Surrey’s corpse railway and death in Victorian times


The Victorians treated death very differently to people today and would photograph their deceased alongside living members of their family, take locks of hair from the departed and seal it in jewellery, (which they would wear) display bronze figures of dead animals in their homes and make plaster death masks from the faces of the dead.

If like me, you are fascinated by the Victorians’ treatment of death, then you will be pleased to learn that a rare opportunity has arisen to find out all about Victorian gravestones, mourning traditions and spiritualist experiments in art and writing.

This is because researchers from the University of Surrey and the Surrey Arts and Humanities Network are offering a family-friendly event series exploring the Victorian culture of death and memorialisation.

Included in the event series is an exploration of the legacy of the London Necropolis Railway and a craft afternoon at the Watts Gallery. 

Dr Lucy Ella Rose, Lecturer in Victorian Literature at the University of Surrey, believes that:

“Memorialisation is a cornerstone of how we engage with the past, understand the present and shape the future”.  

When referring to the events organised, Dr Rose stated that:

“The series offers a unique opportunity to explore our county’s and indeed, our country’s rich variety of Victorian memorials, from traditional gravestones and grand statues to mourning attire and the artistic expressions of grief.” 

Family-friendly events to be held across Surrey include: 

  • Surrey History Centre (Saturday 8 June): Immerse yourself in informative talks and delve into the archives that unveil the lives commemorated in Victorian memorials. 
  • Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village (Saturday 29 June): Participate in a “crafternoon” session, drawing inspiration from Victorian mourning practices and artistic expressions of remembrance. 

When discussing the forthcoming family-friendly events, Dr Rose stated that:

“Surrey boasts a rich history of memorialisation, having served as the destination for London’s Necropolis Railway, a transportation line dedicated to carrying bodies for burial. The London Necropolis Railway was opened in 1854 by the London Necropolis Company (LNC) to carry corpses and mourners between London and the LNC’s newly opened Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. At the time, Brookwood Cemetry was the largest cemetery in the world, designed to be large enough to accommodate all the deaths in London for centuries to come”. 

Trains carried coffins and passengers from a dedicated station in Waterloo, London along the tracks of the London and South Western Railway with the compartments of the trains, both for the living and for the dead passengers being partitioned by religion and class.

The London Necropolis Railway did not close until 11 April 1941 and  Dr Lucy Rose and her colleagues do not believe that these gothic, but fascinating stories should be forgotten and that is why The Epsom and Ewell Times is delighted to be able to assist with the promotion of the series. 

For further information and the full event schedule, please visit the “Victorian Memorials” website:


Image: Post mortem photo of a peaceful-looking woman. Attribution (CC BY 2.0)