Nunhead Cemetery, London

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As London's population grew in the 19th century, local churchyards could no longer cope with the number of burials. In the 1830s, companies were set up to create new cemeteries that would be architectural and horticultural masterpieces, as well as providing badly needed burial places. In 1839, the London Cemetery Company opened the famous Highgate Cemetery, burial place of Karl Marx. A year later in south London, the much less well-known Nunhead was opened.

As fashions changed and the number of burial plots grew, the company found it impossible to maintain the cemeteries profitably. The damage caused by two world wars did nothing to help, and in 1969 the London Cemetery Company closed the gates of Nunhead. Nature was given a free hand until Southwark Council, and later a voluntary organisation, the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery, stepped in to restore a little of the former order.

Today, Nunhead is a magnificent mixture of human endeavour and natural diversity. The Anglican chapel, damaged by vandals in the 1970s, is hopefully to be made safe so that visitors can again enter its walls, while a huge variety of plants and over 50 species of birds prove that life will always flourish, even among the dead.

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