A very expensive cemetery feature that seemed jinxed from the start.
Catacombs – tunnels where coffins were laid out – were briefly popular in the 19th century, and all of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries built them. Brompton’s catacombs in the Great Circle were a particular feature. Wealthy families could choose handsomely decorated lead-lined coffins for their loved ones, to rest on open shelves. Some cemeteries even charged a small fee for Victorian visitors to view the coffins.
Catacombs were very expensive to build, and Brompton built two extensive sets. Unfortunately, catacombs soon fell out of favour and few of Brompton’s shelves were ever filled. The Western Catacombs that lined the west wall of the cemetery faced even greater problems.
Structural faults were found, soon after they were completed. This caused a rift between the cemetery architect, Benjamin Baud, and the builder, Philip Nowell, which ended with Baud being sacked. Baud had also included a scenic promenade along the top of the catacombs, with views over the adjacent Kensington Canal. This became redundant within a few years, when the canal was replaced by a railway. Finally, the catacombs were badly damaged when West Brompton Station was bombed in the Second World War, and large sections had to be removed.
The main entrance, which gives access to the remaining southern section of the catacombs, was repaired and restored during the conservation works in 2017.