Blake Memorial in Bunhill Fields.
|Location||London Borough of Islington|
|Owned by||City of London Corporation|
|Size||4 hectares (9.9 acres)|
|Number of graves||120,000|
Bunhill Fields is a cemetery in the London Borough of Islington, north of the City of London, and managed by the City of London Corporation. It is about 4 hectares (9.9 acres) in extent, although historically was much larger.
It was used as a burial site for Nonconformists from the late 17th century until the middle of the 19th century and contains the graves of many notable people.
Bunhill Fields was part of the manor of Finsbury (originally Fensbury), which is of great antiquity, the manor having its origins as a prebend of St Paul's Cathedral established in 1104. In 1315 the prebendary manor was granted by Robert de Baldock to the Mayor and commonalty of London, enabling 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 the exercise of archers and other military citizens, and even today this part of the manor still bears the name "Artillery Ground". Next to this lies Bunhill Fields, the name deriving from "Bone Hill", which is possibly a reference to the district having been used for occasional burials from at least Saxon times, though more likely it derives from the unusual events of the mid-16th century. For, in about 1549, cart-loads of human bones were periodically brought here – some one thousand loads in total – to make space in St Paul's charnel house for new interments. The dried bones were simply deposited on the moor and capped with a thin layer of soil, leading to such topographical elevation of the otherwise damp, flat fens, that three windmills could safely be erected in a spot that came to be known as Windmill Hill.
Opening as a burial ground
In keeping with this tradition, in 1665 the City of London Corporation decided to use some of the fen or moor fields 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, the ground was, it appears, never consecrated or actually used by the authorities for burials. Instead, a Mr Tindal took over the lease. He allowed extramural burials in its unconsecrated soil, which became popular with Nonconformists – those citizens of London or surrounding villages who treasured the independence of their religious beliefs and therefore practised Christianity outside of the Church of England. The burial ground, which became known as "Tindal's Burial Ground" attracted mainly dissenters from the Established Church who were of a Protestant persuasion, partly owing to their much larger numbers in the locality than other faiths who did not conform to the Church of England's ways, such as Catholics or Jewish citizens. Nonetheless, the burial ground was open for interment to anyone who could afford the fees.
Something of its 17th-century origins can be seen today in an inscription at the entrance gate to Bunhill Fields: 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.
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 a further 99 years. This enabled the City authorities to continue to let the ground to their tenant as a burial ground; although in 1781 the Corporation decided to take over the management of the burial ground directly.
So many historically important Protestant nonconformists chose this as their place of interment, that the 19th-century poet and writer Robert Southey gave Bunhill Fields the appellation "the Campo Santo of the Dissenters"; a phrase that also came to be commonly applied to its "daughter" cemetery at Abney Park.
Thousands of Quakers (members of the Religious Society of Friends) are buried in the neighbouring Quaker Burying Ground. This was purchased as the burial place for London Quakers in 1661, becoming their first freehold burial land in London.
Closure as a burial ground
In 1852 the Burial Act was passed which enabled places such as Bunhill Fields to be closed once they became full. Its Order for closure was made in December 1853 and the final burial (Elizabeth Howell Oliver) took place on 5 January 1854. By this date approximately 120,000 interments had taken place.
Two decades before its closure, a group of City nonconformists led by George Collison, secured a site for a new landscaped alternative – in Stoke Newington. This was named Abney Park Cemetery, and opened in 1840. Here too all parts were to be made available for the burial of any person, regardless of religious creed, making Abney Park Cemetery the only Victorian garden cemetery in Britain with "no invidious dividing lines" and a unique nondenominational chapel (see the architecture of William Hosking).
The neighbouring Nonconformists' ground, the Quaker Burying Ground, was also closed for burials in 1855.
Opening as a community garden
Following closure of the Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, its future remained uncertain for a while since its lessee, the City of London Corporation, was perilously close to expiry of its lease, scheduled for Christmas 1867. In a move to prevent the land from being built upon on expiry of the lease, the Corporation formed the Special Bunhill Fields Burial Ground Committee in 1865 which 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) who 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 work of the committee, the City of London Corporation obtained an Act of Parliament, the Bunhill Fields Burial Ground Act 1867, "for the Preservation of Bunhill Fields Burial Ground ... as an open space". The legislation enabled the corporation to continue to maintain the site when the freehold reverted to the Church Commissioners; provided it was laid out as a public open space with seating, gardens, and the restoration of some of its most worthy monuments. The new park was opened by the Lord Mayor on 14 October 1869.
The nearby Quaker Burial ground was similarly landscaped. It became maintained at private expense by the Quakers which today provides open space around a Quaker Meeting House (the remnant of Bunhill Memorial Buildings erected in 1881 that remains after bomb damage in 1942).
The main burial ground was also severely damaged by German bombing during World War II, necessitating an expansion of the public park area in 1960, such that close to half of the former burial ground became laid out and maintained as a public garden with open access. The rest remains attractively landscaped though enclosed behind railings, to protect the areas with more delicate monuments and the whole is maintained by the City of London Corporation. Legislation in 1960 transferred the freehold to the Corporation.
Today, the earliest monumental inscription that can still be seen in the main Bunhill Fields Burial Ground reads: Grace, daughter of T. Cloudesly, of Leeds. February 1666. (Maitland's Hist. of London, p. 775.) Many monuments of historical note can be visited, in particular,
- John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress (a book translated into more languages than any other apart from the Bible)
- Dr Isaac Watts, the celebrated 'Father of Hymnology' whose hymns have been sung worldwide and was also a poet and educationalist.
Close by are the burial of many other eminent nonconformists such as the ministers Dr John Owen (d. 1683) and Dr Goodwin (d. 1679). A more complete listing of the burials of well known figures is provided below.
Notable burials here include:
- Thomas Bayes (1702–1761), mathematician, clergyman, and friend of Richard Price
- John Bellers, (1654–1725), political and educational theorist and writer.
- William Blackburn (1750–1790), architect and surveyor
- William Blake (1757–1827), painter, engraver, poet, and mystic
- John Bradford (1750–1805) English dissenting minister
- John Bunyan (1628–1688), author of Pilgrim's Progress
- Thomas Fowell Buxton (1758–1795), anti-slavery philanthropist
- Eleanor Coade, Pioneer of the artificial stone known as 'Coade' stone
- Dr John Conder, President of Homerton College
- Cromwells, two tombs bear the family name – "R Cromwell" and "H Cromwell"
- Daniel Defoe (1661–1731), author of Robinson Crusoe
- Lt. Gen. Charles Fleetwood (? – 1692), married eldest daughter of Oliver Cromwell and fought in The Civil War
- James Foster (1697–1753), Baptist minister and author of Essay on Fundamentals, one of the first non-conformist texts.
- George Fox (1624–1691), a founder of the Quaker movement
- John Gill (1697–1771), author of the Exposition of the Bible and the Body of Divinity
- Thomas Hardy (1752–1832), political reformer and founder of the London Corresponding Society
- Joseph Hart (1712–1768), hymn writer and Calvinist minister in London
- Jabez Carter Hornblower (1744–1814), Steam engine pioneer.
- John Hyatt (1767–1826), One of the founding preachers of Calvinist Methodism at Whitefield's Tabernacle, Tottenham Court Road 1806–1828.
- Theophilus Lindsey (1723–1808), a founder of Unitarianism
- Paul Henry Maty (1744–1787) British Museum librarian.
- David Nasmith (1799–1839) founder of the City Mission Movement
- Thomas Newcomen (1663–1729) Steam Engine Pioneer (exact site of burial unknown)
- Joseph Nightingale (1775–1824), writer and preacher
- John Owen (1616–1683), Puritan divine and statesman
- Dame Mary Page (1672–1728), wife of Sir Gregory Page, 1st Baronet
- Apsley Pellatt (1763–1826), glass manufacturer.
- Richard Price (1733–1791), founder of life insurance principles
- Thomas Pringle (1789–1834), Scottish poet and author, and Secretary to the Anti-Slavery Society:(re-interred 1970, Eildon Church, Baviaans valley, South Africa)
- John Rippon (1750–1836), Baptist clergyman, composer of many well known hymns
- Thomas Rosewell (1630–1692), nonconformist minister of Rotherhithe
- Richard 'Conversation' Sharp (1759–1835) Prominent among the Dissenters' 'Deputies', critic, merchant and MP.
- John Benjamin Tolkien, grandfather of writer J. R. R. Tolkien
- Isaac Watts (1674–1742), Hymn Writer, Educationalist and Poet
- Susanna Wesley (1669–1742), mother of John Wesley, founder of Methodism
- George Whitehead (1636–1723), Quaker leader and author of The Christian Progress of George Whitehead
- Daniel Williams (1643–1716), founder of Dr Williams's Library
- Joshua Bayes (1671–1746), English Divine
- Henry Hunter (1741–1802), Scottish minister
- William Shrubsole
- "Bunhill Fields Burial Ground", City of London, retrieved 21 June 2011
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