For hundreds of years, almost all London’s dead were buried in small parish churchyards, which quickly became dangerously overcrowded. Architects such as Sir Christopher Wren and Sir John Vanbrugh deplored this practice and wished to see suburban cemeteries established.[2] It was not until British visitors to Paris, including George Frederick Carden, were inspired by its Père Lachaise cemetery that sufficient time and money were devoted to canvass for reform, and equivalents were developed in London: first at Kensal Green.

In the first 50 years of the 19th century the population of London more than doubled from 1 million to 2.3 million. Overcrowded graveyards also led to decaying matter getting into the water supply and causing epidemics. There were incidents of graves being dug on unmarked plots that already contained bodies, and of bodies being defiled by sewer rats infiltrating the churchyards’ drains from the relatively central Tyburn, Fleet, Effra and Westbourne rivers which were used as foul sewers by this date and later wholly discharged into London’s outfall sewers.

The most famous of the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries of London is Highgate.