Dissenters’ Chapel was built to serve non-Anglicans in the first public cemetery in the British Isles – Kensal Green Cemetery. Ruinous when Historic Chapels Trust took it over, it has been restored as an exemplar to demonstrate how other crumbling structures in this internationally important cemetery can also be rescued.
Today Dissenters’ Chapel houses the offices of the Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery who are taking forward restoration plans for the Anglican chapel and the most important monuments in the cemetery.
The Dissenters’ Chapel lies within Kensal Green Cemetery, itself a Grade II* item on the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens and a designated conservation area. Kensal Green, London’s oldest public cemetery, dates from 1832 and is the resting place of many famous people.
Among the distinguished people buried here are both Sir Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Charles Babbage, William Makepeace Thackeray, Decimus Burton, Wilkie Collins, Anthony Trollope, no fewer than 250 distinguished scientist members of the Royal Society, stationer and bookseller W.H.Smith. Among recent burials are Ossie Clark and Sir Harold Pinter.
Kensal Green is of international importance in the history of cemetery design and is an early example of a ‘garden cemetery’ of the sort advocated by horticulturalist and cemetery reformer John Claudius Loudon – who is himself buried here. The Anglican Chapel, main entrance, the colonnade and many monuments are also listed but several of the most important monuments have been allowed to fall into disrepair.
Along with the Anglican Chapel, main cemetery entrance and colonnade, the Dissenters’ Chapel was designed in Greek Revival style by John Griffith of Finsbury in 1834. There were competing architectural proposals for the cemetery’s buildings in both Gothic and classical styles and the fact that this pioneering cemetery plumped for Greek gave impetus to the revival of Greek architecture for cemetery buildings and monuments.
When Historic Chapels Trust took a lease of the Dissenters Chapel from the General Cemetery Company, the chapel had been allowed to fall into severe disrepair and the colonnade roof had collapsed.
A major restoration was completed in 1997 with support from Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The main body of the chapel was repaired, the chapel’s curved flanking colonnades were reinstated and a historic scheme of painted decoration, dating from the 1860s, was retrieved. A new visitor centre and meeting space was constructed behind the north colonnade. The project received an Environment Award from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in 1997 and a Europa Nostra Award in 1998.
The rescue of the Dissenters’ Chapel is intended to be the first of several projects to restore important parts of the Cemetery. Much of this is being led by the Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery, a registered charity, that now occupies and manages Dissenters’ Chapel on behalf of Historic Chapels Trust.
The Dissenters’ Chapel is listed Grade II*, the whole cemetery is a Conservation Area and Grade II* designated landscape. A large number of individual monuments are also listed.
The chapel is an office and event space of the Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery who run guided tours of the cemetery including the interior of Dissenters Chapel and celebrated monuments nearby. Group visit enquiries should be made to the Friends.
Kensal Green Cemetery is 10 minutes walk from Kensal Green station (Bakerloo line and Overground).
The cemetery is served by buses 18, 23, 28, 52, 70, 295, 316 and 452. There is no public parking at the cemetery.
In the area
The cemetery is a short bus or tube journey from many West London destinations including Portobello Road Market, Notting Hill, Hyde Park and Hampstead Heath. 30 yards from Dissenters Chapel on the canalside is Portobello Dock with the celebrated Dock Kitchen restaurant and Tom Dixon designer shop
Lectures and other events are organised in Dissenters Chapel – if you would like details or wish to promote your own event or exhibition at the Chapel contact the Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery.
You may also hold a funeral or commemorative event in the chapel, prior to or after cremation at the crematorium in the cemetery. This enables the family and friends to hold a more leisurely and personalised event. Please enquire about availability.
Burials are not available at the Dissenters Chapel and its catacomb is now closed for interments. Burials elsewhere in the cemetery are available by arrangement with the General Cemetery Company.