The Garden Guide

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

Spa Fields, Clerkenwell

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Some of the burial-grounds were in such a shocking state before they were taken in hand, that very few of the head-stones remained in their right places, and many had gone altogether, while some even reappeared as paving-stones in the district. Spa Fields, Clerkenwell, had a very chequered history. The site was first a tea garden, near the famous Sadler's Wells. For a few years, from 1770, its "little Pantheon" and pretty garden, with a pond or "canal" stocked with fish, and alcoves for tea drinkers, was thronged by the middle class, small tradesmen, and apprentices, while the more fashionable world flocked to Ranelagh or Almack's. It was the sort of place in which John Gilpin and his spouse might have amused themselves, on a less important holiday than their wedding anniversary. Twenty years later the scene had changed. The rotunda was turned into a chapel, by the Countess of Huntingdon, who took up her residence in a jessamine-covered house that had been a tavern, near to it. The gardens had already been turned into a private burial-ground, which soon became notorious for the evil condition in which it was kept. There every single gravestone had disappeared long before it was converted into the neat little garden, the delight of poor Clerkenwell children. The rotunda was at length pulled down, and in 1888 a new church was erected on the site. The same disgraceful story of neglect and repulsive overcrowding, can be told of the Victoria Park Cemetery, although the ground had not such a strange early history. It was one of those private cemeteries which the legislation with regard to other burial-places did not touch. It was never consecrated, and abuses of every kind were connected with it. It is a space of 9.5 acres in a crowded district between Bethnal Green and Bow, a little to the south of Victoria Park. After various difficulties in raising funds and so forth, it was laid out by the Metropolitan Gardens Association, opened to the public in 1894, and is kept up by the London County Council, and is an extremely popular recreation ground, under the name of "Meath Gardens."