Researching and Finding a Grave at the Cemetery Park

On this page you will find lots of information to help you locate your family (or the person you are researching) in the Cemetery Park.

Please note that we are unable to conduct most grave enquiries over the summer months as plant growth makes anything but the front few rows of graves dangerous to access. Please do still get in touch and our team will process your request as soon as they are able to.  If planning a visit yourself, please be aware that September-April are the best times to visit to ensure a successful trip. 

If you would like us to confirm the location of a grave on site, please contact us on heritage@fothcp.org with as much information as possible but at least the name, date of death/burial and the grave number of the person you are searching for. A copy of the burial records is also useful. An initial response from our Heritage Officer can take up to 28 working days due to our other commitments managing the Cemetery Park. There may be a longer additional wait if you would like our volunteers to go out and see if a headstone still remains in the location rather than arrange an appointment or search yourself. Whilst there is no charge for this service, donations are always appreciated (recommended donation £20) and every penny helps to ensure that this service can continue.

If you need our assistance, please make an appointment before coming to Tower Hamlets to search for a grave. If visit without an appointment or with little notice, unfortunately, we may not be able to help you. Even with a plot number, graves can be very difficult to find and visits are best made between September and April when there is less plant growth preventing access to the headstones. You can also attend our drop-in heritage sessions (currently 2nd Sunday of every month managed by the East London History Society) which are open for grave enquiries from 2pm until 3pm or our monthly online support sessions on the 3rd Tuesday of most months (bookable at tickettailor.com/events/thefriendsoftowerhamletscemeterypark/961236).

You can contact us by email – heritage@fothcp.org or call our office on: 0203 982 8670 to make an appointment.

Caring for a Grave at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

If you would like to conduct any maintenance, cleaning or tidying around a grave, please first get in touch with us by email to heritage@fothcp.org. Whilst we welcome support in caring for the 47,000 headstones on sites, we need to delicately balance the needs of heritage and nature at the Cemetery Park and have grave care policies in place to ensure that both the stones and our habitats can be cared for. The headstones at the Cemetery Park are no longer owned by the families of the deceased after the closure of the Cemetery in 1966 but we welcome families who might like to be part of the process and support through physical maintenance or financial contributions towards upkeep.

History

Opened in 1841 and closed to burials in 1966, the correct title for the cemetery was The City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery (not to be confused with the City of London Cemetery in Newham) and it is locally known as ‘Bow Cemetery’. There are over 350,000 people buried here.

All burials took place in either consecrated or unconsecrated ground. Those buried in consecrated ground would have been members of the Church of England. Those buried in unconsecrated ground would have been Christians of other denominations, those of other faiths and those of none.

Graves

  • A private grave is a plot or vault purchased with the right to decide who would be buried in the plot, they usually have a headstone and memorial.
  • A public grave is where a number of unrelated people were buried together in one grave, the funeral was paid for by family or friends and small headstones may have been erected. 80% of people buried here are interred in a public grave.
  • There were also catacombs, which were filled in when the cemetery was compulsory purchased by the Greater London Council in 1966.

Searching the Registers

The original company registers for the cemetery are held at the London Metropolitan Archives and are now available online on Ancestry.

  • Visit the Ancestry website, a subscription is necessary although it is often available for free at your public library and can be searched by name – if successful you will be able to view the actual register entries. NB there are no maps showing the location of the graves online.
  • Visit the London Metropolitan Archives in person, where Ancestry is free and you can also consult the original cemetery burial maps for the precise grave location. Please check their website for opening times and ID needed.
  • If you cannot attend the London Metropolitan Archives in person, for a charge, the Archive staff will help you with your search.

The Register of Burials will show name, abode, when buried, age, when and by whom, private vault/grave etc. (Sept 1841 – Aug 1966).

The Daybook of Burials will show name, number of grave, abode, age, mode of interment, how the certificate was received (consecrated burials Oct 1854 – May 1901, unconsecrated burials Jan 1855 – May 1901). Once you have the identified the person you are looking for in the registers, the burial register or daybook will give the grave number, but unfortunately not for the very early public graves and these can never be located.

For a Private Grave also consult the Register of Private Graves, which is a plot purchase register in grave number order. This will show who else is buried in the plot, and the grid square number (often marked sq). Once the square number has been found, the ‘square’ plan can be searched for the grave number, the grave numbers do not run in sequence on site. Please note that the plans are not available online. FoTHCP hold a copy of one set of plot maps that may be viewed by appointment or the London Metropolitan Archives hold a series of the plans.

Public graves are denoted by having a letter or symbol in the grave number. To find the location of a public grave is frequently a difficult and time-consuming task, there were never any official maps for the later graves, and while the earlier graves are marked on the map many no longer exist and all maps have to be searched to try and locate the grave.

Over the years we have built up extensive knowledge of where public graves may be located: to aid in locating the grave you should note who else is buried in the grave (even if they are not your family) and in the graves on either side.

Next steps

Make a note of the grave number, square number, the register you obtained the information from, and all the details written in the register, or a copy of the image. If you wish help to locate the grave or further assistance please email them to us, at heritage@fothcp.org.

Please remember that we are a voluntary body and we will endeavour to reply as soon as we can.

Condition of Graves

The cemetery became a public park in 1966 and with the passage of time some grave stones and memorials are now missing, damaged, buried over, lying down, or standing but now illegible. Private graves (if marked on the maps) can usually be located, although not all graves are marked on the maps or may be marked incorrectly. To locate public graves can be more difficult and while we have a vast experience of most locations it may still is not always possible to identify the exact spot. Nevertheless, the Cemetery Park is a peaceful and moving place to visit even if a memorial cannot be found.

Resources

Grid Squares Map of the Cemetery Park

London Metropolitan Archives Research guide 5: Cemetery records