Sir Henry Tate Mausoleum, West Norwood Cemetery, London

Sir Henry Tate Mausoleum, West Norwood Cemetery, London

There’s more to West Norwood Cemetery (1837) than meets the eye.  It’s one of the “Magnificent Seven” early-Victorian London cemeteries – the others are Kensal Green (1837), Highgate (1839), Abney Park (1840), Nunhead (1840), Tower Hamlets (1841) and Brompton (1842) – and it has more monuments than you can shake a stick at, 65 of them listed at Grades II and II* according to the Friends’ website:

Perhaps the only disappointment about this beautifully landscaped place is the loss of the original brick mortuary chapels by Sir William Tite, both damaged in the Blitz:  the Anglican chapel was demolished in 1955, and the Nonconformist chapel was replaced by a modern (c1960) crematorium which I thought quite decorous but which Pevsner dismisses as “indifferent”.

Beneath the site of the Anglican chapel the extensive catacombs remain, and can easily be seen at  The catacombs beneath the dissenters’ chapel were apparently not much used, and were replaced by extensive subterranean cremators from 1915 onwards.

Very early in the history of the cemetery, in 1842, the Greek Orthodox community took a separate plot, on which stands their St Stephen’s Chapel (1872), attributed to John Oldrid Scott, surrounded by its own rich collection of mausolea.

An architectural highlight amongst the wealth of monuments is the Tate Mausoleum, built for Sir Henry Tate (1819-1899), inventor of the sugar cube and founder of the Tate Gallery, by Doulton & Co of Lambeth to the designs of Harold Peto, who enlisted all the richness and crispness that Doulton’s artists could contrive:  The restoration by R K Conservation & Design’s of the mosaic ceiling is illustrated at

Having built a monument for the Tate family, Sir Henry Doulton (1820-1897) chose to build his own terracotta mausoleum round the corner:  This is even more elaborate, probably the work of R Stark Wilkinson who built the Doulton factory on the Albert Embankment [see], with details designed by the company’s artist, Mark Marshall.

Terracotta never caught on as a material for funerary monuments.  I know of only one other, the empty Stearn Mausoleum in Nunhead Cemetery, a few miles to the east:

Norwood Cemetery fell on particularly bad times as its income fell in the twentieth century, even though the company had astutely invested in cremation.  Lambeth Council bought the place in 1965 and initially rode roughshod over the rights of the established grave-owners:  the policy of “lawn conversion” and the destruction of monuments was eventually ruled illegal in the mid-1990s, and the cemetery is now managed more decorously.

Indeed, because the crematorium is fully operational, Norwood Cemetery feels like a place people visit for its intended purpose.

And that, compared with the quieter repose of most of the other “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries, is oddly comforting.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2015 Cemeteries and Sewerage:  the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

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