Many thanks to historian Eric Willis of the Maintenance Department of the Crematorium, who kindly took me round when I visited, and somehow brought to life many of the remarkable characters cremated here. Photographs on this page by Robert Freidus and Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

By the turn of the century, cremation had become established as a viable, more hygienic and efficient alternative to burial. After the pioneering crematorium in Woking, others had been built elsewhere in the 1890s, notably in Manchester, Glasgow and Liverpool. However, the Golders Green Crematorium was the first to be established in the capital.

The crematorium is a red-brick Romanesque (more specifically Lombardic Romanesque) Revival complex designed largely by architect Sir Ernest George, by this time in partnership with his former Chief Assistant, Alfred Bowman Yeates (1867-1944). It was formally opened in November 1902 by Sir Henry Thompson, the distinguished advocate of such facilities who was the first President of the Cremation Society (see Pearson 57).

The building programme continued long after the nucleus of the crematorium (its offices, the West Columbarium, West Chapel and connecting structures) was established. For example, the five-storey East Columbarium designed by George and Yeates was completed in 1912 (see "Golders Green Crematorium, London: The East Columbarium"), and according to the listing text, the Ernest George Columbarium was completed by Yeates in 1928 and, of course, named in memory of George. According to the listing text as well, Yeates designed various smaller features himself after 1920, as well as extending the cloister eastwards. Later extensions were undertaken in the 1930s by the firm of Mitchell and Bridgewater. But it seems to have grown organically, perhaps thanks to Yeates's well-conceived features, including arches and portals, and perhaps also because it had the luxury of space in which to evolve. The Grade II listed crematorium backs on to the widest edge of an elongated triangle of twelve acres of grounds. These are listed as Grade I in the National Register of Parks and Gardens. The complex stands on Hoop Lane, just off the Finchley Road, in Golders Green, London NW11.

From the road, the crematorium's most impressive feature is a large central tower boasting a clock. Its main purpose is not to tell the time, but to house the chimney for the crematorium below it, which has four furnaces. The tower serves the West Chapel and the smaller east one, as well as a very small one (the Duke of Bedford's Chapel) for children. Along most of the length of the building runs a 240-foot long cloister walk which helps to connect the three columbaria, and at the back is that generous expanse of gardens mentioned above, with some tombs, urns and a grassy area for scattering ashes. Planned under the guidance of expert landscaper William Robinson (1838-1935, author of the popular The English Flower Garden, 1895), the grounds have a number of beautiful features, including rose gardens, a crocus lawn, ponds and a children's garden.

Many famous people have been cremated here, among them (from the world of science) )Sigmund Freud; (from the worlds of literature and the arts) the authors Bram Stoker and Rudyard Kipling, the sculptor Sir George Frampton, the illustrator Sir John Tenniel, the designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the sculptor, designer and painter, Sir William Reynolds-Stephens, and the architects C. F. A. Voysey and Sir Edwin Lutyens. Not all are remembered here: Kipling's ashes were taken to Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey, and Lutyens' to St Paul's, for example. But many are (see Pearson 57-59 for a longer list), and walking amongst their urns, caskets and memorial tablets is a truly remarkable experience.

Note that the Golders Green Crematorium is separate from the Hoop Lane Jewish Cemetery just opposite. Nevertheless, many Jewish people prominent in the worlds of learning, art and entertainment have been cremated and are remembered here, including some of those mentioned, notably Sigmund Freud, his daughter Anna, and other family members. Towards the end of the West Cloister, near the war memorial, there is a Shrine of Rememberance for Jewish people. Close by, there is also a shrine to the god Shiva: many Indian names are inscribed on the memorial plaques throughout the cloisters. Several hundred thousand cremations have taken place at the Golders Green Crematorium since it opened in 1902. The crematorium was soon followed by another in the City of London cemetery, but this one in north London is by far the busiest and most famous one, not only in the capital but in the country as a whole.

Related Material

Bibliography

Davies, Douglas J, with Lewis H. Mates, eds. Encyclopedia of Cremation. London: Routledge, 2016.

Golders Green Crematorium, Barnet. Historic England. Web. 24 February 2020.

"Golders Green Crematorium, London: The East Columbarium." RIBA. Web. 24 February 2020.

"North London Crematorium." Academy Architecture. Vol. 19 (1901). Ed. Alexander Koch. Architectural drawing No. 1691. Internet Archive. Contributed by Robarts Library, University of Toronto. Web. 24 February 2020.

Pearson, Lynn F. Discovering Famous Graves. Princes Risborough, Bucks: Shire, 1998.

Registered Historic Parks and Gardens. Barnet Council. Web. 24 February 2020.

Rutherford, Sarah. The Victorian Cemetery. Botley, Oxford: Shire, 2008.


Last modified 28 February 2020