In the Greek Necropolis, the Greek Orthodox section of West Norwood Cemetery, prominent members of the 19th-century Greek parish “sleep.”
In the 1860s, the Greek community of London flourished. The Ralli, Cavafy, Ionidis, Skylitsi, Rodokanaki, Balli and many more families have given birth to that hybrid Greek-British osmosis and are leading the way as an active part of Victorian society. Today, one can see the glory and wealth of the Greek community in the historic West Norwood Cemetery, where the Greek Necropolis is the leading wing with neoclassical mausoleums and sculptural monuments. Rescuing and highlighting this “treasure trove” of memory is now a lofty and noble goal, led by the West Norwood Friends Association. Work has already begun on the chapel of Agios Stefanos, which is the leading neoclassical monument, but the road is long and requires a mobilization of forces.
“The Greek cemetery in West Norwood is the” trust “of an exceptional community of Greeks, who from the adverse conditions of the early 19th century in our homeland immigrated to England, built a new life, toiled, created and achieved goals that today seem elusive” , says historian Dr. Victoria Solomonidou, a partner at King’s College London and a member of the Friends of West Norwood Association. “Its members excelled in business, shipping, science and the arts, integrating into the ‘difficult’ Victorian society, participating actively and being distinguished for their participation. Honoring these Greeks, most of whom were refugees here after the destruction of Chios and never forgot their homeland, we certainly honor the anniversary of 1821 “.
Indeed, the action of the Greeks of Victorian London in all areas shows their vigor and faith in work and innovation, but also their adaptability, coming from Greek nuclei of high urbanity from Chios or Istanbul. “We consider the Greek Wing in Norwood to be the most important collection of burial sites in the UK, so we are fighting to save it and pass it on to future generations,” said Professor Robert Flanagan, president of the Friends of West Norwood. Ενός 1 million has already been raised by the National Lottery Fund, the municipality of Lambeth and the Friends of West Norwood association for the restoration of Greek monuments in West Norwood. But no matter how large this amount is not enough for all the monuments, although the required amounts are not prohibitive for individual cases, after the autopsies that were performed. Indicatively, for the tomb of Georgios Cavafy it is estimated that about 6,000 pounds are required, for Aglaia Trikoupi about 3,000, as well as for Aikaterini Laskaridis, Dimitris Kapetanakis only 1,000… Many tombs are in poor condition, like those of the Vallianos brothers.
“It took a lot of effort to get funding for some rehabilitation projects,” explains Robert Flanagan. Of all the monuments that are preserved (Grade II Listed), works have been financed in the Ionian mausoleum of Xenophon Ballis, in the pink granite tomb of Petros Pantias Rodokanakis and in the ornate burial monument of Ioannis Stepanovis Skylitsis, father of Elena Ven. Scaffolding has already been placed in St. Stephen’s Chapel, “considered the” diamond “of West Norwood,” according to Victoria Solomonidou. It will be used as the cultural center of the entire cemetery, one of the most important Victorian cemeteries in the United Kingdom that “hosts” many important politicians, inventors, architects, artists and intellectuals of the 19th century. The first event will be dedicated to the Greeks who built this cemetery in south London and will include an exhibition of their works and days “.
West Norwood Cemetery in south London is one of the most famous 19th century historic cemeteries in Europe. It was founded in 1837 and already in 1842 the strong Greek community had committed a large area to the Greek Orthodox wing. A monument to the Greek Diaspora in Britain, the Greek Necropolis is the pinnacle of burial art according to the neoclassical canon and the crown for the whole cemetery, which as a whole includes excellent monuments of neo-Gothic and classical art.
Many monuments in the Greek wing are preserved, but not all yet.
Many of them are desolate and eroded and need immediate rescue intervention. The autopsies of the Friends of West Norwood have revealed all these problems, brought about by the abandonment. It is necessary to find sources of funding from Greece or abroad.
As Victoria Solomonidou points out, “after a complex process, the National Lottery Fund and the municipality of Lambeth have certified specific specialized restoration companies that can undertake the required work in collaboration with any interested donors.”