The Great Circle and Colonnades (1842)
'Cemeteries were a place to see, and be seen in’
The cemetery was a popular place for Victorian families to walk and picnic. It was free and open to everyone. As we do today, they strolled along the tree-lined Central Avenue to the spectacular Great Circle, with its forest of monuments and memorials.
The cemetery architect, Benjamin Baud, created elegant buildings and formal walkways to make the long flat site more interesting. The cemetery was built over a former market garden and brickworks, and had no natural features to work with.
The Great Circle was the centrepiece of Baud’s vision. It’s said he was inspired by the piazza in front of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Brompton’s Great Circle and colonnades are very distinctive, and have become an irresistible Gothic backdrop for film and TV companies.
Baud had always imagined the Great Circle as an open and elegant grassy expanse. However, the cemetery’s priority was to make money and the plots in the Circle were very desirable. Baud’s grand design was abandoned, and wealthy families began filling the space with eye-catching monuments.
Baud’s vision for the Great Circle also included three chapels. The one you see today was originally reserved for the Church of England. He designed two smaller chapels, in the style of rectangular Greek Temples, to sit within the arcades. One was for Roman Catholics and the other for Nonconformists, but the cemetery company ran out of money before they could be built.