Toads Revisited*

*1962 poem by Philip Larkin

Today, as on previous journeys to Farnborough, I’ve had no reason or desire to leave the train at Brookwood, one stop earlier than my destination; though thousands in past years had reason accompanied by profound reluctance. For 87 years, nearly every day, a single train of the London & South West Railway ran out of London and back. It left from a dedicated station near Waterloo built specifically for the line and its passengers. The 23 mile journey, which had no stops after leaving London, took 40 minutes. The route was chosen partly for its “comforting scenery”, including Richmond Park and Hampton Court.

In operation from 1854 to 1941, the London Necropolis Railway transported London’s dead southwest direct to a siding at the heart of Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking, Surrey. The cemetery was built in tandem with the railway. At its peak, from 1894 to 1903, the train carried more than 2 000 bodies a year.

The timetable allowed for passengers to leave, with their dear departed, at 11.40am; attend the funeral; take refreshment- ham sandwiches, fairy cakes – at one of the cemetery’s two train stations; then take the same train back to arrive in London by 3.30pm. All that now remains at the London end is the former office building of the London Necropolis Railway at 121, Westminster Bridge Road, with its elaborate Victorian facade.

Raby, P: Samuel Butler (1991)

“On December 30th (1897), Butler read in The Times that (Charles Paine) Pauli had died the previous day…he was communicated with, by the undertaker, and invited to travel down to Brookwood Cemetery with the body.

He duly took his place wearing his black silk hat outside the Necropolis station in Westminster Bridge Road…

…Butler received a great deal of information during the journey to the cemetery, most of it disturbing and unwelcome…

…After the service, read with an “unctuous affectation” Butler had seldom heard exceeded, the mourners sat down to a luncheon that had been brought down on the train…

…Butler took some time to recover from the death of Pauli and its attendant revelations.”.

On June 18th, 1902, Butler himself died. The funeral took place three days later:

“….the Saturday after the funeral, Alfred and Jones returned to the crematorium at Woking…he dug a hole, dropped the ashes in, covered them over, and left nothing to mark the spot.”.

Bion, Wilfred R: The Long Weekend (1982), writing of training for service in World War I:

“From Berkhampstead I passed to an Officer Training Unit in transit for Bisley – change at Brookwood, the London Necropolis, for the few miles to Bisley…

…Brookwood. The London Crematorium. “Nearly there boys – any more for the London Crematorium?”…they were not all on leave – I doubt if there were more than a handful like me who were. Someone pulled the communication cord, the train came to a halt and the passengers, all in uniform, swarmed out of the carriages and onto the fields to make their way back to camp without running into the Military Police.”.

In World War II, on one of the worst nights of the Blitz, 16th April 1941, most of the London Necropolis Railway Station was destroyed by fire.

*”What else can I answer,/

When the lights come on at four

At the end of another year?

Give me your arm, old toad;

Help me down Cemetery Road.”

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