Monuments in Bunhill Fields burial ground
|Owned by||City of London Corporation|
|Size||1.6 hectares (4.0 acres)|
|No. of graves||120,000|
Bunhill Fields is a former burial ground in central London, in the London Borough of Islington, just north of the City of London boundary. The site is managed as a public garden by the City of London Corporation. It is about 1.6 hectares (4.0 acres) in extent, although historically it was much larger.
It was in use as a burial ground from 1665 until 1854, by which date approximately 123,000 interments were estimated to have taken place. Over 2,000 monuments remain.It was nondenominational, and in practice was particularly favoured by nonconformists. It contains the graves of many notable people, including John Bunyan (died 1688), author of The Pilgrim's Progress ; Daniel Defoe (died 1731), author of Robinson Crusoe ; William Blake (died 1827), artist, poet, and mystic; Susanna Wesley (died 1742), known as the "Mother of Methodism" through her education of sons John and Charles; Thomas Bayes (died 1761), statistician and philosopher; and Isaac Watts (died 1748), the "Father of English Hymnody".
Bunhill Fields is listed Grade I on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
On the far side of Bunhill Row, behind the residential tower Braithwaite House, is a Quaker burial ground, which was historically sometimes also known by the name Bunhill Fields and was in use from 1661 to 1855. George Fox (died 1691), one of the founders of the Quaker movement, was among those buried here. Its remains are a public garden, Quaker Gardens, managed by the London Borough of Islington.
Bunhill Fields was part of the Manor of Finsbury (originally Fensbury), which has its origins as the prebend of Halliwell and Finsbury, belonging to St Paul's Cathedral and established in 1104. In 1315 the prebendary manor was granted by Robert Baldock to the Mayor and commonalty of London. This act enabled more general public access to a large area of fen or moor stretching from the City of London's boundary (London Wall), to the village of Hoxton.
In 1498 part of the otherwise unenclosed landscape was set aside to form a large field for military exercises of archers and others. This part of the manor still bears the name "Artillery Ground".
Next to this lies Bunhill Fields. The name derives from "Bone Hill", which is possibly a reference to the district having been used for occasional burials from at least Saxon times, but more probably derives from the use of the fields as a place of deposit for human bones—amounting to over 1,000 cartloads—brought from St Paul's charnel house in 1549 when that building was demolished.The dried bones were deposited on the moor and capped with a thin layer of soil. This built up a hill across the otherwise damp, flat fens, such that three windmills could safely be erected in a spot that came to be known as Windmill Hill.
In keeping with this tradition, in 1665 the City of London Corporation decided to use some of the fen as a common burial ground for the interment of bodies of inhabitants who had died of the plague and could not be accommodated in the churchyards. Although enclosing walls for the burial ground were completed, Church of England officials never consecrated the ground or used it for burials. A Mr Tindal took over the lease.
He allowed extramural burials in its unconsecrated soil, which became popular with nonconformists—those Protestant Christians who practised their faith outside the Church of England: unlike Anglican parish churchyards, the burial ground was open for interment to anyone who could afford the fees. It appears on Rocque's Map of London of 1746, and elsewhere, as "Tindal's Burying Ground".
An inscription at the eastern entrance gate to the burial ground reads: "This church-yard was inclosed with a brick wall at the sole charges of the City of London, in the mayoralty of Sir John Lawrence, Knt., Anno Domini 1665; and afterwards the gates thereof were built and finished in the mayoralty of Sir Thomas Bloudworth, Knt., Anno Domini, 1666." The present gates and inscription date from 1868, but the wording follows that of an original 17th-century inscription at the western entrance, now lost.
The earliest recorded monumental inscription was that to "Grace, daughter of T. Cloudesly, of Leeds. February 1666".The earliest surviving monument is believed to be the headstone to Theophilus Gale: the inscription reads "Theophilus Gale MA / Born 1628 / Died 1678".
In 1769 an Act of Parliament gave the City of London Corporation the right to continue to lease the ground from the prebendal estate for 99 years. The City authorities continued to let the ground to their tenant as a burial ground; in 1781 the Corporation decided to take over management of the burial ground.
So many historically important Protestant nonconformists chose this as their place of interment that the 19th-century poet and writer Robert Southey characterised Bunhill Fields in 1830 as the ground "which the Dissenters regard as their Campo Santo".This term was also later applied to its "daughter" cemetery established at Abney Park in Stoke Newington.
In 1852 the Burial Act was passed which enabled burial grounds to be closed once they became full. An Order for Closure for Bunhill Fields was made in December 1853, and the final burial (that of Elizabeth Howell Oliver) took place on 5 January 1854. Occasional interments continued to be permitted in existing vaults or graves: the final burial of this kind is believed to have been that of a Mrs Gabriel of Brixton in February 1860.By this date approximately 123,000 interments had taken place in the burial ground.
Two decades before, a group of City nonconformists led by George Collison secured a site for a new landscaped alternative, at part of Abney Park in Stoke Newington. This was named Abney Park Cemetery and opened in 1840. All parts were available for the burial of any person, regardless of religious creed. Abney Park Cemetery was the only Victorian garden cemetery in Britain with "no invidious dividing lines" and a unique nondenominational chapel, designed by William Hosking.
Following closure of the Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, its future was uncertain as its lessee, the City of London Corporation, was close to expiry of its lease, scheduled for Christmas 1867.To prevent the land from being redeveloped by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (who controlled the freehold) at the expiry of the lease, the Corporation formed the Special Bunhill Fields Burial Ground Committee in 1865. This became formally known as the Bunhill Fields Preservation Committee.
Appointed by the Corporation, the committee consisted on twelve advisors under the chairmanship of Charles Reed, FSA (son of the Congregational philanthropist Dr Andrew Reed). Charles Reed later rose to prominence as the first MP for Hackney and Chairman of the first School Board for London before being knighted. Along with his interest in making Bunhill Fields into a parkland landscape, he was similarly interested in the wider educational and public benefits of Abney Park Cemetery, of which he was a prominent director.
Following the committee's work, the City of London Corporation obtained an Act of Parliament, the Bunhill Fields Burial Ground Act 1867, ... as an open space". The legislation enabled the corporation to continue to maintain the site when the freehold reverted to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, provided it was laid out as a public open space with seating, gardens, and some of its most worthy monuments were restored. The improvements, which included the laying out of walks and paths, cost an estimated £3,500. The new park was opened by the Lord Mayor, James Clarke Lawrence, on 14 October 1869."for the Preservation of Bunhill Fields Burial Ground
The burial ground was severely damaged by German bombing during World War II. It is also believed to have been the location of an anti-aircraft gun during the Blitz.In the 1950s, after some debate, the decision was taken to clear the northern third of the site of most of its monuments and open it as a public garden with open access, while preserving and protecting the remainder of the site behind railings. Legislation in 1960 transferred the freehold to the City of London Corporation, which continues to maintain the grounds. The work of landscaping was undertaken by the architect and landscape architect Peter Shepheard in 1964–65.
In February 2012, Occupy London opened a site in the northwestern corner of Bunhill Fields to replace their Bank of Ideas at Sun Street.
The best-known monuments are those to the three literary and artistic figures, John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe and William Blake. Their graves have long been sites of cultural pilgrimage: Isabella Holmes stated in 1896 that the "most frequented paths" in the burial ground were those leading to the monuments of Bunyan and Defoe.In their present form, all these monuments post-date the closure of the burial ground. Their settings were further radically modified by the landscaping of 1964–65, when a paved north-south "broadwalk" was created in the middle of the burial ground to display them – outside the railed-off areas, accessible to visitors, and cleared of other monuments. Bunyan's monument lies at the broadwalk's southern end, and that to Defoe at its northern end, while Blake's headstone was moved from the site of his grave and repositioned next to Defoe, alongside the headstone to the lesser-known Joseph Swain (d. 1796). This arrangement survives, but in 2018 a second monument to Blake was placed on the actual site of his grave.
John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress , died in August 1688. He was initially buried in the "Baptist Corner" at the back of the burial ground, on the understanding that his remains would be moved into the family vault of his friend John Strudwick when that was next opened for a burial. There is no certain evidence as to when (or even if) this was done: the probability, however, is that it occurred when Strudwick himself died in 1695, and certainly Bunyan's name was inscribed on the side of the monument.The Strudwick monument took the form of a large Baroque stone chest. By the 19th century, this had fallen into decay, but in the period following the closure of the burial ground a public appeal for its restoration was launched under the presidency of the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. This work was completed in May 1862, and comprised a complete reconstruction of the monument, undertaken by the sculptor Edgar George Papworth Senior (1809–66). Although Papworth retained the basic form of the tomb-chest, he added a recumbent effigy of Bunyan to the top of it, and two relief panels to its sides depicting scenes from Pilgrim's Progress. The monument was further restored in 1928 (the tercentenary of Bunyan's birth), and again after World War II (following serious wartime damage to the effigy's face).
Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe , died in April 1731 and was buried in Bunhill Fields: his wife, Mary, died in December 1732 and was laid to rest beside him. His daughter-in-law was also buried in the same grave. Defoe died in poverty, and the grave was marked with a simple headstone. In the winter of 1857/8 – at a time when the burial ground was closed and neglected – the grave was struck by lightning and the headstone broken. In 1869, James Clarke, editor of the Christian World children's newspaper, launched an appeal for subscriptions to place a more suitable memorial on the grave. He encouraged his readers to make donations of sixpence each; and to stimulate enthusiasm opened two lists, one for boys and one for girls, to encourage a spirit of competition between them. Many adults also made donations. In the end, some 1,700 subscriptions raised a total of about £200. A design for a marble obelisk (or "Cleopatric pillar") was commissioned from C. C. Creeke; and the sculptor Samuel Horner of Bournemouth was commissioned to execute it. In late 1869, when the foundations were being dug, skeletons were disinterred, and there was an unseemly rush for souvenirs by the crowd of onlookers: the police had to be called before calm was restored. The monument was unveiled at a ceremony attended by three of Defoe's great-granddaughters on 16 September 1870.
William Blake – painter, poet, printmaker and visionary – died in August 1827 and was buried in the northern part of the burial ground. His wife, Catherine Sophia, died in October 1831 and was buried in a separate grave on the south side of the ground. By the 20th century, Blake's grave was in disrepair; and in 1927, for the centenary of his death and at a time when his reputation was on the rise, a new headstone was commissioned. As it had been decided to commemorate both William and Catherine, despite the fact that the site would lie at some distance from Catherine's grave, the inscription was phrased as "Near by lie the remains of ...". When Bunhill Fields was relandscaped in the 1960s, Blake's grave lay in the area that was to be cleared of monuments. The headstone was therefore moved approximately 20 metres to its present location, next to the monument to Daniel Defoe. It was also rotated through 90°, so that it now faces south rather than west. Joseph Swain's headstone was added to the grouping at the same time, although that faces west. Flowers, coins and other tokens are regularly left by visitors to Blake's headstone.
In 2006–07, members of the group The Friends of William Blake established the original location of his grave, and proposed placing a new memorial there.In the form of a ledger stone, with lettering by Lida Cardozo Kindersley, this was finally unveiled on 12 August 2018 by Philip Pullman, President of the Blake Society.
Burial ground registers, from 1713 to 1854, are held at The National Archives at Kew.Other records, including interment order books dating from 1789 to 1854, and a list of the legible monument/headstone inscriptions in 1869, are held at London Metropolitan Archives.
Baptist minister John Rippon – who was himself buried at the site in 1836 – made transcripts of its monumental inscriptions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, some copied while "laying on his side". In 1803 he issued a prospectus for a six-volume publication on Bunhill Fields, but this never came to fruition. The British Library now holds 14 manuscript volumes of his transcripts; a further six volumes are held in the College of Arms.
Notable burials include:
Nunhead Cemetery is one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries in London, England. It is perhaps the least famous and celebrated of them. The cemetery is located in Nunhead in the London Borough of Southwark and was originally known as All Saints' Cemetery. Nunhead Cemetery was consecrated in 1840 and opened by the London Cemetery Company. It is a Local Nature Reserve.
Abney Park cemetery is one of the "Magnificent Seven" cemeteries in London, England.
Witton Cemetery, which opened in Witton in 1863 as Birmingham City Cemetery, is the largest cemetery in Birmingham, England. Covering an area of 103 acres (0.42 km2), it once had three chapels; however, two of these were demolished in 1980. The cemetery would perform up to 20 burials a day; however, it was declared "full to capacity" in December 2013, allowing burials only in existing family plots, or of babies or cremated remains. Extra capacity was therefore provided at the nearby New Hall Cemetery. The cemetery office was opened in 1999.
Theophilus Gale (1628–1678) was an English educationalist, nonconformist and theologian of dissent.
The London Borough of Islington is short of large parks and open spaces, given its status in recent decades as a desirable place of residence. In fact, Islington has the lowest ratio of open space to built-up areas of any London borough. The largest continuous open space in the borough, at 11.75 hectares, is Highbury Fields.
Sir Charles Reed FSA was a British politician who served as Member of Parliament for Hackney and St Ives, Chairman of the London School Board, Director and Trustee of the original Abney Park Cemetery Joint Stock Company, Chairman of the Bunhill Fields Preservation Committee, associate of George Peabody, lay Congregationalist, and owner of a successful commercial typefounding business in London. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and was knighted by the Queen at Windsor Castle in 1874. As a pastime he collected autographed letters and keys.
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King's Chapel Burying Ground is an historic graveyard on Tremont Street, near its intersection with School Street, in Boston, Massachusetts. It is the oldest graveyard in the city and is a site on the Freedom Trail. Despite its name, the graveyard pre-dates the adjacent King's Chapel; it is not affiliated to that or any other church.
John Conder D.D. was an Independent minister at Cambridge who later became President of the Independent College, Homerton in the parish of Hackney near London. John Conder was the theological tutor at Plaisterers' Hall Academy in 1754; and residential tutor and theological tutor at Mile End Academy, then the theological tutor at Homerton Academy.
Queen's Road Cemetery is a cemetery in Croydon, England. It opened in 1861, and was followed in 1897 by the larger Croydon Cemetery in Mitcham Road. Both cemeteries are now managed by the London Borough of Croydon.
The City of London Cemetery and Crematorium is a cemetery and crematorium in the east of London. It is owned and operated by the City of London Corporation. It is designated Grade I on the Historic England National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
Daniel Dyke (1617–1688) was an English Baptist minister.
Reading Old Cemetery is in the east of Reading, Berkshire, England. It is located immediately to the east of Cemetery Junction, a major road junction in Reading. The cemetery is Grade II listed.
John Bradford (1750–1805) was an English dissenting minister.
The two Camberwell cemeteries are close to one another in Honor Oak, south London, England. Both have noteworthy burials and architecture, and they are an important source of socioeconomic data in recording the historical growth and changing demography in the community for the Southwark area since 1855.
Reverend Samuel Rosewell was a Presbyterian minister born at Rotherhithe, Surrey.
Joseph Swain was a British Baptist minister, poet and hymnwriter. Born in Birmingham, and orphaned at an early age, he was apprenticed as an engraver in Birmingham and afterwards in London. He experienced a religious conversion in 1782, and was baptised by John Rippon in the Baptist meeting-house in Carter Lane, Tooley Street, Southwark, on 11 May 1783. He subsequently became a Baptist minister in Walworth from 1792 until his death in 1796. He was a popular preacher, and during the period of his ministry it became necessary to extend the church building on three occasions.
The Congregationalist Cemetery at Ponsharden, Cornwall was opened in 1808 to serve the Dissenting Christian congregations of Falmouth and Penryn. It received approximately 587 burials over a period of 120 years, before being abandoned in the 1930s. During the 20th century the site experienced significant neglect and extensive vandalism. In May 2012 a volunteer group began to restore the burial ground which is now a protected Scheduled Monument of national importance.
Quaker Gardens is a small public garden in the extreme south of the London Borough of Islington, close to the boundary with the City of London, in the area known historically as Bunhill Fields. It is managed by Islington Borough Council. It comprises the surviving fragment of a former burying ground for Quakers, in use from 1661 to 1855. George Fox, one of the founders of the movement, was among those buried here.
Biggleswade Cemetery was the main burial ground for the town of Biggleswade in Bedfordshire. Opening in 1869, the cemetery is located on Drove Road and since 1986 has been closed for burials except for interment in family plots.
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