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Published: 20 June 2020

By Andy Ross

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Necropolis railway

The population of London had increased dramatically - more than doubling in the first fifty years - in the 19th Century. This growth put huge strain on the capital's cemeteries and various Acts were passed in Parliament to increase the land available for burials. Brookwood Cemetery, the London Necropolis, opened in 1854. 

The new burial ground, the largest in the UK and amongst the biggest in Europe, was a distance away from London, 23 miles to be exact. Thanks to the relatively new technology of the railways it was possible to transport people, both the living and the dead, to Brookwood from what is now Waterloo Station. The station and route were carefully chosen for location, ease of access and the idea that the rails ran through what was mostly parkland and countryside, offering tranquility to passengers. 

Towards the end of the century Waterloo Station was in desperate need of expansion. The terminus of the London Necropolis Railway was in the way and so, after much bargaining, a new terminus was agreed and completed by 1902. 

The Necropolis Railway operated from this new terminus until 1941 although parts of it were not officially closed completely until the 1950's. War damage from bombing raids made parts of the site almost unusable, and the rise of the motor car did not help the already ailing company. With viability in clear jeopardy the decision was made in 1946 to remain closed.

All that remains of the Necropolis Railway is the rather splendid terracotta building at 121 Westminster Bridge Road, a last monument to the rapid changes that characterised the Victorian era.