 million pounds – equivalent to £1.3 billion today.

In front of the Vagliano mausoleum, look for a monument with a moulded coffin under a canopy. It is for Aristides Caridia and his son George. Aristides worked for a firm of merchants in Calcutta, India. George was a professional tennis player and won two silver medals at the 1908 London Olympics.

Also buried here are Greek royals. In front of the Argenti mausoleum by the railings are two crucifixes. They record Princess Eugenie Paleologus and her English husband. Princess Eugenie was from a noble Greek family exiled in Malta. Eugenie’s headstone records her as “a descendent of the Grecian Emperors of Byzantium”. Byzantium was an ancient Greek city now known as Istanbul in Turkey.



Peter Ralli family mausoleum
Rory Walsh © RGS-IBG Discovering Britain


Take your time to explore the Necropolis. When you are ready, leave through the gates and turn left along the tarmac road. Follow the road up to the first wooden bench on the left. Beside this bench is a grass path leading diagonally upwards. Follow this path for about 20 metres. Immediately after a thick bush on the left is a headstone with the name Moffat. Stop by this grave.

24 On a mission

The next graves on our route record another type of Victorian travellers. Missionaries travelled across the British Empire and beyond to spread Christianity. Here are two missionary graves. 

On the left is Robert Moffat. The dates on his headstone are the years he lived and worked in Africa. Born in Ormiston in Scotland he became a Wesleyan minister. His first religious mission took him to South Africa in 1816. In 1825 Moffat and his wife Mary founded a church at Kuruman in the Northern Cape Province. Today it is a national monument.

In 1859 the Moffats founded another mission at Inyati in Zimbabwe. There Robert Moffat translated the Bible into Sechuana, a dialect spoken by the Tswana people in Botswana.

Among the visitors at the Moffats’ Kuruman church was another Scottish missionary, David Livingstone. Livingstone was one of the most popular figures of Victorian Britain. From 1840 until his death in 1873, he explored many parts of Africa. His missions included journeys through present-day South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, DR Congo, Malawi and Tanzania.

In 1844, Livingstone was attacked by a lion and stayed at Kuruman to recover. He then married the Moffat’s oldest daughter, also called Mary. The tree where Livingstone proposed to Mary is still at the church. Mary travelled with Livingstone until the couple had three children. From then on Mary moved back to live with her parents.

In 1862 Mary Livingstone joined her husband in Malawi but contracted malaria and died. She is buried in Chupanga in Mozambique. Livingstone continued his travels until he too died of malaria in Zambia. His loyal attendants carried his body over 1,000 miles to the coast so that Livingstone could be returned to Britain and buried there.

Robert and Mary Moffat meanwhile had returned to Britain due to failing health. Robert Moffat attended the unveiling of Livingstone’s statue in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh.

Immediately to the right of the Moffats’ grave is that of the Reverend Samuel and Mary Annear. Mary was born in Redruth in Cornwall and the couple married in 1843. The grave records that Samuel was a missionary in West Africa, the West Indies and Australia before he died in British Columbia in Canada. The Annears are probably buried next to the Moffats because they were fellow members of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society.

The Annears had a daughter born in Nigeria and there are mission records of their travels elsewhere including the Gambia, Ghana and Sierra Leone. They later settled in South Minneapolis in the United States.

The St Paul Daily Globe newspaper from December 1st 1884 records that the Reverend Annear gave a speech in favour of the prohibition of alcohol. Described as “an extensive traveller in Africa for fifteen years among the nations”, Annear “had found strong drink to be the greatest curse of the world”.



South African missionary Robert Moffat 
Wikimedia Commons


Retrace your steps down the grass path and turn left along the tarmac road. At the junction, bear right. Immediately on the right is a sign to the Rose Garden. About five metres beyond this sign, look for a large pink column topped by a cross, one row in from the road. The name on the memorial is Cinquevalli though the inscription is difficult to read. Stop by this monument.

25 The Human Billiard Table

This suitably impressive obelisk is for a great showman. Paul Cinquevalli was a juggler who performed incredible feats on London stages. He was born Emil Otto Paul Braun in Lissa in Poland. Two years later his family moved to Berlin and he never returned to his native land.

Aged 14 he then literally ran away from home to join the circus. Giving up his academic schooling he joined the troupe, initially as a gymnast and tight-rope walker. After touring Russia and Germany, he suffered a serious fall in Odessa that led to ten months in hospital.

After his recovery he became Paul Cinquevalli; he adopted the name from Giuseppe Chiese- Cinquevalli, the Italian who had taught him circus skills. Paul Cinquevalli dedicated his act to juggling. He first performed in Britain in 1885 at London’s Covent Garden Theatre where he was billed as ‘The Human Billiard Table’ because of a trick of running balls over his back into pockets. He also juggled bottles, plates, glasses and even open umbrellas.

Famously, Cinquevalli could juggle while holding a chair in his mouth - often with an assistant sitting in the chair and reading a newspaper! Sometimes the assistant supported a desk on their lap as well! Cinquevalli appeared at the first Royal Variety Performance in 1912. He retired in 1915 after being accused of pro-German sympathies on the outbreak of the First World War.



Polish-born juggler Paul Cinquevalli
Wikimedia Commons


Continue along the tarmac road for about 30 metres. Look for a path to the left with a post at the end. Go up this path and turn left at the top. After about 25 metres, look for a monument on the left with the name Manns. It is made of dark stone and modelled as rocks with a cross on top. Stop when you have found this grave.

26 Conducting taste

August Manns was a musician and composer who settled in Britain after growing up in Germany. Manns has a close association with the Norwood area as he formed and conducted the Crystal Palace orchestra based a mile from this cemetery.

Manns was born in Stolzenberg in Prussia, today part of Gdansk in Poland. He avoided national service by volunteering to play in military bands but resigned after being reprimanded for allowing his band to appear on parade with badly polished buttons!

After a series of concerts in Amsterdam Manns came to Britain to play in the Crystal Palace wind band. In 1855, Manns took charge of them and transformed the band into an orchestra. As its conductor for over forty years Manns had a major influence on the development of British musical taste.

Manns was the first conductor in Britain to stage new works by European composers including Schubert and Schumann. He also popularised works by Elgar, Brahms, Dvorák and Joachim Raff. The Crystal Palace concerts were hugely popular and gave Manns celebrity status. He took British nationality in 1894 and was knighted in 1903. It is estimated he staged over 12,000 concerts featuring pieces by 300 composers.



Detail from Vanity Fair cartoon of August Manns (1895)
Wikimedia Commons


Retrace your steps back to the tarmac road. Turn left and after about 15 metres on the right find a small white headstone and larger grey headstone immediately behind, both with the name Wilkinson. Stop by this grave.

27 In Flanders fields

You might wonder why this grave has two headstones. You may also recognise the white one at the front. It is a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (or CWGC) headstone.

During the First World War many soldiers killed in the trenches were buried in unmarked or unknown graves. The CWGC was established by royal charter in 1917 to identify and record these men. Since then the
organisation has commemorated over a million burials at 23,000 sites in some 153 countries.

Today the CWGC maintains records of the 1.7 million Commonwealth soldiers killed in action in both world wars. Whenever the CWGC find a former serviceman, they mark the grave with one of their standard headstones. Each one is a standard colour and size - regardless of rank, race or religion.

Lieutenant Charles H Wilkinson was originally buried here with a civilian headstone but much more recently a CWGC headstone has been added. He was born in New Zealand and was studying in England at the outbreak of the First World War. He enlisted in 1915 and became a member of the Royal Field Artillery, hence the gun on the headstone. He received the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre (Cross of War). This French military medal is awarded for acts of heroism in battle, in Wilkinson’s case in Belgium.

Wilkinson died in the Liverpool Military Hospital on 13th October 1918. He was buried here five days later aged just 21. The reason for this choice of burial place is not known. His grave was purchased by an apparently unrelated resident of nearby Streatham but later its ownership was transferred in 1923 to his father Charles A Wilkinson back home in Eltham, New Zealand.



Commonwealth War Graves 


Continue along the road. At the junction, bear right. This will take you back to the cemetery’s main entrance.

28 Full circle

Charles Wilkinson’s grave brings us full circle on our walk around West Norwood Cemetery. We have gone full circle around the memorials and also on our journey of the cemetery’s worldwide stories. We began with an American who came to London and invented a machine gun; we end with a young New Zealand soldier killed in the First World War trenches.

We have also reached full circle as the walk has hopefully not only been about death but about celebrating life too.

Along the way we heard about many lives spanning several centuries. They included Victorians who travelled the world with their engineering skills, inventions or religious messages and generations of foreign-born people made London their home and brought with them their businesses, artistic talents and cultures.

We saw how the community of West Norwood has changed through different eras. Multi-culturalism is often considered a modern phenomenon but the people buried here reflect how London has always been a vibrant multi-cultural city.

We have only visited a small selection of memorials on this walk. There are many other people buried here who have interesting stories. They include James Busby who introduced wine to Australia; Sister Eliza Roberts, Florence Nightingale’s principal nurse during the Crimean War; Pre- Raphaelite artist and model Maria Zambaco; Alma Jean Henry who was an opera singer from Trinidad; Arthur Anderson, founder of the P&O shipping company; geologist Dr Gideon Mantell; steel manufacturer Sir Henry Bessemer; Baptist minister Charles Spurgeon; and engineer James Henry Greathead who tunnelled the London Underground.

We have also heard about some of this cemetery’s fascinating history; how it was established to meet pressing demand for burial space, became a fashionable attraction, survived bombing in the Second World War and then fell into decline.

Today tombs and graves are being restored and visitors are again walking the grounds. If you want to find out more about the cemetery and the people buried here, the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery have carried out extensive research. There are a range of books and guides available from the cemetery office. You might also like to support the work of the Friends with a small donation.



West Norwood Cemetery, 1891
© London Borough of Lambeth

Lives of the dead

Headstones at West Norwood © Rory Walsh RGS-IG Discovering Britain

West Norwood Cemetery walk

A walk in one of London's 'Magnificent Seven'

In Victorian London, life expectancy was short and burial space scarce. So from the 1830s large private cemeteries were built at the edges of the capital. 

With expensive plots and elaborate graves, they became known as the ‘Magnificent Seven’. And for many years West Norwood was the most fashionable one to be buried in.

Royals and inventors, artists and writers, soldiers and sports heroes - West Norwood is the final home of generations of people. See their incredible monuments and discover their fascinating stories on this walk created with the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery.

Follow the walk by clicking on the map pins
or downloading the guides below

Location: West Norwood Cemetery, Greater London
Start and finish point: West Norwood Cemetery main entrance, Norwood Road, SE27 9JU
Keep an eye out for: Please be respectful of the graves and other visitors
Find out more:

The Friends of West Norwood Cemetery

West Norwood Cemetery walk credits

Thanks to - 

Jill Dudman, Colin Fenn and Paul Graham from The Friends of West Norwood Cemetery for creating this walk and providing the audio commentary

Jenny Lunn and Caroline Millar for editing the walk materials

Rory Walsh for editing the walk materials and providing photos

The Lambeth Archive and Grace’s Guide for kind permission to use archive images from their collections

Other photos reproduced under Creative Commons Licenses

One of the most celebrated people at rest here is Isabella Mary Beeton, better known as Mrs Beeton. She was the original celebrity chef and one of the most famous cookery writers in British history.