I’ve seen posters promoting open days at Nunhead Cemetery around here for years, and always wondered if it was worth a visit. So when we found ourselves with a free afternoon on a sunny Sunday last month, we jumped in the car and headed around the south circular to find out.
It turns out it’s rather spectacular! Nunhead is one of the “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries in London, created by the Victorians to alleviate overcrowding in the smaller, local parish grounds (a more well-known example is Highgate Cemetery). Back in the 19th century, Nunhead was considered to be outside London! And from the highest points in the cemetery, there were stunning views back to the city – I can imagine how distant it must have felt in the 1840s.
We walked in from the Linden Grove gate and were immediately impressed by the imposing gothic Anglican Chapel that greeted us.
We picked a direction and started walking, and I was struck by how quickly it felt like we were in the country. It was so peaceful and green! Without a map, or indeed any sense of how big the place was, we just wandered along the well kept paths and enjoyed being outside.
Wikipedia described the Victorian parts of the cemetery as an “elegant wilderness” – and I think that’s a great phrase for the place. The dramatic and grand 19th century monuments and memorials feel like they are being reclaimed by nature as vines and plants grow up around them.
But I rather liked how the stones were surrounded by flowers and wildlife – the kids loved spotting different shapes and icons. They followed little paths between the memorials to find more hidden in the trees behind.
And Alex tried reading as many as he could, looking for the oldest stones he could find. (And while the kids loved it, I must admit, I was a little creeped out by the Dr Who style weeping angel statue!).
Even though there were clearly lots of people visiting the cemetery, it was easy to feel alone – and the children made the most of the space to have a run around – getting nice and muddy along the way!
There were even opportunities for some tree climbing!
We all had a lovely walk together, and I loved finding another local spot for some outdoor urban play. Alex and Sophie clearly had fun!