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. 

DRW © 2016-2020. Created 10/06/2016.

Graves in the distance. Nanscol and Grasmere

Amongst the list of graves to photograph are the easy ones, and the difficult ones. The difficulty may be because of distance, safety, locked gates, no directions and all manner of reasons. My mission for today was to photograph two graves in two seperate cemeteries; one at the Nanscol Colliery Cemetery near Vanderbijlpark, and the other closer by in Grasmere.  Had I done my homework I would have been able to nail both of these on my trip back from Bethlehem, but I enjoy these outings occasionally because it keeps away cabin fever. 
Nanscol was about 70 kilos away and for once my GPS didn’t take me on the run around. In fact it was just a bit further from my turning point for the Bethlehem trip. The problem with finding graves that date from the 1940’s is that there is no real idea as to the context of the grave. What was in this area when this particular soldier died?  All information I have is that his parents lived in Evaton. 
The cemetery is an odd one. It is divided roughly into 4 pieces. The original cemetery where my grave was, is in one corner, a newish cemetery is in the opposite corner, and a densely populated section is rapidly extending towards the road. It is all lumped together under the name “Noordvaal Cemetery”. Fortunately my soldier was easy to find and I then set out to do some exploring.
Like so many cemeteries, there is no context as to when or where things started, or whether there is a particular theme to the burials. I was hoping to find at least one Border War grave amongst them, and was not disappointed.
Unfortunately, shortly after I started exploring, a funeral procession arrived, as did an excavator. I don’t really like hanging around while a funeral is taking place so finished off my pics and grabbed my gear and left. Sometimes trying to explain what I do becomes difficult and I would rather leave with my pics and head elsewhere. It was a pity as I would have liked to explore the other area where the funeral was taking place. Still, my mission was concluded so all that was left was to head off to Grasmere.   
Alarm bells were ringing when I did the preliminary research on Grasmere. It sits on the periphery of an informal settlement just off the Grasmere tollplaza on the N1. My Google Earth view was of a stretch of veldt with no formal roads or anything. It did not seem like a big cemetery either, but I was not too sure what I would find when I got there. My small car is not really meant for bundu bashing, but I managed to find the correct sand road and spotted the headstones in the distance. The onlookers looked curiously at this strange yellow thing rattling past but didn’t really do anything else, leaving me to find the headstone.


The headstone I was after was a civilian stone and not a CWGC stone so it did not stand out. However, there were a lot of toppled stones here, in fact the cemetery was not in a very good condition at all.  My intention was to grab the pic, grab a few panoramas and then head for the hills. I found the stone easily enough and fortunately it was still erect, then I moved across the rows, taking pics as best I could of the stones that were no longer upright, but flat on the ground.
Luckily most were face up. There are easily over 100 graves here, but so many have no identification on any longer. Again I was left wondering, why was this cemetery here? who lived around here? and more importantly, why isn’t this fenced off and better taken care of? Again answers are not forthcoming from the graves so I grabbed my pics and bundu bashed out of there.
Two more World War 2 soldiers have come home, as has one Border War casualty. Those are great stats in the grave hunting business, and by the time I got home I was suitably chuffed.
Tomorrow? possibly Kagiso and Azaadville. I hear the former has a heroes acre.
DRW © 2011-2019. Images recreated 20/03/2016, links recreated 03/03/2018 

Forgotten in the veld. Graves at Crownwood Road

Many moons ago my brother was telling me about a grave he saw as he was driving past Crownwood Road in Crown Mines. Naturally I went looking but found nothing because the area I was in was the wrong area, I filed the information away “just in case” I was in the area again. In the meantime, by pure accident I found an article about graves that were discovered under a mine dump in the Crown Mines and Robertville areas. This was becoming more interesting all the time, and the chance discovery of a war memorial in the veld near Robertville was the cherry on the cake. I still don’t know who erected the WW1 memorial, but maybe one day? That memorial has since disappeared, and by the looks of it it was erected by CMR.

Getting back to Crown Mines, a chance remark at a local Mayfair Group in Facebook made me rethink the Crownwood graves and I asked my brother to go show me where he saw the grave.

We headed out there one Sunday morning, and after searching high and low discovered the grave, or should I say graves? there were at least 10 visibly stone covered mounds and a grave with a broken marker. I was flabbergasted. Why were these graves not fenced, or at least documented? I took pics and headed home, convinced that what we had found should be at least recorded.
The gazillion dollar question is, who is buried there? The discoveries in that area point to them being the graves of mine workers. I contacted the people doing the excavations under the mine dump and they said there was a chance that there are as many as 100 graves there, and that the graves may be of Indian origin as parties of Indians visited the site around about 16 December each year. 
The burial ground may date from the late 19th, early 20th century. Its a mystery though, and I have no real answer. However, I have managed to get pics and verify it’s existence, and that’s a good thing because once the grass starts growing once again, this piece of old Johannesburg history will be gone until the next fire. 
Upon investigation I was told “…..There could be as many (or more than) as 100 graves here – mostly stone packed and without headstones and any legible inscriptions. As far as is known (based on info given verbally) these graves could be dating to the late 19th to mid 20th centuries, but It cannot be confirmed. It was also indicated that some Indian people have been visiting the graves the last few years (on 16 December), so some might even have an Indian origin but this cannot be confirmed.”
The graves are situated North East of the position 26° 13.522’S  28° 0.357’E 
DRW ©  2011-2019. Images recreated 19/03/2016