This abandoned railroad was London's train for the dead

When urban cemeteries started to fill up, the London Necropolis Railway was built for one purpose: to take the departed to an out-of-town burial ground.

The enterance to the necropolis railway at Waterloo Station in London, photographed in the 1890s, which began operating in 1854.
SCIENCE & SOCIETY PICTURE LIBRARY/GETTY

In the mid-1800s London was about to burst. As young ruralists chased new opportunities in industrial jobs, the city’s population more than doubled in the first half of the 19th century. Residents of what was then the world’s largest city were crammed into ever more crowded quarters. Suffocating smoke swelled from the sooty factory chimneys and hung in the air like a shroud. Horse manure coated the streets, and human sewage amassed in the River Thames.

In shadowy parallel to the city’s living conditions, London’s dead were also being crowded. The city’s graveyards were overflowing. Small church graveyards had been the primary place for interring London’s dead for centuries. As the city’s population skyrocketed, these places proved woefully inadequate at supporting the new population. Graves were dug too shallowly and too close together. Hard rains exposed grim scenes of decomposition.

In the 1830s Parliament was moved to intervene. The city’s first large, privately run cemeteries were granted licenses to operate on what were then the outskirts of London. Planned as parklike gardens, spacious and meticulously manicured, these new cemeteries were dubbed the “Magnificent Seven.” The burial sites were costly, so these new sites only staved off the crisis for those who could afford it.

Read This Next

86,000 wild mustangs that roam the West are at the center of raging controversy

Prehistoric wild dog found at iconic human fossil site

More 'good fire' could help California control future catastrophes

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet