The Magnificent Seven comprise seven large private cemeteries which form a ring around London. They were built in the 19th century to help overcrowding in the capital’s existing burial grounds due to a booming population.
Today, they are special places to visit, because their rich history can be appreciated through the many famous graves they accommodate. They also make peaceful locations to go for a stroll. The Gothic and classical-style architecture is atmospheric, with ethereal, ivy-clad statues and ostentatious memorials that make striking photos in all seasons.
Take a look at the complete list of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries to decide which to visit first. We start with a gem in the London Borough of Camden, where nature has resolutely taken over and spectacular memorials loom in the shadows.
The first on our list is arguably the most famous of the seven: Highgate Cemetery in the London Borough of Camden. One of the reasons for its fame is that visitors flock from all around the world to see the grave of the philosopher Karl Marx.
Although it was opened in 1839, it wasn’t properly maintained, and so it deteriorated until the 1970s when the charity The Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust rescued it. Unlike other cemeteries, it’s not run or funded by a local council, so they rely on entrance charges to maintain the grounds and more than 50,000 graves in the East and West Cemeteries. You are free to roam around the East Cemetery, whereas the West Cemetery can only be seen via guided tour. As well as the grave of Karl Marx, you can see other famous graves, including singer George Michael, electro-magnetism scientist Michael Faraday, poet Christina Rossetti and author George Eliot.
As you can imagine, such an extraordinary cemetery inspires plenty of ghost stories. In the 1970s there was a media frenzy about vampires living within its Gothic walls!
Next up is Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, founded as a non-denominational resting place in 1940. A walk around this cemetery really feels like stepping off the beaten track. The 32 acres of woodland is home to around 200 old trees in a tangle of roots and vines. It was originally planted as an exotic arboretum by famous Victorian horticulturalists the Loddiges in 1840.
Today the Gothic chapel in the centre and the imposing Egyptian revival entrance are some of the few areas of order. Nature is now being allowed to run wild in certain areas of the cemetery and this adds to its charm, with haphazardly placed monuments and wildflowers dotted amongst long grasses. This is the perfect place to take a long walk through the overgrown paths and woodland and you can end the trip at one of Stoke Newington’s many drinking establishments.
In contrast to Abney Park Cemetery, Brompton Cemetery in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is carefully maintained. It has manicured lawns, flat, clear paths and cultivated wildflower meadows.
Brompton Cemetery is the only one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries to be managed by The Royal Parks on behalf of the nation. The wide paths make it easy for trips with the family (enticing young children into a walk with scooters). Bikes are also allowed, as are dogs on a lead.
The cemetery is full of incredible stories about the famous people laid to rest there since the 1830s (suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst to name one), so it’s helpful to do some research before you go. And as with all great days out, when a cup of tea and slice of cake is needed, there is a coffee shop within the walls.
Kensal Green Cemetery first opened in 1833, the largest and oldest of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries and one of the world’s first garden cemeteries. The cemetery covers around 72 acres between the Grand Union Canal and Harrow Road in west London.
Over 250,000 people have been buried at the General Cemetery of All Souls, Kensal Green, since 1833. The list of notable people is an incredible mix of royalty and aristocracy, impressive achievements, colourful stories, talent and adventure. Famous names like playwright Harold Pinter, engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and author William Makepeace Thackeray are buried here, to name just a few.
The cemetery serves all faiths and the memorials range from large mausoleums to smaller graves and graceful grave statues. There are over 150 Grade I, II and III buildings and monuments on the National Heritage List for England.
West Norwood Cemetery opened in 1837 and is the world’s first-ever Gothic-style cemetery. One of the most beautiful attractions is the Greek Orthodox Necropolis, with stunning gold-flecked mosaics and tombs surrounding the Doric-style St Stephen’s Chapel. Famous people laid to rest here include the architect William Burgess, Sir Henry Tate (founder of the Tate Gallery) and cookery writer Isabella Mary Beeton.
There are also fascinating (and seriously spooky!) catacombs, with row upon row of dusty coffins, which lie below two chapels that were damaged during bombing the Second World War and demolished. Visitors can walk along the rows of tombs — or you can see the eerie pictures online.
Consecrated in 1840, Nunhead Cemetery is perhaps the least known of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries in London. It’s a hidden gem, offering a haven of tranquillity in beautiful surroundings on a hilly, wooded site. Less grand than the other cemeteries, it’s run by the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery, which balances restoration work with leaving nature to grow wild. Wildlife has thrived in this environment; there are tawny owls, woodpeckers and kestrels among the many species of birds.
Reading the inscriptions on the graves here is fascinating and there are a number of war graves for those who died in the two world wars. You can go for a long walk through the 52 acres or you can just sit on one of the many benches and soak up the peaceful atmosphere. If you are seeking solitude, or a breather from the hustle and bustle of the city — this is the place to find it.
Tower Hamlets Cemetery is more ramshackle than the other Magnificent Seven cemeteries. Sadly, this is because it was often bombed during the Blitz. The Anglican Chapel and the Dissenter’s Chapel were so badly damaged that they had to be demolished.
Today, Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park have transformed it into an urban space where nature takes over — an oasis in the middle of London’s East End. Sculptures are scattered throughout, surrounded by flowers and plants such as wild garlic, honeysuckle and sweet violet. It also serves the community — there is an outdoor classroom for schoolchildren. There is certainly more to the Magnificent Seven cemeteries than gravestones!
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