If I wanted to be flippant I could have subtitled this post ‘The Tracks of my tears’ as 1, and a group of members of The Dracula Society, enjoyed a guided tour along the fragments of the Necropolis Railway in deepest Surrey. Our guide, John Clarke, had given a fascinating talk on the Railway after discovering the abandoned North station buildings at Brookwood in the 1970’s.
The Necropolis Railway was commonly known as The Stiffs Express and ran from a dedicated platform at Waterloo station to Brookwood station or Necropolis Junction as it was originally known. It was created by Victorian enterprise and entrepreneurship in 1854 as its owners eagerly anticipated a lucrative trade from transporting up to 10,000 bodies a year to the new Brookwood Cemetery. This was approximately 23 miles out of London and was envisaged as relieving the pressure on overcrowded city churchyards. The Railway had two stations; North and South. One was for Anglicans and the other was for Non-Conformists which was basically anyone who wasn’t an Anglican.
The Victorian class system was rigidly enforced on the Railway even in death. Charles Blomfield, the Bishop of London, declared that it was completely unacceptable for the families of people from different social classes, living or dead, to be forced to share the same train on the journey to the cemetery. After all, no-one wanted people who had led ‘decent and wholesome’ lives to be placed in the hearse car beside those who had led ‘less moral’ lives. You might think that once someone’s dead what does it matter…..
The Railway wasn’t cheap. Here are the fares with their modern equivalent:
1st class 6s = £92
2nd class 3s 6d = £23
3rd class 2s 6d = £12
Coffin tickets were priced for 1st/2nd/3rd class according to the type of funeral booked.
A train left Waterloo at 11.40am and there was a return one to Waterloo at 3.30pm so mourners could be out in the countryside most of the day. This meant that, unless the funeral was on a Sunday, a working person would have to lose a day’s pay. However refreshments were available at both stations and consisted of home cooked ham sandwiches and fairy cakes. At the talk, Mr Clarke revealed that there had been a sign over the counter announcing ‘Spirits served here.’ There were only two accidents during its 90 years of existence and neither involved fatalities.
But the anticipated trade didn’t take off. Instead of 10,000 burials per year it was at best roughly 2000 and by the 1930’s the train journeys had tailed off to 1 or 2 a week. It was the Luftwaffe that finally killed off the Necropolis Railway and it closed forever on 11 May 1941. After the end of Second World War its surviving parts were sold off as office space.
But we still found its traces around Waterloo. On Westminster Bridge Road the magnificent booking hall still stands with most of the original features intact although the London Necropolis Railway sign has long since gone. The booking hall dates from 1902 and used to be the HQ of the British Haemophilia Society but is now the offices of a Maritime broker.
Then we walked up Lower Marsh and into Hercules Street to see what remained of one of the 3rd class platforms. These were meant for working people and, as we looked along the underneath of the platform from ground level, someone in our group pointed out the metal posts on the pavement beneath. These were inscribed with the word ‘LIFE’ whereas the platform up above had been concerned with Death. A hotel is now in place of where the cortege dramatically swept through Waterloo station as they entered.
The Railway was revived in 2017 by the London Dungeon as a Halloween attraction called The Death Express.
Then onto Brookwood Cemetery which I had last visited 20 years ago. I was looking forward to seeing if it had changed….
Part 2 Brookwood Cemetery, its link with the Omen and a last surprise.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.