Between the end of the XVIII and the beginning of the XIX century, driven by the industrial revolution, the population of the British capital grew from 1.000.000 to approximately 2.300.000 residents in less than 50 years.
Until that moment, almost all the burials took place in the parish churchyards, which were quickly becoming overcrowded and unable to satisfy the growing demand of new ones: in fact, it happened always more often that during a new burial, rests of a previous one would came to light.
Furthermore, this situation become a problem for the public health: parts of the water supply network near those overcrowded cemeteries were polluted by decaying bodies, and the rats getting to the mounds easily become carriers of epidemics.
To bring the handling of the burials back under control, in 1832 the parliament promulgated a law to encourage the creation of new private cemeteries in the London suburbs.
During the following ten years, seven cemeteries were established, and in 1852 a new law called “Burial act” allowed the Secretary of State to close metropolitan London churchyards to new interments, thus making the suburban cemeteries the only places where possible to make new ones.
Nearly two hundred years later, the metropolitan area of London has incorporated the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries, now historic example of the Victorian age burial habits. Time is eroding the statues adorning the graves bit by bit, and nature is taking back the lent spaces, making the headstones and the tombs collapse into the ground, like it wants to protect the eternal sleep of its guests.
From Highgate, the most luxurious and perhaps the best preserved, now became a touristic attraction, to Tower Hamlet, where most of the headstones are barely recognizable, walking on the paths of these parks is like making a little jump in the past, whilst outside the city runs merciless and never gets rest.
The Magnificent Seven Cemeteries of London are small open sky museums. They are small windows on our past, through which we curiously watch to an era so far and different from our one, to a different awareness of death, that maybe no longer belongs to our times.
Manuel Sechi, October 2016