London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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London County Council 1900

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for London County Council]

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which come to the surface in this neighbourhood, and is of a very dry character. Sand is reached
at 7 feet at the south end, and at a depth of 14 feet at the north-east portion. The land is
deep drained at a depth of 32 feet, the drains discharging into the metropolitan sewers. No
grave is connected with the drains.
The total area of the cemetery is 15 acres, including a recent addition of 6 acres. Of this
there are 6 acres, and some spaces in between graves in the used portion of ground, which have
not been buried in yet. It is estimated that there is room for about 3,900 graves, which in all
probability will be mostly private. Allowing an average of five bodies to a grave this will
provide for 19,500 bodies. In the ground already used very few of the private graves are yet
filled. There are 3,184 private graves, each 6 feet 6 inches by 3 feet 6 inches, or about 5 acres
of ground.
The area of grave spaces now for both private and common graves is 9 feet by 4 feet.
The usual depth dug for private graves is 12 feet, for common graves 20 to 22 feet.
Originally the latter were only dug 8 feet, and were closed after the interment of one body.
These are now being filled up with more bodies. There are still several hundred such graves in
the cemetery not filled. The usual number interred in new common graves is 10 or
11 bodies, a grave taking from a week to sixteen days to fill.
Burial in the earth is preferred to burial in brick graves. The use of the latter has
decreased considerably in recent years, not more than one a year on an average being required

The total number of interments in 1897 was—


(130.) Nunhead cemetery—Opened 1840.
This cemetery is situated in the parish of Camberwell, and houses have now been built in
close proximity to it on the north-east and north-west.
The cemetery is on high ground, and the surface has a considerable fall in parts. The
soil consists of dense London clay, but in one part a small belt of running sand is at times met
when excavating graves.
The total area of the cemetery is 54 acres. About two years before the date of inquiry
a survey was made, and it was then found that there were 28 acres of virgin ground, including
spaces between existing graves. Since the date of this survey it is estimated that about two
acres more had been used, leaving about 26 acres available for new graves. It was estimated
that if the rate of burial remained the same as up to the date of survey the cemetery would last
for another fifty years.
The area of private grave spaces is 6 feet 6 inches by 2 feet 6 inches, 8 feet by 3 feet, or
9 feet by 4 feet, according to the position in the cemetery in which the grave is chosen, the
larger areas being in the more desirable situations. Common grave spaces are 6 feet 6 inches by
2 feet G inches. The depth usually required in the case of private graves is 12 or 13 feet—that is
a grave for six bodies—but any depth may be required, and exceptionally a depth of 30 feet has
been dug. Common graves are dug 18 feet, 20 feet, or 24 feet deep, and in these respectively 7,
9, and 12 bodies of adults, together with one or two rows of children's coffins in the upper part
are buried. In all cases 5 feet of soil are left between the top coffin and the surface of the
The catacombs at this cemetery are extensive, but they are seldom used for burial now.
The use of brick graves and vaults is also decreasing.

The total number of burials in 1897 was—


(131.) Plumstead cemetery—Opened 1890.
Situated in Wickham-lane, close to the boundary of the county.
The ground is on an elevated situation, and the surface has a good slope. The soil consists
of sand and gravel of the Woolwich and Reading geological series. In some parts chalk has
been reached at a depth of 13 feet, but it is in most parts not nearer than 20 feet from the surface.
The ground is not drained except for surface water.
The total area available for the purpose of the cemetery is 32 acres, but only 10 acres have
so far been appropriated for use. Probably not more than 5 acres have yet been buried in, and
this area mostly contains private graves still available for further interment. About half-an-acre
contains common graves, and is no longer available for further use.
All grave spaces for adults are 9 feet by 4 feet, and 6 feet by 3 feet for children. The
majority of private graves are dug 10 feet; that is a depth sufficient for three interments.
Common graves are dug to 20 feet and 8 bodies are interred. Children are not buried in adult
common graves but have separate graves 12 feet deep, or sufficient for six children. When the
cemetery was first opened common graves were not dug deeper than 10 feet, but the ground was
thus being rapidly used up, and as on inquiry it was found that at other cemeteries a greater