Just five minutes’ walk away from Mile End Station is the Tower Hamlets Cemetery. More than just a burial site, over the years the 27-acre cemetery has been transformed into a protected area, with a Local Nature Reserve, Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation and park. It’s the only woodland park in the entire Tower Hamlets borough.
3000 volunteers help to preserve the endangered species of plants and animals while maintaining the site. Local schools also use the site to help teach 7500 school children a year about the environment and nature. One way of doing this is to offer a wildlife watch club for children under 14 to learn about the hundred different species of wildlife.
The cemetery was one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ Victorian cemeteries in London – prior to the Victorian era, the dead were buried within urban chuchyards that quickly became overcrowded and spread disease and contamination because of the proximity to residential locations. Tower Hamlets provides the burial site for many well-known local residents including the original owner of the Cutty Sark, and the first Labour Mayor of Poplar, Will Crooks. In the 1800s it cost 25 shillings to be buried in a ‘common’ grave and 63 shillings for a private plot, and there are 20,000 monuments in the cemetery, which means many people come to trace back their heritage and family history.
In the mid 1990s, more was added to the park in the Southern Boundary. ‘Scrapyard Meadows’ which was, as the name suggests, used as a scrapyard is now home to a meadow filled with flowers, and the Ackroyd Drive Greenlink is a green walkway between the Cemetery Park and Mile End Park
The last burials took place in 1966, when the cemetery then became a designated park. It’s also been used in filming and features in shows such as BBC’s Luther, ITV’s Whitechapel, and is also used for over 200 events every year, including the annual Shuffle Festival, which is curated by British director and 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony mastermind, Danny Boyle. The festival aims to unify the community with the manmade, natural environment and merges film, science, storytelling, performance art, architectural installations, walks, food, comedy and music. This year’s festival focused on the topics of Movement, Migration and Place and included pavilions being built within the grounds of the park.