Surrey Cemetery which was once the destination of the ‘death train’ from London

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The infamously named “death train” was not a train journey you wanted to end up on.

If you were a train passenger from London to Surrey, it meant you were no longer in the land of the living.

Located just outside of Woking and hidden behind the sturdy concrete walls of Brookwood Cemetery is Brookwood Cemetery, the final resting place of thousands of people.

READ MORE: Hindhead Tunnel then and now: How a radical project allowed nature to reclaim part of the countryside

The cemetery was designed by the London Necropolis Company in 1849, thirty miles from the capital, and was the largest cemetery in the world, although it no longer holds this distinction.

The expansive rural space was what drew the LNC to Brookwood, with 2,000 acres of land purchased, as well as the relatively close proximity for mourners.

This led to the birth of the Necropolis Line for what would eventually be London’s last ‘corpse railway’ and led to the cemetery being served only by its own railroad.



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The mid-19th century is a time when the capital finds it extremely difficult to accommodate its growing population, living and dead, and this is necessary to transport the dead to the county of Surrey.

The cholera epidemic (1848-1849) further exacerbated the situation with the first funeral train running on November 13, 1854 on its own branch to Brookwood Cemetery.

Initially, there were two stations at the cemetery – the northern one serving the Maverick side of the cemetery and the southern one serving the Anglican side.

Historian John Clarke is an expert on the history of Brookwood Cemetery and has written numerous books on the subject and has spoken to Surrey Live in the past.



The section of track in Brookwood Cemetery, which was supplied and installed by Network Rail in 2005
A section of track at Brookwood Cemetery commemorating the London Necropolis Railway

He said: “The necropolis train was referred to by railway workers as“ the dead meat train ”or“ the stiff ones ”.

“Tickets were issued for mourners using the necropolis train, first, second and third class.

“Similar tickets were also issued for the coffins on the train – but they were single tickets. Literally one-way tickets and I wonder if that’s where the phrase ‘one-way ticket’ comes from. . “

Mr Clarke added: “The cemetery stations included refreshment stalls with licensed bars. Visitors noticed the signs above the bar that read ‘Spirits served here.’

“In the 19th century, funeral trains could accommodate a maximum of 72 coffins and on occasion operated with a full complement of coffins in six hearse cars.”

For 87 years, until 1941, the rail service provided an almost daily service from Waterloo, carrying up to 2,000 bodies per year, with an estimated 203,000 Londoners deceased having made their journey from death to burial via the 121 Westminster Bridge Road.

Despite this, demand for the funeral train fell during the 1900s, mainly due to the growing popularity of cremation, and by the 1930s the trains rarely ran more than twice a week.

However, it was not until World War II that the line completely ceased to function, during which the Blitz largely destroyed a considerable part of the line and the London base beyond repair.

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