History of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

Visiting a cemetery may not seem like a whole load of fun, but if you find yourself near Mile End then you should take a detour to the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. The site was once one of the largest cemeteries in London, but it is now an impressive woodlands nature reserve.




You may just recognise the park when you get there, as it is a popular film and TV location, appearing recently in episodes of popular TV series such as Whitechapel and Luther.

The history of Tower Hamlets Cemetery

Historically, Londoners tended to be buried in their local churchyards, close to their homes. By Victorian times, this practice was causing a lot of problems. Local churches were struggling for burial space as the city’s population increased and churchyards all over the capital were becoming overcrowded. This also caused some serious health issues. The bodies buried in local churchyards could potentially cause outbreaks of diseases and, in some areas, they contaminated local water supplies.

In the early 1800s, the government decided that things had to change and that larger burial sites were needed away from overpopulated areas. It created an Act of Parliament that allowed companies to buy land for purpose-built cemeteries that would be situated outside the City of London area. There was more space there and fewer opportunities for issues with diseases and water. By 1841, London had plans to create seven large cemeteries. Known as the “Magnificent Seven”, the most famous of these sites is probably Highgate Cemetery.

The cemetery at Tower Hamlets was run by the City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery Company. The company purchased nearly 30 acres of land in the local area for multi-denominational burials. It also left some land free on the site for public burials. This option was often taken at the time as people could not always afford to pay for an expensive plot of their own. If they opted for a public burial, they were interred in a grave that was shared by other bodies. By 1889, this cemetery, often called Bow Cemetery by locals, had already seen nearly a quarter of a million burials.

East End History

Unlike Highgate Cemetery which seems full of world-famous people, the well-known people who were buried at this site tend to have local East End connections. These include the surgeon who autopsied the first victim of Jack the Ripper, some people who died in the Bethnal Green Disaster during the Second World War and the engineer who worked on the lighthouses at Trinity House.

Tower Hamlets Cemetery was bombed five times in the Second World War and suffered some bomb damage. You can still see damage caused by shrapnel on some memorials on the site. By 1966, the Greater London Council, or GLC, bought the site and it closed down as a cemetery. It was given permission to turn into a public park by an Act of Parliament.

By 1986, the site was owned by the local borough council. It turned the site into a designated local nature reserve in 2000. It is also now a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation and a conservation area. The cemetery walls are Grade II listed, as are a few of the memorials within the cemetery area.

Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park today

The cemetery site now extends to 31 acres and is held to be the most urban stretch of semi-wild woodland in all of London. It is home to an extensive range of broadleaved trees and plants and to many different birds, insects, butterflies and bats, many of which you will not see anywhere else in London. If you are lucky, you will spot some rare or endangered animals or plants as you wander through the park.

The nature reserve does not just contain the cemetery site, but also now incorporates the Scrapyard Meadow and the Ackroyd Drive Greenlink that connects the park to Mile End Park. The Scrapyard Meadow gets its name from the way that the land was used before it was cleaned up and added to the park. There are five wildlife ponds that are home to an interesting range of invertebrates on the site and various wildflower glades.

The Tower Hamlets site is mainly run by volunteers. If you fancy donating some time, it runs a weekly volunteer day. You can just drop in and see if there is anything you can help with. You can also hook up with a variety of guided walks and grave research events. Guided walks tend to take place on the third Sunday in the month. There is also a Wildlife Watch Club for kids. This meets once a month and involves kids in a variety of activities so that they can learn more about wildlife at first hand. The club is for kids aged from 8-14 years old.


3 comments on “History of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park
  1. Candy says:

    Interesting, thank you!

  2. Margaret says:

    I’ve been trying to find a map of the park which shows where the Grade 2 listed memorials are, any notable people and which bits were private & which public. no-one seems to have done this.

  3. Jane says:

    So glad that I found this! My ancestors were born in Bethnal Green and Mile End Old Town (moved to Canada in 1870) so any history of the East End is of interest. Some of their ancestors are buried at Tower Hamlets. Still looking for the rest of the family tree from St. Giles Cripplegate and Christ Church Spitalfields eastwards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Comments

  • A.J.Spencer on London East End Street NamesI am looking for any information on Rosher Row ? It was still there in the 1960's as I remember taking my G/Friend of the time to meet my aunt Ett
  • JM Tubbs on Manchester Hotel | Aldersgate Street | WW2 PhotosMy great great grandfather Henry Thomas Tubbs and his business partner Joseph Lewis built this hotel and owned it for a time after it was opened. The initial cost in 1879 was around £70,000. It originally had 240 bedrooms but was expanded. There was a second main entrance on Long
  • JM Tubbs on Manchester Hotel | Aldersgate Street | WW2 PhotosYou could check the 1911 census. Either a subscription or a local studies library should have one you can use.
  • Charles Sage on History of Canning Town East LondonI was born in 1939 and lived in Beckton rd , I can rememember after the war going to the Queens theatre in poplar to see the variety shows , I think the compare was called Buttons,does anyone else remember the theatre.
  • Margaret Knight ( nee Key ) on The History of Beckton Gas WorksMy father was a stoker at the gas works and we lived in one of the company houses , 46 WinsorTerrace until I married in 1957,
  • Charles Sage on History of Canning Town East LondonPatlrick , We lived very close to Hermit rd after moving from Beckton rd in fact we drove along there this very day , we went to the cemetery to take flowers to put on my parents grave. To put it bluntly Canning Town is like a foreign country now
  • Naz on Alf Garnett East London’s Famous Resident.Barnet is not rhyming slang for Alf Garnett, it is rhyming slang for Barnett Fair, that piece of slang was in use well before Johnny Speight wrote TDUDP
  • Patrick Blake-Kerry on History of Canning Town East LondonMakes me laugh, the talk of hop picking as I ended up living in Hampshire as my mum and brother were bombed out and evacuated in 1940. They ended up in Bentley because it was the only place the driver knew outside London. Conversly having stayed and live in Bentley
  • Charlie sage on History of Canning Town East LondonHi Alfie Brown ! I remember the hop picking very well they were great times down China farm , the old huts lightig the fires going so mum could get dinner going , that long walk to the shop opposite the green hill, Bert doing the toilets , scrumping in
  • Carol Featherstone on Second World War Bombing Raid South Hallsville SchoolMy nan and grandad Pat and Emily Murphy were killed in the school leaving my mum an orphan at six she was brought up by her nan Lou McKay
  • Tim Conlan on History of Poplar East LondonGrindley and Co of 21 to 23 Broomfield Street, Poplar, London, E 1868 Company established. 1914 Tar and rosin distillers. Specialities: insulating and transformer oils, black varnishes, soluble drier preparations, motor and other greases.
  • Jane on History of Canning Town East LondonThank you, Ray, that's such a helpful reply - much appreciated.,
  • A.J.Spencer on London’s East End and The BlitzMy grand parents lived in Canning Town during the Blitz and I cannot find any trace of them on any records. I am looking especially pertaining to John William Spencer who lived at 66 Bidder St, Canning town in 1913
  • Ken Shelton on History of Canning Town East LondonHi there, I went to both of the Stratford Grammar Schools - the first one next to West Ham Park was just around the corner from where we lived, on Shirley Rd. I remember there was a tuck shop on the corner. Lots of memories from there - thanks for
  • Elaine Ford on History of Poplar East LondonDoes anyone know of a company called 'Grindleys' ? or similar, was based in Poplar in the 1940's (I believe) and was eventually pulled down. I'm writing a tribute for a gentleman who worked there, he was 99 years old. The family are not sure of the spelling of the

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 175 other subscribers.

Top