brighton cemetery woodpile

At this time of year, as the leaves fall from the trees and the air turns crisp, I like to wave goodbye to Autumn at Brighton’s “city of the dead” – officially known as Woodvale Cemetery – a mind-blowing 70-acre cemetery complex in the centre of the city, most people overlook.

I like to come here especially to walk the Tomb Trail around the Extra Mural Cemetery part of the complex, an atmospheric Victorian burial ground with a haunting air, and so beautifully overgrown with mossy paths lined with wonky, ivy-covered gravestones. Let me show you around…

woodpile cemetery brighton tomb trail

It opened in 1850 and is the oldest part of the giant cemetery complex which has expanded over time. What’s incredible is that despite how big this place is, it’s  unlikely you’ll encounter another soul on a wander around, except perhaps the odd person using it as a shortcut into town, leaving flowers on a loved-one’s grave or the gardeners. In these quiet, deserted grounds, it’s easy to completely forget that you are in the middle of a busy city.

woodvale cemetery

The ‘tomb trail’starts at the left of the Extra Mural Cemetery chapel – you’ll see the signs and yellow arrows on markers. It immediately takes you up narrow steps and along winding overgrown pathways, covered in crunchy autumn leaves past all those perfectly weathered graves I was talking about earlier.

tomb trail extra mural cemetery brighton

woodvale cemetery tomb trail

woodvale cemetery brighton tomb trail

This part of the cemetery was built at the city’s economic peak, and most of it is filled with elaborate and decorative Victorian crypts, tombs, graves and mausoleums commissioned by wealthy families of politicians, performers, aristocrats, soldiers and business owners.

tomb rail brighton woodvale

tomb trail woodvale cemetery secret brighton blog

Residents from history buried here include members of the Tamplins brewing family, the Cox family who owed Cox’s Pill Factory where Lewes Road Sainsbury’s now is,  Mr Smith Hannington, founder of the old Hanningtons department store… to name a few, although I wasn’t sure where to find them as I’d left my leaflet at home.

One grave I was able to recognise is this one below that belongs to John Frederick Ginnett, a circus master buried beneath a white marble drum with a Tony standing over the showman’s hat, scarf and gloves.

tomb trail woodvale cemetery brighton

The other I know about is poignant in that it belongs to an eight-year-old boy called Thomas Malcolm Sabine Highflyer, who was rescued from an African slave ship in 1866. I’ve a blog post planned but until then, you can read more about his heartbreaking incredible story here.

The trail winds its way up into the newer part of the cemetery where burials still take place, and you’ll find a wildflower meadow and blossom trees blooming beautifully in spring.

extra mural cemetery brighton

It ends where you started, near the cemetery picnic garden where you can ponder the meaning of life over a sandwich.

picnic garden woodvale cemetery brighton

picnic garden woodvale cemetery brighton


For more Brighton secrets, see my other blog posts or my book Secret Brighton: An Unusual Guide

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