Steam Train

Did you know Waterloo used to transport dead bodies by train?

The First London Necropolis terminus

The First London Necropolis terminus

The London Necropolis Railway existed from 1854 to 1941 to transport London’s dead and their mourners from Waterloo to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. It opened in response to severe overcrowding in London’s existing cemeteries. ​The newly built​​ ​Brookwood Cemetery was intended​ ​to home the entirety of London’s dead for at least the next 150 years. Most of the route of the London Necropolis Railway ran on the existing London and South Western Railway (LSWR).

The first station was completed in 1854, at a total construction cost of around £1.9 million today. It was specifically designed for the use of mourners, so had many private waiting rooms, which could be used to hold funeral services, and a hydraulic lift to raise coffins to platform level. Existing railway arches (now the Leake Street Vaults) were used for the storage of bodies.

In 1899, the London Necropolis Railway station was blocking the expansion of Waterloo station so, in return for the existing site, the LSWR supplied them with a new station on Westminster Bridge Road. This new building was designed to contrast with other funeral directors’ premises by being as attractive as possible.

London Necropolis Railway and boundaries

London Necropolis Railway and boundaries

Why did they need a Necropolis Railway?
In 1801, the population of London was a little under a million people, but within fifty years the population quickly expanded to 2.5 million. There was a crisis in London concerning its dead. With limited space for burials in the city’s graveyards, it wasn’t just the old graves that were exhumed to free space for new burials. Grave diggers reported having to cut up recently buried bodies; paupers’ coffins remained unburied in church crypts; and there are records of ‘mingled dirt and human remains’ being thrown into the Thames from Waterloo Bridge. Decaying corpses contaminated the water supply, and the city suffered regular epidemics of cholera, smallpox, measles and typhoid, which resulted in more deaths and more bodies. After a cholera epidemic in 1849 killed near 15,000 people, something had to be done to cope with London’s dead.

London Necropolis Coffin Ticket

London Necropolis Coffin Ticket

What class are you?

The London Necropolis Company offered three classes of funerals. First Class allowed complete choice of gravesite within Brookwood cemetery, and a permanent memorial. Costs began at £2 (about £205 in 2015) for a basic 9-by-4-foot plot with no special coffin specifications.

Second Class cost £1 (about £82 in 2015) and allowed some choice of burial location. A permanent memorial would cost an additional 10 shillings (about £41 today), and if a permanent memorial was not erected the LNC reserved the right to re-use the grave in future.

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Introducing our fantastic ‘A First Class Death’ cast

A First Class Death Rehearsal Wall

Rehearsals for A First Class Death are in full swing! So far, we’ve been discussing our own memories of funerals, researching about the history of the Lower Marsh area, and creating the characters to populate our play.

It’s been a busy couple of days, but we thought we should tell you a bit about our acting company who will be guiding you through your journey with the London Necropolis Railway. By way of introduction, we asked them to share with you the song that they would like played at their funerals.

So what song would you like people to remember you by?

Julian Pindar
Hope There’s Someone
(Antony and the Johnsons) Listen on Spotify

Marie Blount

Marie Blount
Here, There and Everywhere
(The Beatles)
Listen on Spotify

Sui-See Hung

Sui-See Hung
We’ll Meet Again
(Johnny Cash)
Listen on Spotify

 

Barry McStay

Barry McStay
I’m Going To Go Back There Some Day
(The Muppets)
Listen on YouTube

Chandni Mistry

Chandni Mistry
Out of the Blue
(Electric Light Orchestra)
Listen on Spotify

Rajneet Sidhu

Rajneet Sidhu
Walking on the Moon
(The Dream)
Listen on Spotify

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Get involved with our production!

Get involved with our production!

IdeastapWe’ve set up a crowdfunding campaign to help support our show. We’ve got some fantastic rewards – you could have your photo in our prop ‘Book of Condolences’ used in the show, attend a rehearsal to get a sneak peak before anyone else, have a special pre-performance experience for you and a friend, or even dinner with the director and writer!

You can check out our cool video to give you an idea of the production:

‘A First Class Death’ on IdeasTap 

Thanks so much for your support!

Is it hot in here? Jason Hall visits a crematorium

crematorium“I’m sure it’s okay,” says Beth, one of the staff at the crematorium – or crem, as everyone calls it. “But let me just double-check.”

Beth is ringing up her supervisor to check whether or not I can take photos. While she’s on hold her colleague, Jane, offers me a chance to look inside one of the two cremators, both of which are running.

I’m not sure what I expect to see when I look through the cylindrical viewing glass. Perhaps a burning panel of wood or a thick wall of flames. Who knows? But judging by the weakening of my legs, I’m not expecting to see what is clearly the top of a human skull engulfed in fire.

I steady myself. “How…ah…how hot is it in there?” I mumble.

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A perfect funeral? Behind the scenes with a funeral director

A perfect funeral? Behind the scenes with a funeral director

Grave YardIt’s a cold December morning and I am giving a coffin a thorough inspection. “Do you see any dust there, Jason?” asks the man on the other side of the wooden box. “Because it has to look perfect.”

The man speaking to me is a funeral director (let’s call him Andy) and he is giving me a rare, behind-the-scenes look at a typical day at the office. And, as it quickly becomes clear, in Andy’s line of work perfection is the name of the game.

“On the day of the funeral, everything has to go right,” he tells me. “The family expect it. Which is why I do all of this preparation and checking now.”

And there is a lot of preparation and checking to do. Once a doctor has declared someone dead, the funeral director’s work begins. First, the body is transported – “removed” – to the funeral home so it can be stored and, if required, embalmed. Later it will be made to look as close to the family’s specifications as possible through the use of favorite clothes, a haircut and makeup. Then there are consultations with the family to agree on the date and details of the service, the type of coffin, the music, the readings, etc.

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10% Off ‘A First Class Death’ and Q&A on Thursday 5th Feb

For a limited time only we have an early bird discount of 10% off all ‘A First Class Death’ Tickets.

Thursday 5th February Q&A Session
Immediately after the show on Thursday 5th February  we will be holding a Q&A session with the company in the Cavern space following the performance. Entry is free to same day ticket holders.

 

Some rather unusual research at Waterloo Station….

Some rather unusual research at Waterloo Station….

The old Necropolis Railway Platform

The old Necropolis Railway Platform

Our research for A First Class Death for VAULT Festival 2015 is taking us in so many unusual yet wonderful directions! Playwright Jason Hall spent a day shadowing a funeral director (more info to follow) while I explored the old Necropolis platform now turned fantastic Make Space Studios (you can see the studios as you come into Waterloo Station). See Make Space Studios for a fantastic YouTube video about the Necropolis Railway. Anna (Assistant Director) and I also had a brilliantly inspiring evening at a Death Cafe (www.deathcafe.com) enjoying tea, cake and talking about death with some lovely people. Though we’ll admit to being slightly apprehensive beforehand we had such a fun, joyful and inspirational evening. Meanwhile our R&D workshops with a fantastic bunch of actors led to sharing stories of sadness as well as much heart warming laughter. Read more

A FIRST CLASS DEATH VAULT FESTIVAL TICKETS ON SALE NOW!!

Tickets are now on sale for A First Class Death at VAULT Festival 2015!

Tickets are £9.50. For more information visit our upcoming productions.

You can buy tickets at the VAULT Festival website.

2-FOR-1 WEDNESDAYS
EARLY BIRD (until 31st Dec): 10% OFF
10% OFF THURS & SUN
10% OFF MATINEES

Weekend matinee tickets are already selling fast so do get buying your tickets – they’d make a great Christmas present!!