As an introduction to our 175 anniversary series of talks Highgate Cemetery Trustee and Historian to The Royal Horticultural Society Dr Brent Elliot gives an introduction to the development of Victorian Garden Cemeteries.
When the movement to create large-scale nondenominational cemeteries arose in the nineteenth century there was no tradition of cemetery landscapes in this country for designers to follow. The first cemeteries copied the different styles of country house gardens, ranging from the informal park (Norwood) to the first signs of a return to formal design (Kensal Green and Brompton).
In the 1840s John Claudius Loudon called for cemeteries to be laid out on a grid pattern, planted with conifers; and his, the only book on cemetery design ever published in England, was available for local authorities to use after the Burials Acts of the early 1850s. Every large town or city in the country has a cemetery in the Loudon style.
In the later years of the century a reaction set in with a partial return to informal landscaping and the use of deciduous trees. The arrival of cremation at the century’s end reinforced the trend to informal landscaping and allowed the fashion for the Japanese garden to enter the world of the cemetery.