Drawing of the Anglican Cemetery Chapel
Drawing of the Anglican Cemetery Chapel
Ashley Road, Epsom, Surrey KT18 5BP
OS reference TQ 521470 159310
Reproduced from Picturesque Architectural studies and Practical designs by William Young 1872.


Until the early nineteenth century the church had a monopoly on the interment of human remains in the UK. The rapidly increasing urban population and the constrained space in churchyards meant that existing graveyards were overcrowded and unhygienic, and could not cope with the number of bodies. The Government passed a number of Burial Acts including the Burial (Beyond the Metropolis) Act in 1853 which allowed local councils to establish Burial Boards to provide alternative solutions. Epsom established its Burial Board on 31 May 1869 with George White as its Clerk.

Epsom Gets Its Cemetery

Early in 1870 the Epsom Burial Board purchased five acres of land from the Trustees of the late Alexander Wood between the roads now known as Downs Road and Ashley Road . This land had been part of the former Common Fields. The site was not the Board's first choice. In 1869 it had been negotiating with the Lord of the Manor, John Briscoe to buy four acres of land to the north of Dorking Road . It soon became clear that the site was too small to accommodate the planned chapels and to allow for expansion. Briscoe was unwilling to sell any more land and the more flexible site was chosen.

The Board issued invitations in 1870 to tender for the contract to enclose the site and decided to hold a competition for the actual design. They provided a statement of requirement which included details of the geographical location and the hard, chalk sub-soil, proximity to Epsom's two railway stations and to gratuitous water supply. It also specified that the site was to be enclosed with four foot wall, which would have to be over a 1000 feet in length, in which there were to be two gateways with gates. Inside two chapels were required, one Anglican and the other non-conformist, each to be 30 ft by 20 ft in size. A lodge was also required with two reception rooms, two bedrooms, domestic offices and water closet all on the ground floor. The cost of all this was not to exceed £3300.

There were five competitors and in August 1870 William Young, a partner of Robert Milton, an architect in Crooked Lane , London was declared the winner. His designs were reproduced in his book "Picturesque Architectural Studies and Practical Designs", published in 1872.

Drawing of the Nonconformist Cemetery Chapel
Drawing of the Nonconformist Cemetery Chapel
Reproduced from Picturesque Architectural studies and Practical designs by William Young 1872.

The building contract was awarded to Thomas Nye of Ealing and the landscaping to Joseph Tanton Rawnsley of Epsom Nurseries. All the external construction was to be in Kentish Ragstone and it is estimated that sixty thousand tons of stone had to be transported from Epsom railway station in Station Road up to the site. The landscaping was to be simple with gently curving roads, and a yew and beech hedge in front of the wall with horse chestnut trees in front of that. Dark, evergreen trees such as yews, pines and cedars much favoured by the Victorians for their sombre appearance were planted near the chapels and paths.

Early in 1871 a Lodge Keeper was appointed. He needed to be literate and to be a competent gardener. He would be paid £50 pa and live rent free in the Lodge. Edward Northey of Woodcote house recommended Francis Kentfield for the post with the following reference: "His respectable parents live in Epsom; he is 30 years old, married but no children; he is well educated and understands gardening, and having served his country as a soldier for ten years, qualifies him for this situation". He got the job!

Who Can Use It

A public cemetery of this type had to cater for all denominations and for all sectors of society. Some land had to remain unconsecrated; some was set aside for Roman Catholics, and later on for Muslims too. Provision also had to be made for the inmates of the Epsom Workhouse. A small section near the Downs Road entrance was reserved as a deep, seventeen feet, mass grave where paupers could be buried. The Board recognized that many could not afford a funeral coach to get to the cemetery and they provided a Shillabier and a harness, to be kept in a shed at the waterworks, that could be hired for five shillings. The borrower had to provide their own horse.

Gypsies have long been associated with Epsom Downs and the Derby meeting, and they have adopted Epsom Cemetery as their burial ground. Their burials are conducted to traditional rites: no soil must be spilt on the coffin when it is placed inside, so the back-fill is steeply built up, and then possessions are placed around it. A family member has to stand at the graveside and watch the soil fall naturally onto the coffin before the grave can be closed. The floral tributes are colourful and families come to tend the graves during race weeks.

There are also some locally well known people buried there such as the Northey family who were Lords of the Manor, the Dorling (publishers and Race Course Officials) and the Langlands (estate agents). Also Police Sergeant Green who was killed in 1919 when Canadian soldiers rioted at Epsom Police Station.

The Opening

The Bishop of Winchester was invited to consecrate the "protestant" areas and the chapels in June 1871, and shortly afterward the first interment took place. This was Mrs. Elizabeth Dorling, wife of Henry Dorling who was chairman of the Burial Board in its first year and Clerk to the Racecourse. She was also the mother of Mrs. Isabella Beeton, a famous household name. Her grave can be seen today.

The tomb of Elizabeth Dorling, the first person to be interred in Epsom and Ewell Cemetery, Ashley Road, Epsom June 1871. Copyright image courtesy of Carol Hill, 2006
The tomb of Elizabeth Dorling, the first person to be interred
in Epsom and Ewell Cemetery, Ashley Road, Epsom June 1871.
Copyright image courtesy of Carol Hill, 2006

Photo of the Anglican Cemetery Chapel tower
Photo of the Anglican Cemetery Chapel tower
Copyright image courtesy of Carol Hill, 2006

Chapel Interior
Chapel Interior
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2011

Remembering the War Dead

A number of buildings around Epsom were converted into emergency military hospitals in 1914-1918, for example the new grandstand (built 1914 demolished 2007) at the Racecourse, the Army camp at Woodcote Park and Horton Hospital. Some of the patients who died were buried in a section of Epsom. After the War, the Imperial War Graves Commission (later called the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) set about consolidating and standardizing war burials. A representative visited in 1921 to advise on the layout and maintenance and his plans were implemented following their receipt in September 1922. Epsom was also asked to maintain 62 Canadian War Graves. This sector is a rectangular site enclosed by a beech hedge. On the northern side a white stone screen was erected with bronze panels listing the eighty nine commonwealth service men who had died of wounds. The temporary grave markers were removed and replaced with tablets set into the lawn. The War Cross is in the centre of the lawn approached by paved steps. The War Graves Commission's horticultural concept was to create an environment where visitors could experience a sense of peace in a beautiful and serene setting akin to a country garden. When they inspected in 1926 the grass looked coarse, and Epsom Council had to cut it more frequently to improve the quality.

Links to the war memorials in this cemetery Local Council War Memorial and CWGC Memorial

Lord Rosebery proposed having a separate War Memorial for fallen Epsom men in the market place but many families objected to such an obvious reminder of their loss. It was erected instead in the north west corner of the Ashley Road cemetery and unveiled on 13 December 1921. The names of two hundred and sixty four fallen Epsom men and one woman were recorded on the screening stone wall and this was unveiled by Maj Gen Sir Edward Northey at the Remembrance Day Ceremony in November 1923. Names from the Second World War were not added to the memorial. Instead a book of remembrance listing the Second World War dead was produced, and is held at the Town Hall where it can be inspected. White decorative railings with two gates separate the war memorial from the rest of the cemetery as a memorial to the members of the "Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regt ) 18,19, 20 and 21 Btns who fell in the Great War". The centre of each railing contains the insignia of the Public Schools Brigade who were stationed at Woodcote Camp.

Cemetery Plan - click on image to go to a larger version with links to plans showing individual plots
Plan of Ashley Road Cemetery courtesy of the Superintendent and Registrar of Epsom Cemetery
Click on image to go to a page with a larger plan and links to plans showing individual plots.

Cemetery Expansion

By 1923 it was clear that the cemetery required space, even though from 1880 it had been possible to buy the right to bury a number of bodies in a particular plot. (A register of these can be consulted at the EELHC, Bourne Hall, Ewell). Epsom council purchased five acres of land from Lord Rosebery to the south of the existing cemetery, part of field 567 on the Ordnance Survey (OS) map at 25 inches to a mile. Local tradition has it that Lord Rosebery would have given the land for free, but decided to charge £2000 after the Council agreed to games being played in Rosebery Park . He donated the money he received to charity. The new area had to be suitably enclosed with walls and a screen of shrubs and trees, and the adjoining land had to be suitably drained. Further extensions were made subsequently taking in the remainder of field 657 and 561 on the OS map and there is still room for expansion.

The Langland family monument
The Langland family monument
Copyright image courtesy of Carol Hill, 2006

The Cemetery in 2006

Today the Cemetery is still the responsibility of Epsom Borough Council and is looked after by the Superintendent and Registrar. The Non-Conformist chapel was demolished in 1981 when the segregation of different religions was abandoned. It remains an oasis of peace and tranquillity, but many of the older memorials have become damaged and their inscriptions lost.

Researched by Carol Hill, 2004 & updated 2006.

Here is a link to lists of the burials in Epsom and Ewell Cemetery between 1871 and 1950

Here is a link to details of some of the notable people buried in Epsom and Ewell Cemetery.

  1. Ordnance Survey maps at 25 inches to 1 mile, 1896,1913, and 1933.
  2. Ordnance Survey maps at 1:2500, 2003.
  3. Plan of Epsom cemetery S Yates Superintendent and Registrar.
  4. Minutes of the Epsom Burial Board 1869-1895.
  5. Minutes of Epsom Urban District council 1895-1933.
  6. Extracts from Picturesque Architectural Studies and Practical Design by W. Young, published by E and FN Spon, London 1872.
  7. Church of England Chapel, 1968.
  8. Photographs of Epsom Cemetery C. Hill 2003 and 2004.
  9. Interview with a former grave digger 2004.
When a person died in one of the local mental hospitals and no one was prepared to take responsibility for funeral arrangements then they were usually buried in hospital grounds - see our separate page on Horton Cemetery.