Submitted by Roy Branson, UKNIWM volunteer
For the past 2,000 years churchyards have been the established locations in Britain for most burials of the dead. But the expanding urban populations of the nineteenth century put many churchyards under great strain. An increase in the preference for cremation helped alleviate the problem but the greatest improvement was in the provision of urban cemeteries. Some of these were municipal, but many were created and managed by private companies. Perhaps the most well-known of these is Highgate cemetery, famous not only for its graves of prominent people but also for some magnificent memorial architecture.
A recent visit to London led to the discovery of another such cemetery – perhaps well-known to Londoners but not so well-known to us outside the capital. Brompton Cemetery is managed by the Royal Parks and is located in Chelsea, near the Fulham boundary and close to Stamford Bridge football ground. It occupies a thin rectangular site between Old Brompton Road and Fulham Road, parallel with the railway line. Within its 16.5 hectares are tree-lined avenues, a chapel, colonnades, lodges and 35,000 monuments. The site is a Conservation Area and many of the features within it are Statutory Listed conservation structures. Amongst the major monuments are one to the Brigade of Guards and one to Chelsea Pensioners. There are also a dozen graves of VC holders.
But the prize for any war memorial researcher is the unknown treasure of war memorials – that is to say memorial inscriptions on gravestones for war casualties who are not buried in the grave. An example is this one commemorating Lt R S Richardson MC, Machine Gun Corps. He died of wounds on 1st September 1916 aged 23 years and is buried in La Neuville British Cemetery, Corbie, France but is commemorated on the family gravestone.
A casual half-hour visit found a total of five of this type of memorial within a very small area containing about a hundred graves. If this is representative of the whole cemetery there could be as many as 1,750 undiscovered war memorials in this one cemetery. However, allowing for the fact that different areas cover different time periods, a more realistic estimate is perhaps nearer to 300. But that still represents a huge research opportunity for any researcher lucky enough to live near this gem or others like it.