“When you’re dead, they really fix you up”*…
For 87 years, nearly every day, a single train ran out of London and back. It left from a dedicated station near Waterloo built specifically for the line and its passengers. The 23-mile journey, which had no stops after leaving London, took 40 minutes. Along the way to their destination, riders glimpsed the lovely landscapes of Westminster, Richmond Park and Hampton Court — no mistake, as the route was chosen partly for its “comforting scenery”, as one of the railway’s masterminds noted.
How much comfort a route gives passengers isn’t a usual consideration for a train line. But this was no normal train line.
Many of the passengers on the train would be distraught. The others — those passengers’ loved ones — be dead. Their destination: the cemetery.
In operation from 1854 to 1941, the London Necropolis Railway was the spookiest, strangest train line in British history. It transported London’s dead south-west to Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking, in Surrey, a cemetery that was built in tandem with the railway. At its peak, from 1894 to 1903, the train carried more than 2,000 bodies a year.
It also transported their families and friends. Guests could leave with their dearly departed at 11:40am, attend the burial, have a funeral party at one of the cemetery’s two train stations (complete with home-cooked ham sandwiches and fairy cakes), and then take the same train back, returning to London by 3:30pm.
The pairing of grief and efficiency may seem a little jarring. It did then, too…
For the full story, hop aboard at “The passenger train created to carry the dead.”
* J.D. Salinger,
As we struggle with our sugar hangovers, we might recall that today is Graveyard Day– or more politely, All Hallows or All Saints Day– a Christian celebration of all saints, “known and unknown.”