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Bunhill Fields Burial Grounds, London

Skull tomb bunhillBunhill Fields is sited in the Finsbury area of North London, a short walk from Old Street tube station.  Twice in recent months I have found myself meandering through the clutter of tombstones, monuments and ancient trees.

Although the burial ground really took off as a non-conformist cemetery from the seventeenth century onwards,  the origin of the name goes back to earlier times.  Originally known as bone hill, the site may have been used for burials as far back as the Saxon period. It is also possible that the gruesome name came about much later.  During the mid sixteenth century St Paul’s was clearing out its overflowing charnel house and in the somewhat pragmatic manner of the time the excess bones were dumped on nearby fenland until they formed, one imagines, a very gruesome looking hill.

Although the cemetery was remodeled in the nineteenth century, you can still get a feel for how jumbled and cramped together London Cemeteries were before work began to alleviate pressure on London’s overcrowded urban cemeteries with the opening of the likes of Highgate Cemetery and Brookwood in the mid-nineteenth century.   Bunhill Fields saw its last burial in January 1854 – it is estimated that over 120,000 people were buried in the burial ground during its existence.

Famous incumbents

Susannah Wesley, via wikimedia

Susannah Wesley, via Wikimedia

Bunhill fields attracted some quite famous individuals as a nice place to go whilst awaiting the final trumpets (or what ever the individual’s own particular brand of religion specified).  John Bunyan (1628-1688), author of The Pilgrim’s Progress; Daniel Defoe (1660 -1731) author of Robinson Crusoe and the naughty novel Moll Flanders;  Susannah Wesley (1669 -1742), the Mother of Methodism; and William Blake (1757-1827), visionary poet, painter and keen nudist (!) all took their final rest in Bunhill.

Amongst the gnarled old trees and scattering of wild flowers are not only notables and famous literary and non-conformist figures. There are many equally unique and extraordinary individuals..

Most of the graves are fenced off to protect them, however you can still get close to some of the larger monuments.  Here are a few of my photo’s of some of the more famous monuments:

Tomb of John Bunyan

Tomb of John Bunyan

Detail from John Bunyan's tomb - the Pilgrim

Detail from John Bunyan’s tomb – the Pilgrim

 

Monument to Daniel Dafoe

Monument to Daniel Defoe

William Blake's simple headstone

William Blake’s simple headstone

 

And the not so famous….

Amongst the many notable individuals, there are of course may thousands of ordinary individuals whose bones lie in Bunhill Fields….and one has to spare a thought for the suffering and fortitude of some of these unfortunate individuals such as Dame Mary Page, relict of Sir Gregor Page Baronet, who slithered off this mortal coil on March 4th 1728 at the age of 56, her epitaph reads:

Dame Mary Page, who expired after:

Dame Mary Page, whose epitaph reads ‘In 67 months she was tapd 66 times and had taken away 240 gallons of water without ever repining at her case or ever fearing the operation.’

One wonders if Dame Mary actually wanted her demise commemorated in quite so detailed a manner!

The Bone Hill Today

Today the old burial ground is protected landscape, filled with wildflowers and ancient trees and patrolled by the ubiquitous grey squirrels that abound in English park lands.  Here are a few more of my pictures for you to enjoy…

Inscription on the gateway to Bunhill Fields

Inscription on the gateway to Bunhill Fields

A row of impressive tombs

A row of impressive tombs

trees and tombs

A piece of wilderness in the heart of the city

Daniel Defoe monument

Daniel Defoe monument

Dame Mary's monument - I wonder if they considered a fountain...

Dame Mary’s monument – I wonder if they considered a fountain…

Before cemeteries like Highgate and Brookwood opened in the 19C, it was standing room only in city graveyards.

Before cemeteries like Highgate and Brookwood opened in the 19C, it was standing room only in city graveyards.

 

The squirrels of Bunhill

The squirrels of Bunhill

 

 

 Sources

Images – all images copyright Lenora and Haunted Palace unless otherwise credited.

http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Bunhill-Fields.aspx
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunhill_Fields

 

 

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