Generally, the overall layout of the Cemetery is one of a well-managed place of burial, tinged with romantic decay, the quality and interest of the tombs being particularly striking. The Cemetery can be divided into areas of different character and these are set out below.
From the main entrance the layout of the Cemetery is dominated by the west-east central axis (Central Avenue) which runs to and terminates at the Anglican Chapel. The Central Avenue is bisected towards the west end by an avenue running north to south (Junction Avenue) and a circular path.
There are other subsidiary avenues, following sinuous north and south boundaries which interconnect with the main avenues.
At the east end of the cemetery is the Dissenters section which has one circulatory route bisected by a central axis culminating with the Dissenters Chapel.
The Semi-circular railed forecourt is overlooked by a neo-classical triumphal arch Gateway (Grade II*), defining main entrance to the Cemetery with lodges on either side to control access. This leads to the main congregating area.
A wall dominates the Cemetery on the northern and eastern boundaries along Harrow Road and Ladbroke Grove giving a sense of enclosure. It is approximately 1 kilometre (0.62 miles) in length and constructed of London stock brick, with regularly spaced piers and Portland stone caps.
The southern boundary has neo-classical railings on brick plinths giving more open aspect facing the canal.
Originally there was a division between the Dissenters’ part of the cemetery and the Anglican section. This took the form of a ‘sunk fence’ from the canal to the gate piers on the path. There were also decorative iron gates.
DISSENTERS’ CHAPEL AREA
The small area designated for non-Anglican burials is approximately oval in shape and was formerly made prominent by a wider central axis path that terminated with the neo-classical chapel with curved colonnades.
The overall character of this area is defined by its open appearance with informal sparse planting of shrubs and trees. An important feature of this area is the numbers of large monuments that line the main axis and the area to the front of the chapel. The recent restoration of the chapel has improved the overall aspect of the area giving a more cared-for appearance. Originally a sense of enclosure to the central pathway was achieved by a line of mature trees, but these were removed after the storms of 1997 bought many of them down.
The initial section of the Central Avenue is quite open with some informal planting on the edge of the path. The southern side of the avenue, at its western end, has a particularly fine group of early neo-classical monuments including a column, obelisks and sculpture.
More recently graves have been encroaching on the Central Avenue which is lined (at right angles) with recent small graves in front of older and grander monuments. These modern monuments use different materials and design to the earlier Nineteenth Century ones.
At the point where the curving paths divide north and south, the first initial glimpse of the Chapel appears along the Avenue. The Avenue is dominated by a formal avenue of mature chestnut trees which gives an enclosed feeling. The mausoleums and monuments crowd the Avenue creating a uniquely rich ensemble. These are generally large and elaborate, using a wide range of materials and are in the typical styles of that period. A particular feature was the use of marble statuary, typically of weeping mourning figures. Together they form one of the finest collections of Victorian cemetery monuments in Britain.
At the Circle, the grass pathways are dominated by a dense planting of trees, shrubs and undergrowth, and lined with monuments. Later graves have encroached upon the grass path, and erode the formal clarity of this section which has virtually vanished.
The central cross-over (junction Avenue) is also lined with elaborate monuments and has views down the axis of the Avenue to the canal gate, and sense of drama towards the neo-Classical pedimented temple form of the Chapel and colonnades.
Social conditions have changed over the years since the cemetery has been in operation, and the type and size of memorials reflects this fact. The cemetery has always allocated graves, at random or by the request of customers, and the layout of the cemetery reflects this to some extent by the choices of different classes of people and many ethnic minorities. The General Cemetery Company does now exercise more control over the type and size of memorials for this area than perhaps was always the case in the past.
ANGLICAN CHAPEL AREA
The Anglican Chapel dominates the western section of the cemetery being raised on a terrace beneath which is an extensive catacomb. The Chapel is flanked by ‘L-shaped’ colonnaded wings containing notable monuments in formally roofed pavilions each end. The chapel and cloister complex has a unique character and dominates views from much of the cemetery especially from lower lying ground to the south. It is one of the grandest neo-Classical set-pieces in the country having a mixture of fine architecture and richly wooded ground. The areas to the west, behind the Anglican Chapel, are principally occupied by smaller monuments, interspersed with a number of notable monuments in the north west arm.
On the north boundary is sited the North Terrace Colonnade, with a catacomb beneath, which used to dominate this part of the Cemetery but is now overwhelmed by the large building behind dating from the 1970s. The absence of trees gives this area an open meadow-like appearance. From the Colonnade there are wide views over the cemetery with the Anglican Chapel at its centre. Beyond it is still possible to enjoy the views of the Surrey Hills’ which Victorian writers eulogised.
Designed by Sir John D Paul, Chairman of the General Cemetery Company and John Griffith in 1833, it is listed Grade II
This building forms the main pedestrian access from Harrow Road into the cemetery. The gateway is an impressive neo-Classical triumphal arch in the Greek Revival style. It has flanking lodges, offices and landscaping.
It is built of brick and faced in Portland stone in a three bay form. The central bay has a portico and arched gateway with a projecting attic above. The portico has fluted Doric columns detailed with a plain necking ring and no base. The entablature is correctly detailed with wide spaced triglyphs and guttae. It has a projecting cornice which is a particularly fine feature with mutules above both the triglyphs and the metopes.
The central bay has a round arch and prominent keystone. The archway forms a tunnel vault with deep coffering. Cast iron gates detailed with spear heads and dog bars are attached to the Harrow Road arch.
The side bays are identical with pilasters, an entablature as on the central bay and a plain string course. The ground floor has pylon-formed window openings with eight-paned timber sash windows and shouldered surrounds. The first floor windows are square, timber framed casements, divided centrally by a glazing bar with a continuous surrounding architrave. On the front elevation these windows are blind.
The side bays are flanked by identical single storey rendered lodges with flat roofs, the parapets of which are unusually high forming a simple projecting frieze. The ground floor windows are UPVC, recessed, with a simple rendered surround above which is a large keystone. The west lodge is further flanked by a 20th century addition in a similar style. The east lodge has a basement accessed from the cemetery
LANDSCAPING OF ENTRANCE GATEWAY
The triumphal arch has been set back from Harrow Road and in front there is a semi-circular York stone perimeter forecourt area, the boundary being marked by railings and bollards. Artificial granite setts have been used to mark the entrance into the cemetery. The landscaping is of formal privet hedges which follow the semi-circular boundary. The flank wall to the remaining terrace houses has been rendered, with pilasters and a plain entablature.
THE COLONNADE AND CATACOMB
Designed by Sir John D Paul, Chairman of the General Cemetery Company and John Griffith in I 833, it is listed Grade II
This structure was built to display tablets and monuments with a brick-vaulted catacomb beneath in which coffins could be placed. This is probably a unique structure and therefore of great importance.
The colonnade is in a Neo-classical style using the Greek Doric Order with a 3-8-5-8-3 bay form, the centre and end bays projecting, having once contained memorial tablets. The corners are antae and each column is baseless, having simple capitals with a plain entablature, frieze, and a projecting cornice. There is a continuous parapet detailed with plain blocks and antefixae decorated with anthemion. Undergrowth now hides the original raised base and steps.
The colonnade is of Portland stone, the roof being constructed of metal beams which are fixed into the boundary wall and are supported by the columns. The underside is infilled with roofing tiles and concrete to form semi-circular vaulting. The rear wall is rendered and divided into bays by Portland stone pilasters, each bay containing memorial tablets.
he catacomb was originally entered from the western side and has steps which are partly hidden by undergrowth. Coffins were lowered into the catacomb via a central shaft, now infilled with concrete. The catacomb extends in front of the colonnade to form a terrace.
The Chapel is of the Greek Revival style with a tetrastyle portico in the Ionic Order. The portico has four fluted columns with Ionic capitals and bases. These support a plain entablature, frieze and projecting cornice. There is no decoration to the tympanum. It has two curved colonnaded wings in the Doric Order standing on a podium.
The Chapel is constructed of brick, rendered with decorative elements faced in Portland stone. There is a brick vaulted catacomb beneath.
It has two wings, divided into three bays by four linked antae. The rear wall is rendered and the bays are divided by pilasters. The wing ends have fluted Doric columns in antis with no bases. The podium paving is constructed of sandstone slabs.
The Chapel is entered through a large gated doorway with a panelled door. The entrance doorway is detailed with a simple architrave moulding, cornice and decorative console.
A decorative scheme dating from the mid 19th Century is stencilled internally which was revealed in the repair programme completed in 1997. Surviving physical evidence and original drawings enabled an accurate reconstruction of the internal furnishings and fittings.
This is the largest structure within the cemetery It has a Greek Doric tetrastyle portico, with L-shaped’ wings and a catacomb beneath. The chapel is rectangular; brick built, faced in render with channelwork and has Portland stone pilasters.
At the front the four fluted columns are baseless with plain capitals and neck rings. Similar to the entrance gateway, the Chapel has an identical entablature with mutules, triglyphs and guttae although with a plain pediment and coffered ceiling.
The rear of the chapel has clasping pilasters, a Diocletian stained glass window, Portland stone dressings and a recessed plain panel.
A pair of doors give access to the interior; first into a vestibule, then into the chapel. Smaller doors on each side of the vestibule lead to a former vestry on the right and to the catacombs on the left. Blank panels intended for memorials occupy the wall spaces above these doors. A pair of Doric columns mark the entrance to the ceremonial area.
Some of the original fixtures and fittings survive, including the York stone paving and timber floor In plan it is similar to Ayot St Lawrence Church, but also to Sir John Soane’s vestibule for the Bank of England in the City. The layout is cruciform with coffered barrel vaults and Greek key decoration over each arm of the Cross. The piers and pilasters carry a deep entablature which was enriched with triglyphs and mutules. Over the main body of the chapel the ceiling, raised on pendentives, form a canopy-like vault. Its shallow plaster dome is ribbed and scalloped. At the apex is a rose of acanthus leaves surrounded by a Greek key pattern.
The Chapel is used for funeral services and there is a hydraulic catafalque for lowering coffins into the catacomb. It was added soon after the Chapel was built in 1837, and designed by an enterprising engineer, a Mr A Smith of Princes Street, Leicester Square. The principle o operation was a screw jack mechanism. However, the primitive manufacturing processes of the early 1800’s meant that this apparatus was far from reliable and in 1844 it was replaced.
The new device worked on the principle similar to that of the one installed in West Norwood Cemetery. The catafalque worked on an unusual hydraulic principal, with its main advantage being silent operation in both raising and in particular lowering mode. The work was complete by the firm of Bramah and Robinson.
The catafalque was recently restored and bought back into use in May 1997 by the Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery. The repaired catafalque is extremely important and rare as a working mechanism.
Underneath the chapel is a brick-vaulted catacomb which is divided into section (Ioculi) with brick walls and shelves a stone slabs. Some Ioculi have decorative grills or glass fronts, others are sealed, the remainder are left open.