The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 10 Burial Grounds

Re-use of burial grounds

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John Claudius Loudon, in the Botanical Magazine, was one of the first to write about the improvement of public cemeteries, and to point out how they could be beautified, and the suggestion that the smaller burial-grounds could be turned into gardens was made as early as 1843 by Sir Edwin Chadwick. But the closing of them did not come until ten years later, and it was many years after that, before any attempt was made to turn them into gardens. By 1877 eight had been transformed, and from that time onwards, every year something has been done. The Metropolitan Gardens Association, started by Lord Meath (then Lord Brabazon) in 1882, has done much towards accomplishing this work. One of the earliest churchyards taken in hand was that of St. Pancras, and joined to it St. Giles-in-the-Fields. The Act permitting this was in 1875. Perhaps because it was one of the first, it is also one of the worst in taste and arrangement. The church of St. Pancras-in-the-Fields is one of the oldest in Middlesex. "For the antiquity thereof" it "is thought not to yield to St. Paul's in London." In 1593 the houses standing near this old Norman church were much "decaied, leaving poore Pancras without companie or comfort." The bell of St. Pancras Church was said to be the last tolled in England at the time of the Reformation, to call people to Mass. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, adjoining to the south side of the churchyard, was "a good spaw, whose water is of a sweet taste," very clear, and imbued with various medicinal qualities. These "Pancras Wells" had a large garden, which extended from the Spa buildings by the churchyard, between the coach road from Hampstead, and the footpath across the meadows to Gray's Inn. As late as 1772 the coach was stopped and robbed at this corner, and the footpads, armed with cutlasses, made off through the churchyard. It was of this then lonely, rural churchyard that it was said the dead would rest "as secure against the day of resurrection as... in stately Paules"; but, alas for modern exigencies, the Midland Railway now spans the sacred ground by a viaduct, and the would-be improvers, in turning what remained into a garden, have moved the tombstones, levelled the undulating ground, and heaped the head-stones into terrible rocky mounds, or pushed them in rows along the wall. Numerous were the interesting monuments it contained; many a courtly French emigre here found a resting-place, such as the Comte de Front, on whose tomb was the line, "A foreign land preserves his ashes with respect." Although a monumental tablet put up to record the opening, and the names of the designers of the garden, proclaims it to be "a boon to the living, a grace to the dead"; it is doubtful how that respect to the dead was shown. The lines go on to say it was "not for the culture of health only, but also of thought." Surely health and thought could have been equally well stimulated by making pretty paths, lined with trees and flowers, wind reverently in and out among the tombs, and up and down the undulating ground, with seats in shade or sun, arranged with peeps of the old church; and there might even have been room for the fine sun-dial (the gift of Baroness Burdett-Coutts) without levelling the whole area and laying it out with geometrically straight asphalt walks. The asphalt paths are in themselves a necessity in most cases, as the expense of keeping gravel in order is too great, and the majority of the renovated disused burial-grounds suffer from this fact.