St. James’ Gardens

St. James' was opened in 1788 as the new burial ground for St. James' Piccadilly. Following the typical pattern of burial grounds in this area, it was closed to burials in the mid-nineteenth century and opened as a public garden in 1887. Now run by Camden Council, it shows little evidence of its former use: there's a large tennis/baseball court in one corner, and only a few headstones remain in place.

Perhaps the most infamous resident of St. James' Gardens is the one-time President of the Protestant Association, Lord George Gordon, who lent his name to the Gordon Riots. Gordon had put out some very misleading propaganda against the Catholic Relief Act, itself designed to end the worst prejudices and exclusions practised against Catholics - he suggested, amongst other things, that there was a plot to turn Smithfield Market into a new seat for the Spanish Inquisition. Gordon's nonsense precipitated a series of attacks on Catholic businesses, chapels and homes across London, which then turned into general attacks on just about everything, incluing the Bank of England and Newgate prison. The King sent the army in, and 285 rioters ended up shot: another 25 were executed.

Though Gordon later converted to Judaism and lived a life of strict adherence to Jewish law, he was buried in St. James' burial ground; it's not clear why he wasn't put in a Jewish cemetery. There is (as far as I can see) no marker for his grave remaining.

The other intriguing grave, which does survive, is that of the Christie family: a large, dark slate cross by the western gate. Many of the causes of death are recorded: Edward, who died of fever caught on board ship at Port Royal, Jamaica; Charles, of the Bombay Infantry killed in Persia by Russian troops; James, the patriarch, recorded with his Pall Mall address, and two daughters who died young. Architypal early-nineteenth century family history.

Visiting: Open 7.30am to dusk. Euston station and turn right and right again up Hampstead Road. The burial ground is on your left. On a July Saturday lunchtime, many sunbathers and kids puffing; none of them had anything to say to a photographer in their midst.

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