The Manor of Finsbury (or Fensbury) was established in 1104 and granted to the City of London in 1315. The land stretched northwards from the City walls, an area of moors and bogs, but by 1607 Richard Johnson described it as ‘..the garden of the City and a pleasurable place of sweet ayres for citizens to walk in..’.
Part of this area became Bunhill Fields (Bonehill Fields) because bones were dumped here when the Charnel House at St Paul’s was demolished in 1549. The ashes were covered with soil and created a small hill on which windmills were built! Then the area became a burial ground for plague victims in 1665. The ground was never consecrated, and after this time was managed by a Mr Tindal. Nonconformists or dissenters tended to use the cemetery, and the last burial was in 1854. Severe bomb damage in WWII led eventually to re-landscaping and the graves being fenced off in the 1960s. There are nearly 2,000 gravestones, many of well-known people.
Those buried here include John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe, and William Blake.
There are always deeply poignant moments in these places.
Today the burial ground is a quiet spot in the heart of the City, a walkway from one street to the next, but if you pause you can feel the past.
The Quaker burial ground nearby opened in 1661 on another part of Bunhill Fields, between Chequer Street and Banner Street. In 1880 much of the land was bought for road widening and remains were re-interred. The Quakers used the money to build the Bunhill Memorial Buildings (drawing below), but these were destroyed in WWII, leaving on the Gatekeepers House in what is now Quaker Gardens.
The City Pest House (1594-1736) was in nearby Bath Street. It was built to isolate people suffering from infectious or incurable diseases, such as the plague, or leprosy.
The Honourable Artillery Company settled in another part of the unenclosed fields belonging to the Manor. The Artillery Ground was a practice ground for archers. Today the HAC is the oldest regiment in the Army, a curious oddity in the heart of the City.
‘..We may extend our perambulations to Clerkenwell Green, part of a region thickly populated by watch and clock makers. Here is the Sessions House for Middlesex, the building dating from 1782, and near it is the Church of St James’s, Clerkenwell..’. The building was used as a Courthouse until 1921, and it is now due for redevelopment. It must have been a very grand building in its time!
From here I walked to Holborn via Saffron Hill, ‘..for the sake of novelty.. to gather some insight into that colony, which, for the last century has been the chosen refuge of the lower class of emigrants…’. Today it was a quiet street, with contemporary housing and Thai cooking in The One Tun!
And so, sadly, I come to the end of my 8-day tour of London with Bradshaw’s Hand Book to London, 1862. BUT we are not finished! Next I go South of the river, and then I have to visit the environs – I hope you will continue to explore with me.
You may be interested in
Bunhill Fields Burial Ground – interesting post with photographs
The history of Bone Hills, or Bunhill Fields, and here and here
Lost burial grounds in London
Bunhill Memorial Buildings & the Quaker Gardens
Bunhill Burial Ground – excellent article
A History of Bunhill Fields
T he History of Clerkenwell Green