This week (Wednesday 1 July), The Earl of Wessex visited Brookwood Cemetery to learn about the work of the Surrey Local Resilience Forum Death Management Team and thank cemetery staff who have worked through the COVID-19 outbreak.
His Royal Highness met Woking Borough Council's Strategic Asset Manager, Ian Tomes, who spoke to The Earl about the team’s work over recent months. The Earl also met the cemetery staff who have worked throughout the crisis to provide an important service for the bereaved.
Due to its huge scale and capacity, Brookwood continues to be a favoured resting place. During his visit, The Earl had the opportunity to talk to members of the Surrey Local Resilience Forum responsible for managing the excess deaths caused by Coronavirus. Via Zoom, His Royal Highness listened to the challenges faced by the county’s coroner, funeral directors, mortuary and crematoria staff, and conversed with different faith leaders about their experiences during this time.
The Earl thanked everyone for their important role in preserving the dignity and respect of those who have lost their lives during the pandemic and praised the support given to the bereaved at an exceptionally difficult time.
During the visit, The Earl was shown the route of the old railway line and south station platforms by which coffin trains brought bodies into the cemetery. From there, His Royal Highness was taken to St Edward the Martyr Orthodox Church, which contains the relics of Edward II, the young Saxon King slain at Corfe Castle in 978.
Cemetery Manager, Avril Kirby, said: “Brookwood Cemetery was founded in 1852 to house London's dead and was uniquely serviced by its own railway. The Earl was taken to the south of the cemetery to see historic monuments including the life size marble statue of Elaine Maynard Falkiner (d.1900), first wife of Sir Leslie Falkiner; the plot where Lord Nelson’s granddaughter, Horatia Nelson Johnson (d.1890), is buried; and the striking memorial of Guilio Salviati (d.1898), the Venetian glass and mosaic merchant whose commissions adorn the domes of St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey.
One of the listed memorials in the cemetery marks the grave of Dr Gottlieb William Leitner (d.1899), who was responsible for making Woking a major centre for Islam. He was a noted linguist and founder of the Oriental Institute Europe on the site of the vacant Royal Dramatic Collage near Woking. Today this site is better known as the home of the Shah Jahan Mosque, Britain’s first purpose-built Islamic mosque.
Decades of neglect saw Brookwood Cemetery placed on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register so in 2014, Woking Borough Council stepped in and acquired the site with a view to restoring the cemetery to its former glory."
Cllr Ayesha Azad, Woking Borough Council’s Portfolio Holder for Asset Management, said: “There was a real danger that the rich history and architectural wonders within the cemetery would be lost forever but since acquiring the site we’ve been working to turn that around."
“Brookwood has the potential to be a jewel in Woking’s crown and The Earl heard about our extensive renovation and conservation plans during the visit, which include a new visitor centre and enhanced access to this vast outdoor space.”
The Earl was shown inside the largest mausoleum in the cemetery, commissioned in 1877 by George Henry, the 5th Earl Cadogan for the burial of his eldest son, Albert Edward George Henry Cadogan, the Viscount of Chelsea. In 1910 it was converted into a columbarium by its new owners for the storing of ashes. The Grade II listed structure is one of 15 monuments earmarked for renovation if the cemetery’s ambitious conservation plans are approved.