As the new King’s Cross station concourse opens (officially) today, my final blog post looking at a less well known passenger service offered by the original railway company – the conveyance of the dead away from London.
Although the necropolis railway at Waterloo Station running out to Surrey is quite well known, its northern counterpart is seemingly largely forgotten – although not surprising as there is almost nothing left of the railway component to point out to local visitors/tourists.
As the Waterloo railway transferred the dead all the way out to Woking, the cost for the service was out of the reach of the average poor, so to offer a cheaper alternative, the Great Northern London Cemetery Company was set up in 1855.
It cut costs in part by putting its cemetery much closer to London so that the rail fare could be more affordable. In fact it was so close to London, that today it is inside London, at what is now New Southgate.
The departure point at King Cross was to the north of the modern station, on what is today a little noticed side road. The building itself has long since vanished, with the rail-side land still vacant, and the road area looking like is now occupied by a cement factory (modern map link).
One of the several innovations that the Great Northern Cemetery Station offered was a fully functioning morgue and mourning rooms. At the time, it was normal for the dead to be left at home for a few days during mourning, which was hardly very sanitary.
With the new station, the dead could be taken to a dedicated and more sanitary area for the mourners, and then would be lowered by a hydraulic lift to the railway level. Twice a week, a train would collect the mourners, and the dead to convey them on their final trip, up to New Southgate.
Here a dedicated station was also built, called simply “Cemetery Station” right next to the cemetery where it was convenient to carry the coffins on horse drawn carts the short distance for burial.
Although the service opened in 1861, it seems to have closed by 1873 so despite appealing to the large poor masses, it never gained their favour.
At some point both stations were demolished.
The King’s Cross end can just about be seen from a nearby road through some fencing…
Or from a passing train…
Up at New Southgate – nothing whatsoever remains of the site to indicate its former heritage. The land between the railway and the cemetery was sold to a vast telecommunications factory – Standard Telephones and Cables – but is now an office park.
The site of the station itself is now occupied by Barnet Borough Council.
I guestimate that the car park is where the Cemetery Station once stood and there is nothing whatsoever left of the railway siding that once stood there. However a tiny bit closer to the road bridge were I stood, you could make out that the railway space is wider, so offering a lingering hint that something once stood there.
A couple of hundred yards down the road is the final destination for the passengers.