Huguenot Burial Ground, Wandsworth

Well, I knew my history A'level would come in useful one day. Turns out, that's today. The Huguenots were French Protestants, and this is how they ended up in Wandsworth.

Henri IVIn 1598, Henri de Bourbon de Navarre succeeded to the French throne as Henri IV. Though he converted to Catholicism in order to claim the crown, apparently with the line "Paris is well worth a Mass", Henri issued the Edict of Nantes, granting French Protestants equality under the law with Catholics. But his grandson, Louis XIV, acting to enforce centralised government on France, began a policy of persecution of Protestants, ending in 1685 in the declaration that Protestantism was illegal. The Edict of Fontainebleau forbade Protestant worship, mandated the education of children as Catholics, and forbade emigration.

Nevertheless, somewhere around 200,000 Protestants fled France, and some of them ended up in south London, where they brought their weaving and gardening skills to London industry. In 1687 they opened their burial ground. It became known as Mount Nod and was enlarged in 1700 and again in 1735. It currently contains five grade 2 listed historic tombs and more than 100 other monuments.

The ground was closed under the Metropolitan Burials Act in 1854. It's now managed by Wandsworth Council, who have stated their aim to make it (link to management plan pdf) "a place where people feel safe and secure". The plan is to tidy up the site, make the graves safe and install seating and information boards: if Wandsworth can do this, I'll be very impressed indeed.

Je vous souhaite un joyeux quatorze juillet.

[photos coming soon]

Posted in 18th Century & earlier London Cemeteries | 13 Comments

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.

Posted in 18th Century & earlier 9 Comments

St. Andrew’s Gardens

St. Andrew's Gardens was originally the burial ground for the church of St. Andrew's Holborn. It was opened in 1747; like its near neighbour St. George's Gardens, it was separated from the church it served by quite some distance.

In 1850 the ground was closed for burials; it was opened again in 1885 as a public garden. Many of the headstones were removed, though some do remain to line the walls, and others sit in a pile, now fenced off. Several box tombs remain. As with St. George's, the beautiful wrought iron gates date from the opening as a garden, not from the burial ground. Camden Council is keeping it very nicely, with flower beds, not just grass and tarmac.

Visiting: Open 7.30am to dusk. King's Cross station, cross the road, straight down Grey's Inn Road and it's on the left after the Dental Hospital. Plenty of livings and dogs about, but no one bats an eyelid at photographers.

Posted in 18th Century & earlier London Cemeteries | 5 Comments

I’ve changed my mind about burial

When people find out I hang around in cemeteries, one question that's inevitable is: "where do you want to be buried?" The answer, for a very long time, has been "nowhere". I didn't want to be buried at all, because - forgive me for being blunt here - I couldn't stand the thought of rotting (severe eczema in childhood will have that effect). I like cremation: it's quick, it's easy and - with a bit of luck - there's no memorial spot for my friends and relations to neglect after I'm gone. And I like fire.

But I'm really worried about the environmental impact. Assuming that the Natural Death Centre have their figure right, I don't want my last act on earth to be the equivalent of a 500 mile car journey. What to do?

Chums, I've figured out what to do. Woodland burial is it. Here's how I found out.

I spent an utterly brilliant day at the London Funeral Exhibition at Epping Forest Burial Park (no indeed; Epping is definitely not London). Burial at the park is done in an environmentally sustainable way: that means biodegradable coffins, wooden memorials only, in land that - once it's full - will revert to natural woodland.

It's a gorgeous site, which just feels like part of Epping Forest. Until, that is, you're walking through the woodland and come across small clearings with wooden markers, some decorated, many not, then you spot the newer graves... And it feels like being buried there would be returning my atoms to the dust whence they came: I like the idea of feeding trees very much.

Many thanks to the following for an excellent time:

Epping tube station and a cab, or drive. Kinda ironic that an environmentally sensitive burial site can only be reached by car. But also inevitable. Photography not an issue (be sensitive to livings, of which there were a few): on finding out about my website, at least three members of staff asked me "have you brought your camera?"

Posted in 21st Century Events London Cemeteries | 2 Comments

Nothing new under the daisies

Burr Oak CemeteryThe ex-director of an Illinois cemetery has pleaded guilty to charges that she faked graves in order to take the money of grieving relatives while squeezing more bodies into Burr Oak Cemetery.

It was two years ago to the day that Cook Country Sheriff, Tom Dart, alleged that Carolyn Towns and three gravediggers at the cemetery hug dug up more than 200 graves, dumped the bodies into unmarked mass graves, and resold the plots in a scheme that went back at least five years.

Towns admitted charges of to charges of dismembering a human body, theft from a place of worship, damaging 10 or more gravestones, desecration of human remains, removal of human remains of multiple deceased human beings from a burial ground and conspiracy to dismember multiple human bodies. She admitted that she accepted cash payments from the bereaved, and then buried bodies in graves that were already occupied. Prosecutors said that "In many instances, the gravediggers would crush the vaults and caskets in the graves and then dump the human remains in another area of the cemetery which was generally used for dumping garbage and dirt." Record keeping at the cemetery was so poor that it was impossible in many instances to tell who should have been buried in any particular plot.

My heart breaks for the families of those buried at Burr Oak. But this kind of scandal is nothing new: London's burial history is full of it. Here's just one example from George Walker's 1839 'Gatherings from Graveyards'; he quotes a letter in The Times:

The Times quote, George Walker

And that's why, of course, Palmerston's Burial Acts were so important, and so revolutionary: they put a stop to this horrible practice.

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