Ladywell Cemetery, originally called Lewisham Cemetery, was opened by Lewisham Burial Board on a plot of agricultural land purchased from the Trustees of the Earl of Dartmouth. A competition to design the cemetery was won by Messrs Tinkler and Morphew, who were also appointed by Deptford Burial Board who had bought a plot of adjacent land for its own cemetery. A low wall separated the two until c.1948, which is traceable as a bank. A central strip of land between the two had been purchased by Ladywell Burial Board for eventual expansion and Ladywell Cemetery was extended here in the early C20th. In 1965 both cemeteries came under the new London Borough of Lewisham but retain separate records. Ladywell Cemetery was less densely planted than its neighbour, which generally has grander monuments, but Ladywell retains its chapel.
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Lewisham Cemetery was opened by Lewisham Burial Board whose monogram can be seen on the ornamental gates. It was consecrated by the Bishop of London on 27 March 1858, 2 months after the adjacent Brockley Cemetery (q.v.) to the west. The pair were formerly known as Deptford & Lewisham and owned by different authorities, Ladywell Cemetery owned by the Borough of Lewisham. In May 1855 the Burial Board had began the process of purchasing agricultural land known as Great Field and Lammas Field from the Trustees of the Earl of Dartmouth. The purchase finally took place in 1857, some funds received from the Home Office. A competition for design of the new cemetery was advertised in summer 1856, requesting 'designs for laying out ground and erection of 2 chapels, sexton's lodge and entrance gates' with a prize of £25. Twenty entries were received and 6 short-listed, and in September 1856 Messrs. Tinkler and Morphew won the contract, the firm later also appointed to design Brockley Cemetery. The contractor for the ground works was William Dethick who also built the chapels and lodge in 1857.
William Morphew invited tenders for the supply of 25 varieties of trees and shrubs, the successful nurseryman was a Mr Cattell. The principal avenue was flanked by rows of yew, the perimeter lined with horse chestnut trees, otherwise only the intersections were planted although by the cemetery lodge a Cedar tree was planted. 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. Until 1948 the two cemeteries were separated by a wall designed by William Morphew that was only removed c.1948, which is still traceable as a bank; few paths cross the old boundary although both cemeteries have numerous paths. A central strip of land between the two cemeteries had been purchased for eventual expansion but initially leased to a market gardener/plant nursery; Ladywell Cemetery was extended onto this land to the west in the early C20th and it has holly and small ornamental trees. Ladywell has an impressive entrance from Ladywell Road, with its yew-lined walk, lodge, stone gate piers, fine iron gates and railings; horse chestnut walks remain to south and north of the yew walk. Other species now found include notable deodar, holly and yew but not extensively planted and none are indicated on early OS maps although at one time the land was part of Brockley Wood; its neighbour Brockley Cemetery is more densely tree-planted.
Ladywell Cemetery is on uneven ground and is densely-packed with graves, which are generally more mundane than neighbouring Brockley Cemetery. Its chapel survives, north-west of which the serpentine paths are now asphalted. The cemetery is walled along Ivy Road. There is a dense collection of C19th monuments, a war memorial and Imperial War Graves Commission Enclosure. Among those buried here are Sir George Grove (d.1900), the compiler of the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians who had lived in Sydenham from 1860 until his death in a house adjacent to Home Park (q.v.).
In 1965 the London Borough of Lewisham came into being and the two cemeteries came under the same authority and Lewisham Cemetery was renamed Ladywell Cemetery. However the two cemeteries keep their separate names and records. 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; Hugh Meller & Brian Parsons, 'London Cemeteries, An Illustrated Guide and Gazetteer', 4th edition (The History Press, 2008); Brockley Conservation Area Character Appraisal, LB Lewisham, 2005.