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13 November 2014

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You are in: London > History > Cemeteries > Tower Hamlets Cemetery

Four gravestones

Tower Hamlets Cemetery

Tower Hamlets Cemetery

Located in the parishes of St Dunstan's Stepney and St Leonard, Bromley-by-Bow, the cemetery's 27 acres were divided into consecrated land for Anglican burials and unconsecrated for other denominations.

Originally called The City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery, it was opened by a company of the same name, comprising 11 wealthy directors whose occupations reflect the industries of the day.  They were corn merchant, merchant ship broker and ship owner, timber merchant, and Lord Mayor of London.

The first interment was Walter Gray (d. 1841) of Alfred St, Bow.

Granite gravestone

Harry Orbell's grave

This was the most working class of London's Victorian Cemeteries. In its first two years, 60% of burials were in public graves, those of people who could not afford a plot and funeral.

Individuals unrelated to each other could be buried in the same grave within the space of a few weeks. By 1851 this figure had increased to 80%.

The buried come from all over the globe; sailors, shipbuilders, merchants, philanthropists, campaigners, trade unionists and champions of workers' rights.

Tower Hamlets Cemetery was particularly popular with people from the East End and by 1889, 247,000 bodies had been interred. But it became increasingly overcrowded and neglected.

Open Space

During the Second World War, the cemetery was bombed five times, damaging the two Chapels (Anglican and Dissenters).

Shrapnel damage can be seen on the graves by the Soanes Centre (built in 1993).

In 1966, the Greater London Council bought the Cemetery and it was closed for burials.

The intention was to create an open space for the public and parts of the cemetery were freed from the effects of consecration. The bomb-damaged chapels were demolished and roughly half an acre of graves cleared. However, strong local opposition and funding problems stopped the clearance.

In 1986, ownership was given to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and in 1990, The Friends of the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park was set up.

Seven graves of outstanding design were English Heritage listed, Grade II, in 2000 and in the next year, the park became the borough's first local nature reserve.

Its decline as a properly maintained cemetery led to the positive creation of a unique reserve in the heart of an intensively built-up urban area.

Tomb with red graffiti on it.

Vandalism in the cemetery

The Cemetery Park has also been designated a Metropolitan Open Land and Conservation area.

The high brick walls surrounding the cemetery are on the national register of listed buildings, as are 16 individual memorials, and there are some fascinating memorial stones, particularly of angels.

In 2002, the Cantrell Road Maze was built by The Friends and local volunteers.

The Cemetery Park has an out standing variety of wild plants, flowers, and animals. There are 20 butterfly and about 35 bird species.

These can be heard on the annual International Dawn Chorus Day walk. Foxes are not unusual.

Parts of the park are managed wilderness, whilst others, particularly the two pond areas, are used for teaching environmental science.

last updated: 03/02/2009 at 09:57
created: 10/05/2005

You are in: London > History > Cemeteries > Tower Hamlets Cemetery

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