Dead spaces? Crypts and cemeteries in modern London

Loading Map....

17 Oct 2014
18:30 - 20:00

Nash lecture theatre, King's College London

Part of the major  Arts and Humanities Festival on the theme of ‘Underground’ at King’s College London in October.

A panel discussion with Professor Arthur Burns, Rev. Dr Malcolm Johnson FSA and Dr Julian Litten Hon D Art FSA FSA (Scot)

We tend, inevitably, to think about burial places as cities of the dead, not least in the context of the gothic imaginings which see them figure so prominently in ghost and horror stories. Yet it is of course the living who invest meaning in crypts, cemeteries and churchyards, and their histories offer fascinating – sometimes macabre and piquant – insights into social, cultural, religious and national history, not least in the metropolis of London. This event brings together three historians who have played important parts in the recent investigation of the history of such places in the capital city.

Arthur Burns will explore the remarkable story of how the crypt of St Paul’s cathedral developed into one of the capital’s major tourist attractions as a site of national memory housing the tombs of both Wellington and Nelson. Malcolm Johnson will draw on his unrivalled knowledge of the crypts of London since the Great Fire to document not only the often unseen but remarkable details of the number and types of burials accommodated under many London churches, but how in the last century new pastoral and commercial initiatives gave such spaces new and vital roles in the life of the church (and what happened to the bodies when this happened!). Finally, Julian Litten will focus on the public catacombs at Kensal Green Cemetery to explore how the new London private joint-stock cemetery companies of the early nineteenth century catered for high-status customers seeking subterranean deposit.

All the talks will be illustrated with photographs and images offering rare chances to see behind the iron grills and cobwebs which often mask such places from public view. The stories that they tell not only offer new, sometimes entertaining and sometimes horrifying, insights into a very particular aspect of the history of the metropolis, but offer food for thought both on the future of such spaces in the London cityscape and our own very different approach to death and the inevitable moment when we ourselves have to confront our own futures ‘underground’.

Admission is free: tickets can be obtained at