Golders Green Crematorium and Mausoleum was the first crematorium to be opened in London, and one of the oldest crematoria in Britain. The land for the crematorium was purchased in 1900, costing £6,000 (the equivalent of £135,987 in 2021), and the crematorium was opened in 1902 by Sir Henry Thompson.
Cremation was not legal in Great Britain until 1885. The first crematorium was built in Woking and it was successful. At that time cremation was championed by the Cremation Society of Great Britain. This society was governed by a council, at that time led by Sir Henry Thompson (president and founding member). There is a bust to his memory in the West Chapel of Golders Green Crematorium. Out of this Society was formed the London Cremation Company (which has its offices on the premises), who desired to build a crematorium within easy reach of London.
The crematorium in Golders Green was designed by the architect Sir Ernest George and his partner Alfred Yeates. The gardens were laid out by William Robinson. The crematorium is a red brick building in Lombardic style and was built in stages, as money became available. The crematorium opened in 1902 and was built in four phases (1901–1910, 1910–1911, 1912–1916, 1926–1928). By 1939, the site was largely completed, although since then some buildings have been added. Since November 1902 more than 323,500 cremations have taken place at Golders Green Crematorium, far more than any other British crematorium. It is estimated that the crematorium now averages around 2,000 cremations a year. The funerals of many prominent people have taken place there over the last century.
Ironically, the ashes of the first person cremated at Woking, Mrs Jeanette Pickersgill (died 21 April 1885), widow of artist Henry William Pickersgill, were removed from Woking to the East Columbarium at Golders Green, according to Woking's cremation records.
Interior of the columbarium
The chimney of the crematorium is located within the tower and the building is in an Italianate style. The 12 acres (4.9 ha) of gardens are extensively planted, and produce a beautiful and tranquil environment for visitors. There are several large tombs, two ponds and bridge, and a large crocus lawn. Another notable feature is a special children's section, which includes a swinging bench. There is also a 'communist corner' with memorials to notables of the Communist Party of Great Britain. There are two cremation chapels and a Chapel of Memory. There are also three columbaria containing the ashes of thousands of Londoners and residents of neighbouring counties.
There have been 14 holders of the Victoria Cross cremated here, and there are locations and memorials for many other military personnel of all ranks, and from many countries.
Largest among them is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorial, commemorating 496 British and Commonwealth military casualties of both World Wars who were cremated here. Designed by Sir Edward Maufe, it was unveiled in 1952. Built in Portland stone with names listed on three bronze panels, it stands at head of an ornamental pond at the western end of the memorial cloister.
At Christmas, a Christmas tree is erected in the field in front of the main buildings. Although the crematorium is secular, a nativity scene is also placed near the Chapel of Memory.
A map of the Garden of Rest and some information on persons cremated here is available from the office. Staff are available to help in finding a specific location. This service is £10 per request. The columbaria can be visited. There is also a tea room.
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Ashes at Golders Green Crematorium
Among those whose ashes are retained or were scattered here, are:
Professor Louis Hoffmann (Angelo John Lewis), author of "Modern Magic" (1876) and other books on magic, games, amusements and puzzles. Funeral service and cremation took place at Golders Green on 29 December 1919, location of ashes unknown.
Vivian Stanshall, founding member of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, artist, poet and broadcaster. His ashes are in the possession of his wife and daughter. A memorial plaque is in the crematorium's Poets' Corner, unveiled on 13 December 2015..
Szmul Zygielbojm Polish-Jewish political activist. In 1943 committed suicide in London as a protest against international indifference towards Holocaust. His ashes were transferred to New York in 1961 by Zygielbojm's fellows from Bund Jewish Organization.
^Hal Moggridge: Jellicoe. In: H. C. G. Matthew, Brian Harrison (ed.): Oxford dictionary of national biography. From the earliest times to the year 2000. Vol. 29. Oxford University Press, Oxford/New York 2004, ISBN0-19-861379-2, pp 921–924.