Alan Munnery has spent the last 20 years working as a gravedigger at one of Europe's biggest cemeteries, which happens to be just outside Woking. He spoke to Tessa Waugh; portraits by Richard Cannon.

What do artist John Singer Sargent, the captain of RMS Titanic’s widow and Victorian political activist Charles Bradlaugh have in common? They’re all buried, alongside roughly 250,000 others, at Brookwood Cemetery near Woking in Surrey.

The cemetery, which opened in 1854, is the largest in Western Europe and was conceived at a time when London was struggling for space to bury its dead. Alan Munnery has worked there as a gravedigger for 20 years.

Grave Digger Alan Munnery at the Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey. Picture © Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library.

Grave Digger Alan Munnery at the Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey. Picture © Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library.

On top of this task, he and four others ensure that the 230-acre grounds are kept in tip-top condition, as well as acting as guides to help people find their family graves.

It’s the tranquillity of the setting that Mr Munnery most enjoys. ‘I’m a keen birdwatcher and I love working outside,’ he elaborates.

‘I sometimes find it hard when a young child is to be buried, but I have to put my emotions to one side and make sure they have a perfect final resting place.’

Grave Digger Alan Munnery at the Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey

Grave Digger Alan Munnery at the Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey. Picture © Richard Cannon/Country Life Picture Library.

His job has changed over the years, but possibly less than most. ‘We do a lot more health-and-safety training now,’ he ponders.

‘Sometimes, we use a digger for the graves, but when there’s a dry summer or we can’t get the digger to the grave, we use pickaxes and do it by hand.’

Twenty years has afforded Mr Munnery plenty of time to locate the best spot on the cemetery.

‘When I die, I’d like to be cremated,’ he concludes.

‘I’ve selected a place for my remains to be buried by the pond at the Glades of Remembrance. It’s especially peaceful down there.’