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Putney Vale Cemetery and Crematorium

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Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: Wimbledon, Surreymap
Surnames/tags: surrey cemeteries
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At the start of the Victorian period, seven great cemeteries were planned in different parts of London. The "magnificent seven" were: Kensal Green (1833), West Norwood (1836), Highgate (1839), Abney Park (1840), Brompton and Nunhead (both 1840), and Tower Hamlets (1841). But London continued to expand. When London County Council was established in 1888, the borough councils took on the responsibility of meeting the increased demand for burials. The Borough of Wandsworth duly acquired farmland, and its Borough Council Surveyor laid out Putney Vale Cemetery there in 1887. He designed two chapels for it, one for the Church of England, and one for other denominations (or none). He also designed a cemetery lodge. The firm of J. Melady & Sons, from nearby Barnes, did the planting. The cemetery opened in 1891, and needed extending in 1909 and 1912. In 1938, one of the chapels was converted to a crematorium by E. J. Elford. The crematorium part is at the back of the chapel, in the guise of a tower. Elford also designed a Garden of Remembrance, laid out around the same time.

The cemetery is known for its "good range of turn-of-the-century monuments (many featuring Edwardian ladies in attitudes of mourning) and two especially fine mausolea" (Curl 166). The latter both date from 1910. One, Ionic in style, was built for Edwin Tate (1847-1928), son of the Victorian sugar magnate Henry Tate. It seems curious that it was built years before he died, but the brief listed buildings text dates it even further back, calling it "late 19c." Perhaps it was originally built for the children he had lost (see peerage records). The other mausoleum, referred to by James Stevens Curl as "a powerful in antis Egyptianising job with palm-leaf capitals" (166), was for Alexander Gordon (c.1841-1910), of a large American manufacturing concern, Niles Tool Works. These and a third mausoleum with Doric pilasters, for the prominent Sainsbury family and dating from 1900, are all Grade II listed buildings. Among the many well-known people laid to rest at Putney Vale are Dickens's eighth child, Henry Fielding Dickens (1849-1933), who became a distinguished lawyer, and the sculptor Jacob Epstein (1880-1959). — Jacqueline Banerjee

Putney Vale Cemetery, c 18ha, is located to the south-west of Putney and north-east of Kingston, in the London Borough of Wandsworth. It is bounded to the north-west by Kingston Road (A3), with Richmond Park Golf Course beyond, and to the north-east, east, and south by woodland on the edge of Wimbledon Common. On the west side the cemetery is bounded by housing along Frensham Drive and a superstore. Late-C19 red-brick and stone walls form the boundary along the north side, and the other boundaries are marked by C20 metal fences, some of which are mounted on walls, and backed by hedges or woodland belts. The cemetery is laid out on virtually flat ground, with a slight rise from west to east, and a rise at the southern end of the cemetery towards the boundary. There are open views throughout the cemetery and vistas along the roads, particularly Hayward Avenue, Alexander Way, and Central Drive.

Entrances and Approaches

Today (2001) the main entrance is from Stag Lane, which leads south from the A3 to a late-C20 entrance to the cemetery. A drive, with a narrow strip of cemetery ground to the north (outside the area registered here), runs east for c 300m between the superstore to the north and the housing to the south, to an inner entrance which is marked by a late-C20 office on the north side of the drive.

The late-C19 entrance led directly into the cemetery from Kingston Road at the northern tip of the site but this is now (2001) used only as a pedestrian entrance. This entrance is marked by late-C19 gothic octagonal stone piers supporting iron gates and railings (together listed grade II). The late-C19 East Lodge stands on the east side of the drive, south-east of the entrance. From here, Hayward Avenue, lined by a double avenue of deciduous trees, runs south-east for c 160m to the chapel crematorium. An early-C20 entrance to the cemetery leads off Kingston Road in the north-west corner of the cemetery, but is no longer used. From the gates and gate piers, a drive leads south-east past the early-C20 West Lodge, and then south-east for c 150m to a rondpoint.

A late-C19 pedestrian approach lies on the south side of the cemetery and leads through a late-C19 iron gate between the boundary fence onto Alexander Way, a drive that runs south-west to north-east along the southern boundary.

Principal Buildings

A pair of gothic chapels, built in c 1890 by J C Radford, stand c 160m south-east of the East Lodge. The chapels (formerly Nonconformist on the west side and Anglican on the east side) are linked by a porte-cochère. A crematorium adjoins the chapels on the south side; this was built in 1935 by E J Elford, when the chapels were partially converted internally into a crematorium. The crematorium was damaged by a fire in 1946 and rebuilt in 1956.

Other Land

From the late-C20 office, Central Drive runs north-east for c 30m to a rondpoint from which six drives radiate, four at right angles to each other: the two parts of Central Drive opposite each other, with Patons Drive, which leads north-west to West Lodge, opposite Greenwood Road, which leads south-east to Alexander Way on the southern boundary. On either side of Greenwood Road, forming a goose-foot pattern, are two further drives, Richards Way and Scofield Road, both of which run from the rondpoint to Alexander Way. The ground between Richards Way, Greenwood Road, and Scofield Road has an early-C20 radial layout of further drives, which terminate back on Central Drive or on Boulters Path, which forms the western boundary of the late-C19 cemetery. From the rondpoint, Central Drive continues north-east for c 300m across the width of the cemetery to the forecourt on the north side of the chapel crematorium. It is lined for part of its length by an avenue of alternating yews, conifers, and deciduous trees.

Alexander Way runs for c 450m along the south-east boundary, sweeps around the south-east corner of the cemetery, and then leads north-west for c 150m up to the south side of the chapel crematorium. Alexander Way is terraced and is on slightly higher ground, giving views over the rest of the cemetery. Along the eastern boundary the land rises from Alexander Way in small artificial terraces for graves. The mausoleums along it include the Sainsbury Mausoleum (late-C19, pseudoperipteral Doric temple, listed grade II), and the Edwin Tate Mausoleum (late-C19, marble Ionic temple, listed grade II) along the southern stretch, and the Gordon Mausoleum (late-C19, granite building in the style of an Egyptian temple, listed grade II), along the stretch that runs north to the chapel. Between Alexander Way and Boulters Path is the late-C19 part of the cemetery, laid out on a modified grid plan.

To the north of Central Drive is an area to the east of Patons Path, laid out in the early C20 on a simple grid plan. To the north-east of this area, and occupying the north-east corner of the cemetery, is a Garden of Remembrance, bounded by Kingston Road, Central Drive, and Hayward Avenue. The garden, which is roughly semicircular, was laid out as a rose garden in 1935-8 by E J Elford. It is partly enclosed by walls and piers of red brick with three gateways. The garden has been modified in the mid to late-C20 and now includes a fountain, flower beds with box hedges, and a lavender walk. In the 1970s planting was introduced to screen the Garden of Remembrance from a car park along Hayward Avenue.

The cemetery is largely kept clear of planting except for the mature woodland boundary belt, scattered specimen trees, and avenues along some of the drives. The trees are mixed conifers and deciduous trees, including oak, sweet chestnut, sycamore, yew, holly, thorn, lime, and poplar. The graves and monuments include a remarkable collection in the south-east corner of the cemetery of monuments from the 1890s to 1930s. Other major monuments include the Ismay tomb of 1937 with semi-abstract shipping scenes, the symbolist monument to Emma Vickey (1922), the grave of Sir Harry Renwick (1932), and the Lyons grave with mosaic work (1924). Lillie Langtry (1929) and Jacob Epstein (1959) were buried in the cemetery, and Clement Attlee (1967) and Clementine Churchill (1977) were cremated there.


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