musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Finding Bunhill

On my trip to London in this past week one of the places I had tentatively listed as worth looking for was Bunhill Fields Cemetery. In grave hunter terms it is one of those “must see places before I die”. 

As things worked out I tackled the cemetery shortly after I arrived as I had some time to kill before I headed off to the Thames for my date with the RMS St Helena 

Technically it was theoretically easy to find, because it is in walking distance of Moorgate Tube station on the Circle Line. The reality though turned out to be somewhat of a problem. Once I bailed at Moorgate I headed for the surface. I was unaware of the significance of Moorgate until I spotted the plaque outside

I tried to orientate myself and find the direction to head into. I usually use my mapping facility on my phone, but it tends to drive me crazy rather than tell me where I am going. The good old days of hitting a button to find out where you are no longer exists, instead I can find out all about the coffee shops, yuppie eateries and overpriced boutiques all around me, but not where I am physically at that moment in time. To make matters worse they were digging large holes in the area too. I made many false starts on that day, and eventually I reverted to a good old paper map. 

My destination was really a spot of green amongst a lot of buildings, but like so many green spaces in London it is a popular one with walkers, lunch eaters and people just “catching some rays”.  

This small space is now the last resting place for an estimated 120000 bodies,  with a number of famous people finding their repose in it. That includes William Blake, Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan and Susannah Wesley.

The tomb of John Bunyan

The tomb of John Bunyan

The burial ground now contains 2,333 monuments, mostly simple headstones (of which there are 1,920) arranged in a grid formation. These are fenced off and not accessible to the public, although tours are regularly arranged. 

Many of the graves are packed closely together, giving an idea of how London’s burial places looked before large cemeteries further from the centre of London opened from the 1830’s onwards. The site is fenced, as are the areas around the graves. The name “Bunhill Fields” derives from “Bone Hill”, which is possibly a reference to the district having been used for occasional burials from at least Saxon times, but more probably derives from the use of the fields as a place of deposit for human bones – amounting to over 1,000 cartloads – brought from St Paul’s charnel house in 1549 when that building was demolished. 

The cemetery was badly damaged during the London Blitz and restoration was undertaken by the Corporation of London in 1964, and that included laying out a portion of the site as a public garden. 

It is a strange place to visit, I could not access the fenced areas but could photograph the headstones, some of which are surprisingly legible. There was also a work crew in amongst the graves working at preservation and cleaning of the grounds. 

If anything it is like many of the churchyards I have visited previously, although it is a unique place in the city. 

The big question is: how much of this cemetery has been lost to progress? I am sure the space was much bigger when it opened, but time has shrunk it and this is the end result. 

Unfortunately, while I had intended to visit the nearby Quaker Gardens, it slipped my mind and I left Bunhill and headed to the next tube station which is at Old Street. My destination was Bank/Monument Tube station and from there towards Tower Bridge. 

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