Heritage Category:
Park and Garden
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Southwark (London Borough)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
TQ 35454 75571


A mid-C19 public cemetery designed by J Bunstone Bunning.


On Rocque's map of 1746 the future site of Nunhead Cemetery is shown as farmland. By 1839, Nunhead Hill, a popular leisure spot near Peckham Rye affording extensive views over London, had been purchased by the London Cemetery Company.

In 1836, three years after the successful opening of All Souls Kensal Green (qv) by the General Cemetery Company, a new company, the London Cemetery Company, was founded. An Act of Parliament passed in the same year empowered the Company to construct three cemeteries not exceeding 61ha. The first of these, Highgate Cemetery (qv), was consecrated in 1839. This, like Kensal Green, proved a great success and subsequently a larger cemetery was proposed for south London. In 1840, three years before J C Loudon published The Laying Out, Planting, and Managing of Cemeteries and the Improvement of Church Yards, James Bunstone Bunning designed a layout for a cemetery on the Nunhead Hill site. Bunning, surveyor for the London Cemetery Company, had previously worked with Stephen Geary on the design of Highgate Cemetery. All Saints Nunhead was consecrated in 1840, and in the same year the first plot was sold to George Long Shand, a sail maker from Bermondsey. A plan of 1844 (Little) shows the layout as constructed, the serpentine nature of Bunning's design fully exploiting the hilly nature of the site.

Interest in the cemetery was at first slow but by 1850 it had become fashionable for the wealthy of neighbouring Bermondsey, Blackheath, Camberwell, and Lewisham to be buried there. In 1865 two events threatened the prosperity of the company: the construction of the Crystal Palace railway blocked the original approach to Nunhead Cemetery which meant that burials were halted until a new entrance was eventually provided in 1870; and Edward Buxton, the company secretary, was found to have embezzled large sums of the company's money.

In 1867 large amounts of money were being spent on drainage and repairs. The 1st edition OS map of 1870 shows the general character of the vegetation of the cemetery, with continuous boundary planting defining the perimeter of the grounds and the interior characterised by scattered trees and shrubs in open lawns.

In 1872, as competition from other public cemeteries grew, there was a need to make the grounds more attractive and in response to this flower production became an important part of the company business. Greenhouses were built on level ground c 50m to the south-east of the Anglican chapel and more were erected in 1876.

After the First World War the fortunes of the London Cemetery Company began to decline as lavish funerals became less popular and the cost of maintenance and repairs to buildings, paths, and boundary walls increased. During the Second World War the iron railings were removed from around the perimeter and enemy action caused irreparable damage to the Dissenters' chapel.

By 1960 Nunhead cemetery was incorporated as part of United Cemeteries Ltd and maintenance of the cemetery was wound down. By 1967 the invasion of scrub and woodland became a serious problem and in 1969 Nunhead Cemetery was closed. No further maintenance work was carried out and neglect and vandalism continued to take their toll until 1975 when an Act of Parliament enabled the London Borough of Southwark to buy the cemetery for £1. A plan of action was drawn up, the boundary walls secured, and the tombs and catacombs blocked up. In the same year the Anglican chapel was gutted by arson. In 1981 a voluntary organisation, the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery (FONC) was formed and the following year the Nunhead Working Party was established. In 1986 FONC were granted a licence to carry out certain works to the cemetery and the following year Nunhead Cemetery was designated as a conservation area and a London Site of Nature Conservation Importance.

The site remains (2010) in the ownership of the London Borough of Southwark. A successful bid was made for grant aid from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 1998. This capital project enabled restoration of main driveways, entrance gates, piers and railings, stabilisation of the Anglican chapel and restoration of 50 priority memorials. The works were completed in 2001.


LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING Nunhead Cemetery is situated in suburban south-east London, 2.5km west of Lewisham, 3.5km north-east of Dulwich, and 1.5km south-east of Peckham. Peckham Rye Park (qv) lies c 500m to the south-west. The roughly trapezoidal, 20ha site is bounded by Linden Grove to the north-west, the backs of houses along Ivydale Road to the north-east, and Limesford Road to the south-east. Brockley Footpath, a hard-surfaced pedestrian way, separates the cemetery from the adjoining covered reservoir to the south-west. The site rises steeply towards the west to a peak along the south-west boundary from where there are fine views north across to the city of London and south towards Surrey and Kent. A c 200m strip of land south of the Linden Grove entrance, a c 50m strip alongside the western boundary, and a c 150m square block of land on the eastern boundary are set aside as nature reserves/open space with grave rights ceased, the remaining land being designated as cemetery ground. The entire cemetery was declared a Local Nature Reserve in 2004.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES The main entrance is midway along the north-west boundary in Linden Grove. Recessed from the highway, the double cast-iron gates with single gates at the side are hung from four Portland stone piers decorated with cast-iron inverted torches and serpents eating their tails (c 1840, listed grade II). Two matching lodges to east and west, designed by Bunning c1840 and listed grade II, were built in neo-classical style inside the grounds adjacent to the gates. The two-storey lodges built from yellow brick face onto the main drive, steps leading up to the central doors on the first floors. The west lodge was restored by the London Borough of Southwark in 1981 and is now a private residence. The east lodge was extended in size in 1876. It was damaged by fire in the 1970s and underwent repairs in 1998 to stabilize the building.

A second entrance, from Limesford Road, was made in 1909 for the benefit of residents of the new Waverly Park estate. The iron gates and stone piers match those of the main entrance.

PRINCIPAL BUILDING Picturesquely situated at the south-east of the main avenue is the Anglican chapel (listed grade II). This building replaced a timber structure built as a temporary chapel for burial services until the permanent building was completed c 1844. Constructed in brick with Kentish ragstone cladding the chapel was designed by Thomas Little (b 1802) in decorated Gothic style with freestone dressing. Bath, Portland and Caen stone was used for carvings and structural details. In plan the chapel comprises a large porte-cochere flanked by octagonal turrets at the front (north) of the building and an octagonal chapel to the south; sandwiched between them is an antechamber. Following a fire, which was started deliberately in 1976, the interior and the roof were completely destroyed. Below ground level is a crypt, which was restored during Heritage Lottery Funded works completed in 2001 and the chapel was stabilised without a roof to enable access. The chapel retains a sombre, formal and dramatic exterior.

OTHER LAND The burial grounds were laid out as a lawn cemetery with a linked scheme of gently curving hard paths, boundary plantings and scattered clumps of trees. Most of the original path system survives (2010) and although many memorials are overgrown with scrub, ivy and saplings, specimen trees from the original planting survive including holm oak, lime, plane, yew, beech and a gingko. The main drives in the heritage core of the cemetery were restored to pea shingle finish during Heritage Lottery funded works complemented by the restoration of 50 path-side memorials.

From the main entrance the Avenue, lined with mature lime trees, rises up gently for c 200m to the roofless Anglican chapel. The Avenue is shown in a photograph of c 1895 (LUC 1997) edged with grass, planted with single lines of lime trees and decorated with ornamental planting. The areas either side of the Avenue are now designated a nature reserve/open space. The monuments set to the sides of the avenue are currently (2010) behind chestnut fencing which has been removed where they have been stabilised through Southwark Council cemetery revenue budgets. Some 25m to the south-east of the main entrance the Avenue divides around a raised flint flower bed (also recorded on the 1895 photograph), with paths leading to the north-east and south-west. The former leads c 50m before dividing again, one path continuing north-east as a perimeter path and the other, the east crescent, curving south to the chapel. This was the route the funeral processions would have taken. A matching curving path, the west crescent to the south-west of the chapel, returns to the main entrance. The eastern perimeter path continues, passing after c 30m the site of the catacombs, sealed in 1976. After a further c 30m the path turns south-east for c 250m where it is joined on the west side by a curving path which runs from the chapel past the site of the greenhouses and stables (demolished mid-1970s). The resultant open space is currently (1998) used for Muslim burials. The perimeter path continues for c 300m to the Limesford Road entrance, the path screened from the backs of the houses in Ivydale Road by the strip of land set aside as a nature reserve/open space area. On the east side of the Limesford Road gate is the First World War Memorial, replaced in 1985-6, the area to the west being used for new burials. Some 10m from the gate the short entrance path divides; to the east it links with the eastern perimeter path (OS 1914) while the serpentine central path runs north for c 300m down towards the Anglian chapel, passing to the east the memorial to the Australian war dead and, after a further c 100m, another area maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. To the west the perimeter path curves around rising ground and continues north. After c 200m it runs through cuttings made in the steep hillside and at this point it divides. The western branch curves back to the south before running north-west for 300m. This area has been designated a nature reserve/open space and a pond has been made towards the southern end. The main path divides once more before linking up with the West Crescent and rejoins the western perimeter path before turning north-east back towards the main entrance. The left-hand division passes north-west to the site of the Dissenters' chapel, a small building designed in 1844 by Thomas Little in decorated Gothic style with a simple T-shape plan. The chapel was destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War. The path continues to the main entrance passing, at the junction with the north end of the west crescent, the Scottish Martyrs memorial. This was erected by public subscription in 1851 following the raising of a similar monument in Edinburgh's Calton Hill Cemetery and commemorates five Scotsmen who agitated for Parliamentary reform in the early-1790s and were consequently transported to Australia.

For further details of the tombs and monuments see Meller (1981) and publications by R Woollacott.


Woollacott, R, Nunhead Notables (nd) Woollacott ,R, More Nunhead Notables (1975) Woollacott ,R, A, Guide to the Graves of Nunhead Notables (nd) Country Life, 158 (17 July 1975), 146-8 Trans Ancient Mons Soc NS 22, (1977), 28-9 Curl, J, S, A Celebration of Death (1980), 227-38 Meller, H, London Cemeteries (1981), 225-8 Cherry, B, and Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: London 2 South (1983), 618 Illustrated Guide to Nunhead Cemetery, (Friends of Nunhead Cemetery 1987) Nunhead Cemetery Restoration Plan, (Land Use Consultants 1997)

Maps Rocque, J, Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster and Borough of Southwark and the country near ten miles around, surveyed 1741-5, published 1746 Little, T, Plan of Bunning's layout of Nunhead Cemetery, 1844

OS 25" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1870 2nd edition published 1898 3rd edition published 1914

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION Nunhead Cemetery is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * All Saints' Cemetery, Nunhead is an early Victorian cemetery (1840) laid out by a commercial company to serve the metropolis. * The cemetery was designed by J B Bunning, a cemetery designer of note who had previously designed elements of Highgate Cemetery, London (qv). * The layout of the cemetery skilfully exploits the undulating topography to create picturesque effects and vistas. * The cemetery contains an Anglican chapel designed by Thomas Little (b 1801), and other significant associated structures; the Nonconformist Chapel has been lost. * Elements of the cemetery layout survive, together with elements of the original planting.

Description written: November 1998 Amended: November 2001 Register Inspector: LCH Edited: December 2009

This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 10 July 2017.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:
Parks and Gardens


War Memorials Online, accessed 10 July 2017 from
War Memorials Online, accessed 10 July 2017 from
War Memorials Register, accessed 10 July 2017 from
War Memorials Register, accessed 10 July 2017 from
War Memorials Register, accessed 10 July 2017 from
War Memorials Register, accessed 10 July 2017 from
War Memorials Register, accessed 10 July 2017 from


This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.

End of official listing

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