This Halloween the London Dungeon’s offering a new temporary attraction based on a long defunct Victorian mode of funerary transport – the Necropolis Railway! The London Dungeon’s renamed I their version The Death Express and has promised that it will be their ‘scariest attraction yet’. It features a tormented train conductor (nothing unusual there especially if they work on Southern Railway….) and visitors will be on a train carriage with the dead people, coffins and mourners.’ Characters will be on board to tell scary stories and you are advised not to look at the windows…
The actual Necropolis Railway lasted for 87 years from 1854 to 1941 and transported mourners and their dearly departed from a dedicated station at Waterloo station in London to Brookwood cemetery near Woking.
With the usual heady mixture of Victorian enthusiasm and optimism the London Necropolis Company (LNC) envisaged that Brookwood Cemetery would be able to accommodate all of London’s dead for centuries to come and they were also very keen to achieve a monopoly on the capitals’ burial business. However, although the LNC had planned for the Railway to carry between 10,000 and 50,000 bodies per year it never achieved that and it slowly began to decline.
However the true horror of the Necropolis Railway was, that even in death, the Victorian class system was strictly observed with first, second and third class fares, segregated waiting rooms and carriages and even the coffins were also kept rigidly apart. There was even a fare charged for coffins. Although the London Dungeon may have their own way of punishing fare dodgers – perhaps for eternity……
The trains were also divided by class and religion with separate Anglican and non-conformist (effectively non-Anglicans) with separate First, Second and Third class compartments within each. I doubt that the London Dungeon will be offering this particular form of heritage memorabilia but you never know……
However, it was the Luftwaffe that dealt the final blow on the night of 16-17 April 1941 when an air raid permanently damaged the London terminus and the service effectively ceased. After the end of the Second World War what remained of the railway was sold off for office space with the track being removed during 1947-19.48. However there is one Necropolis Railway building still standing and it’s located at 121 Westminster Bridge Road. This was the first class entrance to the 1902 terminus.
And yet the Necropolis Railway refuses to be shunted into oblivion. Andrew Martin wrote a best selling novel called strangely enough, The Necropolis Railway, in 2015 a theatre company mounted a production based on it in the Waterloo Vaults and it also appeared in a dramatic train crash in an episode of TV’s Ripper Street.
Brookwood Cemetery is well worth a visit and traces of the railway track bed can still be seen within the grounds and the Friends of Brookwood Cemetery run tours of the railway route during the year. The two stations North and South are both now long gone
The Death Express runs until November 8 2017.
However, despite the London Dungeon’s reputation for spine-chilling scares there was one distinct advantage of the Railway in its heyday – you were always assured of a quiet carriage…….
©Text Carole Tyrrell