Gravestones in the city of London
Image: Jamie Inglis for Time Out

10 things you never knew about dying in London

Our capital has its fair share of quirks about the inevitable D word. Here’s a few that are worth knowing

Maddie Balcombe

If there’s one thing that’s certain about this life, it’s that there is a lot of uncertainty. What came first, the chicken or the egg? What really happens in Area 51? Who actually is Banksy? Sometimes we just have to resign ourselves to the fact that there are a large number of things we will simply never know; myriad questions that will go unanswered. And – not to totally bring the mood down – one of the biggest mysteries of them all is death.

Whether you’re having a half-philosophical, half-heated chat about the afterlife with your family at the dinner table, or just find yourself falling down a reincarnation rabbit hole after one too many drinks with your mates, there’s no denying that death is, well, a mystery. 

But there are also some things about dying that we do know. And, as it turns out, London has its fair share of quirks when it comes to the inevitable D word. So listen up: we’re about to reveal the things you never knew (and might’ve been too scared to ask) about carking it in the capital.

1. Nothing’s cheap in this city – not even dying 

London is the most expensive place in the UK to have a funeral, at an average cost of £5,283 in 2023, according to Legacy of Lives. That’s compared to the country-wide average of £4,056 – and it doesn’t even factor in the cost of burials. In some places – like the capital’s prestigious Highgate cemetery – it can cost upwards of £25,000 to secure a full grave. Best get saving.

2. There’s an entire café dedicated to death

Welcome to Willesden Cemetery’s Death Cafe in northwest London – a place where people come together to enjoy coffee, cake, and lengthy convos about life’s end.

3. You can be buried alongside celebs 

Highgate cemetery
Photograph: Shutterstock

Highgate cemetery is home to graves of the rich and famous, like George Michael, George Eliot and even Karl Marx. If you’re more than 80 years old, terminally ill, or own another grave in the cemetery, you can qualify for burial here too (if you have the cash to spare, that is).

4. These boroughs have the highest and lowest life expectancy in the city 

Kensington and Chelsea has the highest life expectancy for women, at 86.3 years. Richmond upon Thames is highest for men, at 82.4 years. Barking and Dagenham has the lowest life expectancy for both men (76.3 years) and women (80.4 years).

5. This underground station is built on a plague pit

Next time you stop at Aldgate station, take a moment to think about the 1,000 unidentified victims from the Bubonic plague allegedly buried beneath the railway. Hauntings at this station are apparently so common that the staff keep a ghost log book. So: mind the gap, and the dead bodies.

6. Death tours are a thing

Many tours dedicated to the D-word operate in the capital, including Darkside London: Death, Fire and Executions and Burnings, Butchery and Black Death: London’s Bloody Past. Prepare to travel back in time with visits to execution sites, gruesome tales of murder and a creepy look into the city’s dark past.

7. You can have a funeral at Westminster Cathedral

Westminster cathedral
Photograph: Shutterstock

While you may not be able to be buried alongside ancient royalty in Westminster Abbey, you can qualify for a funeral (of sorts) at Westminster Cathedral. If you’re a Catholic, you can arrange to hold a funeral there after meeting with the funeral director. Or, you can be remembered within a scheduled Mass by applying for a Mass Intention.

8. It’s illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament (well, not really)

It’s an urban myth that dying in the Houses of Parliament was outlawed because it would entitle us commoners to a state funeral. It’s not illegal and it won’t lead to a state funeral, so don’t stress. 

9. The City of London has the lowest mortality rates for men in the country

When it comes to age-standardised mortality rates, the capital is winning. In 2022, there were only 614.3 deaths per 100,000 males in the City of London, compared to the highest rate of 1,569.3 deaths per 100,000 males in Blackpool.

10. You’ll want to avoid scattering ashes at this landmark

Scattering ashes from London Bridge is strictly prohibited in case they reach passing boats. In fact, the Environment Agency requests that remains should not be scattered from any bridge – so if you want to scatter ashes on the Thames, you’d be best taking a private boat service along the river. 

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