The Garden Guide

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

St. Paul's Churchyard

Previous - Next

Of all the churchyards, that of St. Paul's is best known, and least like the ordinary idea of one. But this was not always so. It was for centuries an actual burying-place. When the foundations of the present cathedral were dug, after the Great Fire, a series of early burials were disclosed. There were Saxon coffins, and below them British graves, where wooden and ivory pins were found, which fastened the woollen shrouds of those who rested there, and below that again, between twenty and thirty feet deep, were Roman remains, with fragments of pottery, rings, beads, and such-like. The original churchyard was very much larger, as the present houses in "St. Paul's Churchyard" are actually on part of the ground included in it. It extended from Old Change in Cheapside to Paternoster Row, and on the south to Carter Lane, and the whole was surrounded by a wall built in 1109, with the principal gateway opening into "Ludgate Street." This wall seems to have been unfinished, or else part of it became ruinous in course of time, and the churchyard became the resort of thieves and ruffians. To remedy this state of things, the wall was completed and fortified early in the fourteenth century. It had six gates, and remained like this until the Great Fire, although long before that date houses had been built against the wall both within and without. Round here were collected the shops of the most famous booksellers, such as John Day, who came here in 1575. On the north side was a plot of ground known as Pardon's Churchyard, and here was built a cloister in Henry V.'s time, decorated with paintings to illustrate Lidgate's translation of "The Dance of Death." Here, too, was a chapel and charnel-house, and the whole was pulled down by order of the Protector Somerset, who used some of the material in building Somerset House. It was on that occasion that the Cartloads of bones were removed to Finsbury Fields. There, covered with earth, they made a solid, conspicuous hill on which windmills were erected. It was part of this same ground which has already been referred to as Bunhill Fields. Great as was the damage done by the Fire, perhaps no site has been so completely altered as that of St. Paul's. The modern cathedral, dearly loved by all Londoners, stands at quite a different angle from the old one, the western limit of which is marked by the statue of Queen Anne. Nestling close to the south-west corner of the great Gothic cathedral with its lofty spire, was the parish church of St. Gregory, and the crypt was the parish church of St. Faith's. Both these parishes were allocated a portion of the churchyard for their burials. To the north-east of the cathedral stood Paul's Cross, the out-door pulpit whence many notable sermons were preached. It is described by Stowe. "About the middest of this Churchyard is a pulpit-crosse of timber, mounted upon steps of stone, and covered with Lead, in which are Sermons preached by learned Divines, every Sunday in the fore-noone. The very antiquity of which Crosse is to me unknowne." The earliest scene he records as taking place at this "crosse," was when Henry III., in 1259, commanded the Mayor to cause "every stripling of twelve years of age and upward to assemble there," to swear "to be true to the King and his heires, Kings of England." In later times, the most distinguished preachers of the day were summoned to preach before the Court and the Mayor, Aldermen and citizens, and the political significance of such harangues may well be imagined. It was here Papal Bulls were promulgated; here Tyndal's translation of the New Testament was publicly burnt; here Queen Elizabeth listened to a sermon of thanksgiving on the defeat of the Armada-only to mention a few of the associations that cling round the spot, which, until within the last fifty years, was marked by an old elm tree which kept its memory green. Now it is treated with scant respect. There is, indeed, a little wooden notice-board, like a giant flower-label, stuck into the ground by an iron support, which records the fact that here stood Paul's Cross, destroyed by the Fire of 1666. The notice is not so large or conspicuous as the one a few feet from it, beseeching the kindly friends of the pigeons not to feed them on the flower-beds! It is to be hoped that before long the bequest of �5000 of the late H. C. Richards, for the re-erection of the Cross, may be embodied in some visible form. What a picture such recollections call up!-the excited crowds with all the colour of Tudor costumes, the eager, fanatical faces of the "defenders of the Faith," the sad and despondent faces of the intensely serious Reformers, as they see the blue smoke curl upwards, and the flames consume the sacred volumes.