Today, Brookwood is the largest cemetery in western Europe. Way back in 1854, it was a solution. London’s graveyards were overcrowded, so it was decided that the dead would be buried in Surrey, following a cholera epidemic.
The first funeral train ran on November 13, 1854, and the bodies were taken to Brookwood Cemetery. Although it had its own branch line into Brookwood Cemetery, most of the route of the London Necropolis Railway ran on the London and South Western Railway (formerly South West Trains) that many of us frequently use today.
For 87 years, the train service ran almost daily from Waterloo, carrying up to 2,000 bodies a year – along with mourners attending the burials.
"…tickets were also issued for the coffins on the train — but these were singles. Literally one-way tickets and I do wonder if this is where the expression 'a one-way ticket' comes from."
- John Clarke, historian and author of Brookwood Necropolis Railway.
The Necropolis railway continued to operate out of a building on Westminster Bridge Road until 1941 when the building suffered severe bomb damage in an air raid. After 87 years of operation, more than 200,000 burials had been conducted in Brookwood Cemetery.
Clarke also noted: "The cemetery stations included refreshment rooms complete with licensed bars. Visitors noted the signs over the bar which read 'Spirits served here'.”
Next time you’re on the train passing Brookwood, take a moment to reflect on what an important role this historic place played in local history.