John Claudius Loudon had been fascinated by death and burial for many years before he began designing cemeteries.
His first, and probably most bizarre, work was the monument he designed for his parents’ grave in the churchyard of St John the Baptist’s church at Pinner in Middlesex. It bears the inscription: “Sacred to the memory of William Loudon of the original stock of the Loudon family, of the parish and county of Midcalder. He died 29 December AD 1809. This monument, set up by John Claudius Loudon, the eldest of his sons, stands as a witness of his piety”. Loudon’s mother, Agnes, died in 1841 and her inscription, on the other end of the coffin can be seen here:
Local historian Walter Druett in Pinner in History  records the folklore behind it: “Pinner churchyard contains a monument that is probably unique. It consists of a tall pyramid, through the middle of which protrudes a stone coffin. It was raised to the memory of William and Agnes Loudon whose bodies lie in the coffin. William Loudon and his wife inherited some money under a will which stipulated that they should receive a certain sum so long as their bodies were above the ground. By burying his parents above the ground, a son sought to keep a bequest in the family”. In fact, they are more mundanely buried in a vault beneath.
Despite his evident interest Loudon does not seem to have been involved in the design of any of the great early 19thc cemeteries. Indeed he only had 3 commissions and they all date somewhat ironically from the months immediately before his own death in 1843.
The first was the small non-denominational Histon Road Cemetery in Cambridge set up by a group of non-conformist businessmen who established the Cambridge General Cemetery Company Ltd in 1842. Here Loudon worked with the architect Edward Buckton Lamb. His ideas, and detailed alternatives to them, were not merely submitted to the company but also used as an exemplar in his book On the Laying Out, Planting and Management of Cemeteries in 1843.
They cover everything from the site plan and the buildings right through the preparation of what we would now call a business plan for the cemetery. His calculations covered several pages of notes and included mortality rates, the types of burial and coffins to be allowed, and the depth of graves and vaults, as well as the costs of trees and shrubs in his planting schemes.
Now closed, it is cared for by Cambridge City Council working closely with the Friends of Histon Road Cemetery. As one of the best preserved examples of Loudon’s work the Cemetery is English Heritage grade II* listed.For more information take a look at our database entry and the website of the Friends of Histon Road Cemetery:
Whilst Loudon was working on his designs for Cambridge his next cemetery commission – an ‘overflow’ burial ground for Bath Abbey- arrived.
The new Bath cemetery was to be nowhere near the Abbey itself. Instead, in line with contemporary practice, it was set out on a hillside on the rural fringes of the town. Built in Anglo-Norman style by local contractors it did not open until 1844 after Loudon’s own death but it still used his designs and embodied his principles: to dispose of the dead in a hygienic manner, to improve the morals and taste of society, by its architectural quality and botanical riches, and to serve as a historical record for future generations. Loudon also said that the Cemetery should be conspicuous from a distance, be an ornament to the surrounding countryside and an impressive memento to mortality. Even today, perched high on a hill it has wonderful views back over Bath. The cemetery continued to be used as a place of burial until 1995, when it was formally closed and handed over to the care of the Local Authority.
For more information see our database, the website of the abbey itself, or the local community association:
His final commission, in every sense, was at Southampton. Although he was normally based in at his villa in Bayswater Loudon had been staying on the Isle of Wight whilst his wife , Jane Webb Loudon [of whom more at some point in the future] was writing another book. [She was almost as indefatigable as John Claudius himself] The damp sea air aggravated his rheumatic fever and he decided to take temporary lodgings in Southampton to recover. The local council had just received Parliamentary approval for a new cemetery on former common land and asked him to submit a design scheme, paying him £37 for it. Loudon set to work and suggested amongst other things two chapels – one Anglican and one non-conformist – equal in size & side by side. He then died before such scandalous ideas were rejected out of hand by the Bishop of Winchester. After that alternative schemes were commissioned for much of the work from local contractors.
For more information see our database or the website of the Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery:
Even though he was only responsible for the plans of three burial grounds – and they were only built in a substantially altered form – his importance for the design of Victorian cemeteries was immense. The great semi-rural necropolis at Brookwood, as well as London’s Ilford Cemetery are amongst the best examples of this influence.
For a heavyweight discussion of his significance see:Peter Johnson, J.C.Loudon’s ideal cemetery which is downloadable at:
Unfortunately Loudon, despite his more than 4 million published words, has largely been forgotten, probably because as John Gloag suggests his ideas… ‘those bright oases of creative thought” got lost in “a huge grey desert of intolerable verbosity……..” [Gloag, Mr Loudon’s England: The Life and Work of John Claudius Loudon, and his influence on architecture and furniture design, 1970]. Perhaps the time has come to resurrect him!
Finally…..the thing that has struck me most forcibly while researching the last couple of posts has been how much fascination there is for information about cemeteries, burials and death-related customs. Here are just a few to get you going… but let us know if you find anymore that you think would be of interest to other readers.