Brompton Chapel
Brompton Chapel

Forty years ago Brompton Cemetery’s main buildings were listed Grade II and sometime in the distant past five of the individual monuments were also listed. The monuments acquiring this distinction were those of George Godwin, John Jackson, Frederick Leyland, Emmeline Pankhurst and Valentine Prinsep. Why these five were singled out is not clear. One could imagine it was the result of a flying visit by the official designators rather than an exhaustive review of the Cemetery’s worthy monuments. This small quota remained constant until a decade ago when the listing of the monuments to the Brigade of Guards and Ft Lt Reginald Warneford brought the total to seven.

The Friends have always reckoned that Brompton Cemetery occupied a respectable position in the top half of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ and possessed its fair share of grand monuments. Yet by general agreement the number of listings did not reflect the monumental riches of the Cemetery, a deficiency that we promised ourselves we would one day address.

Rather than actively search for worthy buildings to list English Heritage often responds to strongly argued proposals from the public or interested groups, although there are exceptions to this rule, as noted above. At the end of 2009 the Friends’ Committee took the long overdue decision to put forward some of the Cemetery’s monuments for listing. To this end we began compiling a list of proposals from the cemetery guides.

It transpired that these knowledgeable devotees had many and diverse favourites, compelling us to cap the figure at one hundred. Having taken the trouble to produce a list of significant monuments we shrunk from the invidious task of deciding which were the worthiest and so put them all forward for consideration. However, we realistically expected that no more than a modest proportion would be deemed of sufficient merit.

The descriptions of the individual monuments that we submitted in our application drew heavily on the authoritative survey of the Cemetery’s monuments done by Professor James Stevens Curl, the well-known architectural writer and cemetery expert. His extensive Compartment-by-Compartment survey of the Cemetery, done in the 1980s, had recorded vastly more monuments worthy of note than we were now proposing.

All our submissions needed to be photographed and their dates, locations, inscriptions and occupants recorded. The result was a substantial file, which I delivered personally to English Heritage’s headquarters in Waterhouse Square, the old Prudential Assurance building on Holborn, the Friends having notified them of its impending arrival.

We were later informed that their initial perusal had produced a short list of twenty-four monuments that they were interested in examining on the ground. Concerned that some gems had been overlooked, we asked for the inclusion of a further five, to which they readily acceded and three of these were eventually listed. Now with a finite list of monuments to deal with the Friends’ gardening volunteers moved swiftly into action to spruce them up in time for the inspection.

So it was in August 2010 that a posse of about half a dozen members of EH’s designation team, led by Hannah Parham, were guided around the short listed monuments by myself. This was an intensive four-hour inspection, with additional photographs being taken on the way. In the following weeks we answered specific questions about some of the monuments and a researcher was delegated to spend a couple of days at South Lodge to see what she could glean from the cemetery records. After deliberating on their observations and thorough researches into all the monuments EH submitted a list of recommendations to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the final arbiter in the process of bestowing listed status on a building, for ratification.

The recipients of listing status range widely from palaces to humble brick walls, and cemetery monuments take their place in a comprehensive mix that includes telephone boxes and odd pieces of industrial archaeology. All are given due respect, with the overall aim of protecting and preserving our rich architectural heritage. There are a number of reasons why a building may be listed. The foremost ones applied to a cemetery monument are that: it is an outstandingly fine work in its own right; it was designed by a famous architect; it marks the grave of an important person; it has some historic significance; it possesses a rarity in its materials or workmanship or it forms an integral part of a group of monuments that would be diminished by its removal. Obviously a combination of these considerations comes into play when assessing an individual monument, along with a judgment of its vulnerability and need for protection.

After a patient wait of fifteen months, the Friends were informed in a 73-page document that a further twenty-one monuments had been listed Grade II. Additionally our ‘finest’ monument, that to Frederick Leyland, the sole essay in funerary design by Sir Edward Burne Jones, a long-term resident of Fulham who regretfully failed to favour Brompton with his posthumous custom, had been upgraded from Grade II to Grade II*.

This brings the total to twenty-eight, which is less that half the number at the top scoring cemeteries of Kensal Green, Highgate and West Norwood. Nonetheless, we should be jubilant that this accolade has been bestowed, especially at the time of our 25th anniversary celebrations, because it finally acknowledges Brompton’s neglected monumental legacy. Furthermore it marks a beginning, as this figure could be improved on should we reapply in the future.

We are grateful to the editor of the Friends of Brompton Cemetery Newsletter [Spring 2012] to allow us to reproduce an article by Robert Stephenson on the exercise to have a greater number of graves Listed by English Heritage at Brompton cemetery.

by Robert Stephenson