The unknown mourner of West Norwood Cemetery

From West Norwood cemetery copyright Carole Tyrrell
From West Norwood cemetery
copyright Carole Tyrrell

This is the voluptuous, but homeless, mourning woman of West Norwood cemetery. I first noticed her on a visit in 2013 when I found her under bushes in the front courtyard of the cemetery. I was immediately intrigued. After all, It’s not every day that you find a naked woman on her own with no identification. I emailed Colin Fenn of the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery and he was kind enough to reply that no-one knew which grave or memorial she had originally belonged to.

This was because. in 1965. Lambeth Council made a compulsory purchase of the cemetery. Like the others in London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries, the cemetery company that owned had gone bankrupt and left it to deteriorate. Lambeth then claimed ownership over the existing graves after extinguishing past rights. But even worse, they then embarked on a ‘lawn conversion’ which was a euphemistic term for a drastic and catastrophic clearance of the cemetery. As we know, some councils are very keen to make it easy for their parks and gardens department to mow round tombstones etc cemeteries and so they embarked on a free-for-all. Memorials, monuments, statues, – all were cleared away and smashed beyond repair. From old postcards it can be seen that the cemetery was heavily populated with weeping angels, crosses, mausolea, etc and it has been estimated that up to 10,000 monuments including some of the listed ones. The cemetery had been closed to new burials as it was full but Lambeth didn’t let this deter them and so they restarted new burials by reselling existing plots for re-use. As a result, the new burials were stopped and a handful of the damaged or memorials had to be restored. Lambeth were also required to publish an index of cleared and resold plots so the descendants of historic owners can identify and request restitution of their family’s plot.

But this poor lady has lost her place in the cemetery. She obviously had a place on which to grieve somewhere on the cemetery once but not now. She has a slightly Art Nouveau look about her so she may date from the turn of the century, perhaps around 1900. We are lucky that she hasn’t been stolen altogether as in other cemeteries.

Since then she has moved again, further inside the cemetery near the entrance which is where this photograph was taken.

And so she is condemned to grieve and mourn, now an anonymous memorial, a eternal symbol of sadness.

Acknowledgement: Wikipedia and Colin Fenn.

Text and photo copyright Carole Tyrrell


I was going through my memory cards recently and found some more photos of this lonely lady when she had been placed on the lawn at the front entrance of West Norwood cemetery.

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