Hampstead Cemetery

History and ecology

Hampstead Cemetery is situated on the far western edge of the borough, between Cricklewood and West Hampstead. It is still used for burials, although most of the available space has now been taken.

By the latter half of the 19th century, additional burial space had become an urgent requirement in Hampstead, as the small extension to St John's Churchyard was no longer adequate for the interment of its citizens. As the nearest local authority cemetery was beyond Kilburn at Paddington Cemetery, and the commercial cemeteries at Highgate and Kensal Green could only be used by those who could afford them, it was decided that Hampstead required a new cemetery of its own. A twenty acre site adjoining Fortune Green was therefore purchased for £7000 in 1875, and the Bishop of London consecrated part of this in the following year; the central avenue divides consecrated from unconsecrated ground, with the latter providing burial space for Dissenters.

An interesting feature of the area to the south-west of the chapel is the large number of Celtic crosses, marking the resting places of the many Scottish families buried here. In contrast, the north-eastern corner has some very good examples of more modern stonemasonry, in particular the Bianchi monument - an ornate Art-Deco angel commemorating the opera singer wife of an Italian restaurateur - and the sculpted church organ in memory of Charles Barritt.

The cemetery is attractively situated on a gentle north-west facing slope overlooking the Cricklewood sports ground, and is divided into two by the fenced avenue mentioned above. The western half remains wilder than the east owing to less-intensive mowing and strimming between the headstones and around the perimeter. In the western section, some of the grassland communities show little evidence of reseeding, being dominated by fine-leaved grasses characteristic of the underlying clay soils. Here we find creeping bent, red fescue, sweet vemai-grass and timothy between clumps of invasive coarser species such as cock's-foot and false oat-grass.

Associated wild flowers include the brilliant yellows of both meadow and creeping buttercups, as well as lesser stitchwort, common sorrel, germander and thyme-leaved speedwells, meadow vetchling, common mouse-ear and, later in the year, oxeye daisy.

In damper areas characteristic species include greater bird's-foot-trefoil, creeping-Jenny, cuckooflower, hairy sedge and great willowherb. Towards the boundaries of the cemetery, where scrub has begun to develop (sometimes completely smothering the gravestones), several familiar plants of hedgerows and woodland edges occur, including bramble, elder, cow parsley, hogweed, white bryony, garlic mustard (foodplant of the orange-tip butterfly farvae,which also occurs here) and bugle. The latter is a most attractive plant belonging to the mint family or Labiatae, with flowers of a deep blue arranged in a pagoda-like spike. It has been used in the past as a kind of early antibiotic or cure-all.

Some areas of grassland contain species more typical of acidic conditions, with common bent, the uncommon London species sheep's-fescue, sheep's sorrel and field wood-rush: an insignificant grass-like plant, distinguished by the sparse white hairs on its leaves. An old country name for it is osweep's brush', referring to the blackish, bristly little flower heads.

Mature trees around the perimeter of the cemetery include pedunculate oak, Scots pine, lime and yew. Other, younger trees planted between the headstones are mostly ornamental varieties of willow and flowering cherry. The wide range of habitats here inevitably support a large variety of birds, both breeding and visiting species. Jays, crows, woodpigeons and magpies are among the larger species which are commonly seen. More secretive are coal and long-tailed tits, goldcrests, willow warblers and linnets.

How can I find out more?

For further information please contact Camden Cemeteries

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