Enon Chapel

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Illustration from G.A. Walker's Lectures on the metropolitan grave-yards, depicting Enon Chapel as a dance hall G.A. Walker, Lectures on the metropolitan grave-yards. Wellcome L0025698.jpg
Illustration from G.A. Walker's Lectures on the metropolitan grave-yards, depicting Enon Chapel as a dance hall

Enon Chapel was a building located on Clement's Lane (today St. Clement's Lane) off Aldwych near the Strand in London and it was built around 1823. The upper part was dedicated to the worship of God, with the dead buried in a vault beneath, separated by a board floor. The chapel was notorious for allegations that thousands of bodies had been packed into the vault room in the space of 20 years.

Aldwych street, and area, in the City of Westminster in London

Aldwych is a one-way street and the name of the area immediately surrounding it in central London, England, within the City of Westminster. The 450 m street starts 600 m ENE of Charing Cross, the conventional map centre-point of the city. The area, unlike the adjoining Temple area, participated in the county of Middlesex until 1965. It forms part of the A4 road from London to Avonmouth, Bristol.

Strand, London major thoroughfare in the City of Westminster, London, England

Strand is a major thoroughfare in the City of Westminster, Central London. It runs just over 34 mile (1,200 m) from Trafalgar Square eastwards to Temple Bar, where the road becomes Fleet Street inside the City of London, and is part of the A4, a main road running west from inner London.


When the Burial Act of 1852 closed burial grounds in the centre of London, the chapel closed. It later became a theatre and dancing saloon, before being demolished. According to Sanger, the Law Courts now stand on part of the site.

Burial Act is a stock short title used in the United Kingdom for legislation relating to burials.


According to George Sanger's 1910 biography Seventy Years a Showman, Enon Chapel was licensed for burials in 1823, which continued until the minister died in early 1842. The vaults beneath the meeting-house were turned into a burial place, which Walter Thornbury's 1887 Old and New London says "soon became filled with coffins up to the very rafters, so that there was only the wooden flooring between the living youth and the festering dead". [1]

'Lord' George Sanger was an English showman and circus proprietor. Born to a showman father, he grew up working in travelling peep shows. He successfully ran shows and circuses throughout much of the nineteenth century with his brother John. He retired in 1905 and was murdered by a disgruntled employee in 1911.

In 1840 it was alleged to a House of Lords select committee [2] that the remains of "ten or twelve thousand" bodies had been concealed in a vault beneath Enon Chapel. [3] It was said that the chapel's Reverend Howse had offered burials for a low fee of 15 shillings,[ citation needed ] and that to do this he placed the bodies into a 60-by-40-foot (18 by 12 m) pit under the chapel, possibly using a large amount of quicklime to accelerate their decomposition. [3] One witness attested to "at least twenty interments a week", [3] and others believed that the vault housed an open sewer carrying the bodies to the Thames. [3] It was said that worshippers breathed in the noxious fumes of rotting flesh from the burial room below [4] for years before the hoard of bodies was discovered. One witness attested to those praying in the church regularly experiencing fainting and sickness due to the fumes. [4]

Select committee (United Kingdom) form of committee appointed from the House of Commons in the UK

In British politics, parliamentary select committees can be appointed from the House of Commons, like the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, from the House of Lords, like the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, or as a "Joint Committee of Parliament" drawn from both, such as the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Committees may exist as "sessional" committees – i.e. be near-permanent – or as "ad-hoc" committees with a specific deadline by which to complete their work, after which they cease to exist, such as the Lords Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change.

In April 1842, some members of the select committee visited Enon Chapel. They reported that they were prevented from going down into the vault of the building, with a Colonel Fox saying that "I thought, through the crevices, I could perceive bones; there was nothing, at all events, but the planking". [3] On being denied access to the vault, Colonel Acton judged that from the "extreme unwillingness, and violence, indeed, of the keeper of Enon Chapel, that there must be a very great body of injurious matter concealed". [3] The group detected none of the reported "effluvia" in the air, putting this down to the "brisk air" of that day, and the fact that some of the party had been smoking. [3]

Writing on the subject in 1843, physician John Snow concluded that it would have been impossible to conceal thousands of bodies in the space described. He wrote that the vault had a bricked-over barrel sewer rather than the open sewer described by some witnesses, and noted that any sewer would soon have become blocked if used to dispose of the dead. Upon visiting the building Snow could see none of the "crevices" mentioned by Fox, and he described the reports to the committee as having been "a mass of fictitious horrors". [3]

John Snow English epidemiologist and physician

John Snow was an English physician and a leader in the development of anaesthesia and medical hygiene. He is considered one of the fathers of modern epidemiology, in part because of his work in tracing the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho, London, in 1854. Oxford University researchers state that Snow's findings inspired the adoption of anaesthesia as well as fundamental changes in the water and waste systems of London, which led to similar changes in other cities, and a significant improvement in general public health around the world.

In 1847, George Walker, a prominent surgeon, bought the chapel and at his own expense of £100 had the bodies in the vault removed to Norwood Cemetery [5] where they were reburied in a single grave twelve feet square and twenty feet deep.[ citation needed ] Writing in 1887, Walter Thornbury describes the excavation of the vault resulting in "a pyramid of human bones [...] exposed to view, separated from piles of coffin wood in various stages of decay", which would go on to fill "four up-heaved van loads". Thornbury claims the site was visited by six thousand people during this time. [6]

This scandal contributed to burial reform in the Burial Act 1852,[ citation needed ] which closed burial grounds within metropolitan London and allowed the establishment of large cemeteries in the then surrounding countryside in the mid-19th century.

Later usage

Walker sold the chapel on and George Sanger, the circus impresario, briefly took the lease in December 1850, fitting it out as a theatre for pantomime and circus. However, after being informed by the police that George Walker had not finished emptying the vault and that the remains of the minister, amongst others, were still there, Sanger rapidly moved out.

New owners of the building covered the existing wooden floor with a single brick floor, in turn covered by a new wooden floor, and opened the premises as a "low dancing-saloon". An old bill shows that dancing on the dead was one of the attractions of the place;

"Enon Chapel - Dancing on the Dead - Admission Threepence. No lady or gentleman admitted unless wearing shoes and stockings." [5]

The scene was caricatured by Cruikshank.

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Coordinates: 51°30′52″N0°7′2″W / 51.51444°N 0.11722°W / 51.51444; -0.11722