Brockley Cemetery, originally known as Deptford Cemetery was established when the parish burial ground of St Paul's was full. Lewisham Burial Board had already purchased a plot of land here for what is now Ladywell Cemetery, so Deptford Burial Board bought the adjacent plot and appointed the same cemetery architects. A low wall separated the two until 1948, which is traceable as a bank. In 1965 both came under the new London Borough of Lewisham but retain separate records. Brockley Cemetery today is more wooded than Ladywell and the tombs are generally grander and less densely packed.
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When the burial ground at St Paul's Deptford (q.v.) was full, a Burial Board was set up following the Burial Act of 1852 and its subsequent amendments. St Paul's Vestry sanctioned purchase of 7.29 hectares (18 acres) of land at Brockley for the new parish burial ground, which at the time was in the ownership of the Earl of Dartmouth from whom it was purchased for £4,861.10s. An additional £5,000 was spent on the cemetery chapels and other buildings. Lewisham Burial Board had already bought the adjoining plot and Deptford Burial Board appointed the same architects as Lewisham, Tinkler and Morphew, following a competition, and felt that it presented 'an opportunity of preserving a unity of design' (The Builder, 18 October 1856). The dwarf wall with railings between the cemeteries was designed by Morphew. Formerly known as Deptford Cemetery, Brockley Cemetery was consecrated in January 1858, opening 2 months before the adjacent Ladywell Cemetery (q.v.) to the east, the pair formerly known as Deptford & Lewisham and owned by the different authorities. Deptford Cemetery was owned by the Borough of Deptford and until 1948 the two remained separated by the wall, although this is still traceable as a bank, and few paths cross the old boundary although both cemeteries have numerous paths in their separate grounds.
The population of the area continued to grow so that the cemeteries filled up rapidly and by 1889 no fewer than 50,000 bodies had been interred here. In 1893 c.1.21 hectares was purchased along the southern edge of the cemetery from the Corporation of London's Bridge House Estate and the Earl of St Germans, and this was consecrated in 1915. Another area previously devoted to non-conformists was consecrated in 1926. The cemetery lodge remains although somewhat altered from the original building, but the Episcopal and dissenters' chapels, a pair linked by a porch, suffered war damage, then vandalism, and were subsequently demolished. The south-west corner was initially walled off for Roman Catholic burials, and had a chapel designed by E W Pugin in 1866-68, paid for by the Knill family into which Pugin had married. Bombed in 1940 it has since been demolished. An avenue of plane trees runs along the northern edge of the Roman Catholic plot, with an avenue of poplars along the southern edge. The 'rond points' were densely planted with trees and shrubs, and Edwardian postcards show flower beds here.
Despite its appearance on John Rocque's map of 1745 as open land, Brockley Cemetery today is more wooded than Ladywell and has good beech, London planes and poplars, all of which must date from the landscaping of the cemetery. There is some banking around its serpentine paths and it is on flatter ground, and the tombs are generally grander and less densely packed than at Ladywell. The cemetery has stone piers and railings on Brockley Road.
Due to the proximity to Deptford Dockyard, there are numerous sailors buried here, one such being William Rivers of HMS Sapphire who was 'killed by falling from her maintop at Hobart Town on November 5th 1877 aged 19'. Also buried here was Sir John Gilbert (d.1897), illustrator for The Illustrated London News; Sir William Hardy (d.1887), Deputy Keeper of Public Records from 1876-1886; Sir Alexander Nisbet (d.1892), Inspector General of the Royal Navy and honorary Physician to the Queen. The cemetery has 'a series of fine large granite monuments in an L-shaped avenue' (Meller), and a slate memorial for Hannah Rachel (d.1868) near the gates. There is also a memorial with an image of a 'pathetic waif' erected by public subscription to Jane Maria Clousen, a domestic servant who was murdered at the age of 17 in 1871. A Victorian cause célèbre, she had been pregnant and recently dismissed by her employer Ebenezer Pook due to her intimacy with his son Edmund, who was acquitted of the murder despite evidence of his guilt. Typically Victorian names such as Absalom Dandridge, Alberta Codbolt, Horace Lermit, Philadelphia Sampson and Crisp Bedingfield are found on memorials near the main entrance.
In 1965 the London Borough of Lewisham came into being and the two cemeteries came under the same authority and Deptford Cemetery was renamed Brockley Cemetery. However the two cemeteries keep their separate names and records. Brockley Cemetery was closed to burials in 1966. In 2004 restoration works were completed, which included repairs to the cemetery lodge and the remaining chapel. The restoration was funded by Lewisham Council, Lewisham Environment Trust and Onyx Environmental Trust. Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries were added to the Brockley Conservation Area in 2005.
Roger Bowdler, EH Historical Analysis and Research Team, notes March 1998; John Archer, Ian Yarham, 'Nature Conservation in Lewisham', Ecology Handbook 30, London Ecology Unit, 2000 and Lewisham Walk 2 leaflet; Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South (Penguin) 1999; Hugh Meller & Brian Parsons, 'London Cemeteries, An Illustrated Guide and Gazetteer', 4th edition (The History Press, 2008); Jennifer Mills, 'St Paul's Church Deptford', Lewisham Local History Society (n.d.); Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Brockley Conservation Area Character Appraisal, LB Lewisham, 2005.