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St. Clement Danes
Including Lincoln's Inn and the Liberty of the Rolls.
Key:   Current observations and notes   Holmes (1897)     Other sources      Maps

 

Existing grounds 

St. Clement Danes Churchyard.
The ground around the church is much reduced in size and paved over.  The crypt has been cleared and opened as a chapel.
Burial place of Anne Donne, Wife of John Donne, d.1617. Also, supposedly, of Harold Harefoot, King of the English, d. 1040.

This is now 1 acre in extent, having been curtailed, when the Strand was altered. It is closed. (Holmes)

ST. CLEMENT'S CHURCH, Strand. - There is a vault under this church called the "Rector's Vault," the descent into which is in the aisle of the church near the communion table, and when opened the products of the decomposition of animal matter are so powerful, that lighted candles, passed through the opening into the vault, are instantly extinguished; the men at different times employed, have not dared to descend into the vault until two or three days had elapsed after it had been opened, during which period the windows of the church also were opened to admit the perflation of air from the street to occupy the place of the gas emitted; - thus a diluted poison is given in exchange from the dead to the living in one of the most frequented thoroughfares of the metropolis. The other vaults underneath the church are also much crowded with dead. From some cause, at present doubtful, these vaults were discovered to be on fire (1) upwards of fifty years ago; they continued burning for some days, and many bodies were destroyed.

At the eastern side of this church a pump was formerly fixed; this, within the previous month, has been removed, and a brick erection placed upon its site; the well was sunk in the year 1807, but the water had become so offensive, both to the smell and taste, that it could not be used by the inhabitants, owing, most probably, to the infiltration of the dissolved products of human putrefaction. Graves certainly have been dug very near to this well, and the land springs have risen to within a few feet of the surface.

From information recently obtained, it appears that several persons have been buried near this spot, and that in particular, the coffins of two very respectable inhabitants of the parish, as soon as let down into the graves, sunk below the surface of the water which had percolated into them; it is even stated that the deceased, from a wish to be buried in a watery grave, and knowing the situation, had particularly fixed upon it for the interment of their bodies.

Can it be surprising, then, that the water of this well should have become impregnated and corrupted ?

(1) This is not a very unusual circumstance; the vaults underneath St. James's Church, Jermyn Street, many years since, were on fire.
(Walker 1839)
                

In 1941 the crypt was explored for the first time for nearly a hundred years. To quote Mr E A Young, a churchwarden and one-time bell-ringer, in The New Rambler for January 1944:

The crypt, we found, extended under half the church and below the two vestries. It had been approached by steps on both sides. The roof is of groined vaulting, carried on brick piers and stone columns. It is very massive, yet the columns standing under the knave, in rows of three, seem to give the crypt an architectural value. The floor I could not see as it was covered with a layer of earth (probably containing human remains.)

An act was passed in 1851, prohibiting burials in urban areas. Shortly after this the overseers made a general clearance of the cells and their contents. The best of the coffins were re-enclosed in a newly formed chamber, and all else uniformly spread to a depth of 30 inches in a layer over the floor, always closely packed with earth, and covered with quicklime. Thus leaving all seemly, as we find it today.
(Kent – Lost Treasures of London 1947)


1920s view


East end


Crypt - tastefully decorated with old coffin plates


Rocque showing much larger ground, and almshouses to the right. 

Vault of  Lincoln's Inn Chapel


Open air vault of Lincoln's Inn chapel 2004

Lost grounds

Additional ground, Portugal Street.
Established between 1593 and 1609. The King's College Hospital extension was built over it  in 1853. All now gone. (See picture of site below.)
A notorious ground, and a regular source of corpses for bodysnatchers. In February 1820 three bodies were seen being bundled over the wall. A warrant was issued to search St Thomas's hospital, where the yard and dissecting room 'resembled a slaughter house' with scattered heads, torsos and limbs.   The gravedigger and assistant were implicated in the bodysnatching, but were acquitted. (The Times, Feb 18th 1820)

For more on the Green Ground see article in
The Changing Face of Death  Ed Glenys Howarth and Peter Jupp. (Macmillan 1986) 
This
was called the " Green-ground," and was crowded with bodies. A corner of King's College Hospital was built upon the ground. The remaining piece is nearly ˝ acre in size, between the hospital and Portugal Street. It is now the entrance drive and a grass plot. It is neatly kept, with some trees and seats in it, and is used solely by the hospital. (Holmes)

BURYING GROUND, PORTUGAL STREET.- This ground belongs to the parish of St. Clement Danes ; it is commonly known by the name of the " Green Ground," and has been in use as a burying place beyond the memory of man.

The soil of this ground is saturated, absolutely saturated, with human putrescence. On Saturday the 27th April, 1839, at 5, p.m. I went, accompanied by a friend, to Nos.30 and 31, Clement's Lane, and, upon looking through the windows of the back attics, we saw two graves open, close to the south-eastern extremity of this burying ground. Several bones were lying on the surface of the grave nearest to us-a large heap of coffin wood was placed in readiness for removal, and, at a small distance, a heap covered with coarse sacking, was observed, which, when the covering was taken off, proved also to be long pieces of coffin wood, evidently not in a decayed state. The nails were very conspicuous. Several basketfuls of this wood were taken to a building at the south-west extremity of the ground. We were informed that this sight was by no means a novel one; it was commonly-almost daily, observed. The cloth covering of the wood appeared to be nearly as fresh as when interred. The grave diggers were seen to take off tin plates from the coffins broken up. This desecration of the grave has not escaped the notice of the passer-by, as is proved from the following letter to the editor of the Times newspaper, which was published on the 25th of June last:-

SIR,
Passing along Portugal Street on Saturday evening, about ten minutes before seven, I was much shocked at seeing two men employed in carrying baskets (1) of human bones from the corner of the ground next the old watch-house (where there was a tarpaulin hung over the rails to prevent their being seen, and where they appeared to be heaped up in a mound), to the back of the ground through a small gate.

Where this leads to I do not know; but I should be glad, through the medium of your invaluable journal to ask, why is this desecration ?

Sir,- I feel more particularly than many might do, as I have seen twelve of my nearest and dearest relatives consigned to the grave in that ground; and I felt that, perhaps, I might at the moment be viewing, in the basket of skulls which passed before me, those of my own family thus brutally exhumed.
At all events, for the sake of the community at large, it should be inquired into.
J.M.

The complaint here made is, unfortunately applicable to most of the metropolitan burying grounds, under the present system; a system as dangerous as it is revolting and disgusting: the evil can only be effectually destroyed by an enactment of the Legislature, prohibiting altogether interment within cities, towns, or densely populated villages.

The effluvia from this ground, at certain periods, are so offensive, that persons living in the back of Clement's Lane are compelled to keep their windows closed; the walls even of the ground which adjoins the yards of those houses, are frequently seen reeking with fluid, which diffuses a most offensive smell. Who can wonder, then, that fever is here so prevalent and so triumphant ?
In the beginning of the present year, I was called upon to attend a poor man, who lived at 33, Clement's Lane; his health was broken, his spirits depressed, and he was fast merging into that low form of fever of which this locality has furnished so many examples. I found him in the back room of an extremely dirty house, his wife and family with him. On looking into the " Green Ground," through the window of his room, I noticed a grave open within a few feet of the house; the sick man replied to my observations, " Ah, that grave is just made for a poor fellow who died in this house, in the room above me; he died of typhus fever, from which his wife has just recovered,-they have kept him twelve days, and now they are going to put him under my nose, by way of warning to me."

About twenty years since, it was the custom in the " Green Ground" to bury the poor in a vault underneath the pauper's promenade, which is now flagged over -- trap doors covered the entrance to the vault; a large chimney or shaft, rising from about the centre of the vault, carried off the products of decomposition from this place; the smell, I am informed by a respectable man, was disgustingly offensive, and was frequently intolerable during hot weather. The bodies were buried in slight deal three-quarter stuff coffins; these were soon destroyed : they were packed, as is the custom, one upon the other; the superincumbent weight, aided by the putrefactive process, had deranged several of the bodies; in replacing one of the coffins, three guineas fell from it; it was supposed that the money had been clutched in the hand previous to death ; a more rational supposition is, that the nurse had hidden the money in the coffin, but that the opportunity had not offered of removing it.

The workhouse, at the north-eastern extremity of this ground, has, within the last few weeks, been disused; and the building, it appears, is about to be converted into an hospital, for the reception of patients, belonging to the Medical and Surgical department of King's College: from the high standing of the gentlemen connected with this establishment, I can entertain no doubt that the condition of the earth's surface, and, consequently, the salubrity of the surrounding atmosphere, will be primary objects of attention before patients are admitted.
In the middle of the north-east boundary of this burying ground is placed a grave-stone with the following inscription ;-

HERE LYE THE REMAINS OF HONEST JO MILLER,
WHO WAS
A TENDER HUSBAND, A SINCERE FRIEND,
A FACETIOUS COMPANION, . AND AN EXCELLENT COMEDIAN;
HE DEPARTED THIS LIFE THE 15TH DAY OF AUGUST, 1738, AGED 54 YEARS.
If humour, wit, and honesty could save
The hum'rous, witty. honest, from the grave,
The grave had not so soon this tenant found,
Whom honesty, and wit, and humour crown'd :
Could but esteem and love preserve our breath,
And guard us longer from the stroke of death,
The stroke of death on him had later fell,
Whom all mankind esteem'd and lov'd so well.
S. DUCK.

FROM RESPECT TO SOCIAL WORTH,
MIRTHFUL QUALITIES, AND HISTRIONIC EXCELLENCE,
COMMEMORATED BY POETIC TALENT IN HVMBLE LIFE,
THE ABOVE INSCRIPTION, WHICH TIME
HAD NEARLY OBLITERATED, BAS BEEN PRESERVED
AND TRANSFERRED TO THIS STONE BY ORDER OF
MB. JAMES BUCK, CHURCHWARDEN, A.D.1816.

(1) Many waggon loads were removed to a receptacle situated on the north east of this ground; some idea may be formed of the quantity, when I state that five men were employed about a week in their removal.
(Walker 1839)
                              ...............................................................................................

A part of the buildings of this hospital stands on ground which, up to about the year 1850, was one of the burial-places belonging to the parish. It was about the third of an acre in extent, and called the "Green Ground," as if in mockery. From a report of a parochial committee in 1848, we learn that upwards of 5,500 bodies had been interred within it in the previous quarter of a century. The scenes witnessed here were of the most offensive character. In it was interred, among other lesser celebrities, Joe Miller, the author of the "Jest Book" which bears his name, who died in 1738. A monument was erected to his memory, with an inscription, said to be by Stephen Duck, who began life as a thresher, but afterwards entered the Church, and wrote some poems, which incurred the satire of Dean Swift. This monument, having become decayed and almost illegible, was renewed in 1816, and is to be seen leaning up against the wall of one of its offices. The inscription on it ran as follows:--

(see reference above)

Of "Joe Miller" little is known except what may be gathered from his tombstone. Mr. Peter Cunningham, in his "Handbook of London," published in 1850, speaks of Joe Miller’s headstone as standing in the old burying-ground "half concealed in summer by a clump of sunflowers," and draws the special attention of his readers to "the ‘Grange’ public-house, with its old and picturesque inn-yard." It may be remembered that Sir William Davenant, in his "Playhouse to Let," mentions this hostelry in a way which implies that it was a haunt of players.

"Let him enter and send his train to our house-inn, the ‘Grange.’ " But alas! for the progress of modern improvements, the "Grange" and its yard are gone. It was taken down in 1853, and its site in now covered by a part of King’s College Hospital.
(Walter Thornbury, A Narrative of its History, its People and its Places. Illustrated with Numerous Engravings from the Most Authentic Sources: Old and New London: Volume 3 (7.44)

                        ...............................................................................................

 Kings College Hospital and its surroundings have obliterated the recollections and annihilated the grave-stones of the Burial Ground of  St Clement Danes, where Nathaniel Lee, the bombastic dramatist (1657-1692), author of Sophonisba and Gloriana, was buried, having been killed in a drunken street brawl.
(Henry B. Wheatley, London Past and Present: Its History, Associations, and Traditions.: 3 Vols.)  

W. Chamberlain, grave-digger at St. Clement's, testified that the ground was so full of bodies that he could not make a new grave "without coming into other graves." He said:
    "We have come to bodies quite perfect, and we have cut parts away with choppers and pickaxes. We have opened the lids of coffins, and the bodies have been so perfect that we could distinguish males from females and all those have been chopped and cut up. During the time I was at this work, the flesh has been cut up in pieces and thrown up behind the boards which are placed to keep the ground up where the mourners are standing
- and when the mourners are gone this flesh has been thrown in and jammed down, and the coffins taken away and burnt."
    An assistant grave-digger testified that, happening to see his companion one day chopping off the head of a coffin, he saw that it was his own father's! Another digger testified that bodies were often cut through when they had been buried only three weeks. Another testified to things more horrible than ever Dante saw in Hell. He says:  "One day I was trying the length of a grave to see if it was long and wide enough, and while I was there the ground gave way, and a body turned right over, and the two arms came and clasped me round the neck!"
London by Day and Night, by David W.Bartlett, 1852

          

Horwood


From Portugal St., 2003

Vault of Enon Chapel, St Clement's Lane.
For More on Enon Chapel see Enon: No way for the Dead' in The Changing Face of Death   Ed Glenys Howarth and Peter Jupp. (Macmillan 1986)  

Enon Chapel was opened in April 1822. It was built over an open sewer which passed, presumably uncovered, through the vault. Many writers have been preoccupied with means by which the incumbent, Mr Howse, managed to pack around 12,000 coffins in a space 59 feet by 12 feet (at 15 shillings a time.) It is suggested that the vanishing trick was accomplished by dropping the human remains into the sewer, to float away to the river, and then using the coffin wood as a useful source of timber for cooking and heating the kitchen copper. The coffins could certainly have been used in this way, though whether the sewer would have a sufficient flow to carry body parts to the river without clogging up is questionable.  In later years  a secret door between the kitchen and the vault was discovered, and large quantities of bones were found under the kitchen floor.
Is seems the authorities were suspicious of the goings on at the chapel,  and insisted that the sewer be vaulted over, probably  in 1834. After this time Howse apparently resorted to quicklime as the means to get rid of the bodies; as mentioned by Bartlett above, vast quantities of human remains were thrown in the river or used as landfill in the district of Waterloo Bridge.
The chapel closed in 1844 and was let out for various purposes, including a dance hall for teetotallers, whose events were cheerfully known as 'Dances on the dead'.  During 1846/7 Walker leased the chapel and the human remains were moved to Norwood Cemetery, at Walker's expense. 
Dickens'  Encyclopaedia of London records the existence of the chapel (renamed Clare Market Chapel) into the 1890s. Gone by 1914 O.S. Excavations on the site in 1967 prior to the building of a building for the LSE produced large quantities of human bones. 

ENON CHAPEL
.- This building is situated about midway on the western side of Clement's Lane; it is surrounded on all sides by houses, crowded by inhabitants, principally of the poorer class. The upper part of this building was opened for the purposes of public worship about 1823; it is separated from the lower part by a boarded floor: this is used as a burying place, and is crowded at one end, even to the top of the ceiling, with dead. It is entered from the inside of the chapel by a trap door; the rafters supporting the floor are not even covered with the usual defence - lath and plaster . Vast numbers of bodies (1) have been placed here in pits, dug for the purpose, the uppermost of which were covered only by a few inches of earth; a sewer runs angularly across this " burying place." A few years ago, the Commissioners of Sewers, for some cause, interfered, - and ultimately another arch was thrown over the old one; in this operation many bodies were disturbed and mutilated. Soon after interments were made, a peculiarly long narrow black fly was observed to crawl out of many of the coffins ; this insect, a product of the putrefaction of
the bodies, was observed on the following season to be succeeded by another, which had the appearance of a
common bug (2) with wings. The children attending the SUNDAY SCHOOL, held in this chapel, in which these insects were to be seen crawling and flying, in vast numbers, during the summer months, called them " body bugs," - the stench was frequently intolerable; one of my informants states, that he had a peculiar taste in his mouth during the time of worship, and that his handkerchief was so offensive, that immediately upon his return home, his wife used to place it in water. The parish authorities interfered upon the subject of poor rates, proposing to impose a mere nominal one, if the place were closed; this was done for about twelve months. In defiance of opinion, however, it was again employed for the purposes of interment, and has been so used up to the present time. I am acquainted with many who have been seriously affected by exhalations from the vault, and who have left the place in consequence.
Some months since, hand bills were circulated in the neighbourhood,  "requesting parents and others to send the children of the district to the Sunday School," held immediately over the masses of putrefaction in the vault beneath.

Residents about this spot, in warm and damp weather, have been much annoyed with a peculiarly disgusting smell ; and occasionally, when the fire was lighted in a house abutting upon this building, an intolerable stench arose, which it was believed did not proceed from a drain. Vast numbers of rats infest the houses; and meat exposed to this atmosphere, after a few hours, becomes putrid.

This place is familiarly known among undertakers by the appellation of the
"Dust Hole," and is a specimen of one of the evils which sprang up during the operation of certain laws that were hostile to the cultivation of anatomical science, which have happily now been repealed. The professed security of the dead was made the pretext; individual advantage was the real object for depositories of this description. The health and comforts of the living were entirely disregarded, and the annoyance and dangers, resulting from the proximity and effluvia of decaying animal substances were submitted to, and hazarded by survivors, rather than subject themselves to the tormenting anxieties which arise from the apprehensions of a brutal exhumation.

I have several times visited this Golgotha. I was struck with the total disregard of decency exhibited, - numbers of coffins were piled in confusion -large quantities of bones were mixed with the earth, and lying upon the floor of this cellar (for vault it ought not to be called ), lids of coffins might be trodden upon at almost every step.

My reflections upon leaving the masses of corruption here exposed, were painful in the extreme; I want language to express the intense feelings of pity, contempt, and abhorrence I experienced. Can it be, thought I, that in the nineteenth century, in the very centre of the most magnificent city of the universe, such sad, very sad mementos of ignorance, cupidity, and degraded morality, still exist? Possibly I am now treading over the mouldering remains of many, once the cherished idols of the heart's best and purest affections,- here, thought I, may repose one who has had his cares, his anxieties - I who, perchance, may have well fulfilled life's duties, and who has tasted its pleasures and its sorrows, - here he sleeps as I must sleep; yet I could not but desire that I might have a better resting place - a Christian burial.

(1) From the most authentic information, I have reason to believe, that since the establishment of this place, from ten to twelve thousand bodies have been deposited here, not one of which has been placed in lead.

(2) I have not been able to obtain a scientific description of these insects.
(Walker 1839)
                

But far worse than the graveyard alluded to above, was another place of burial within the limits of this parish, long known as Enon Chapel, but afterwards converted into a chapel of ease to St. Clement’s, and called Clare Market Chapel. The building stands close to the eastern entrance to Clement’s Inn, and the access to it is through a gateway leading into a narrow and extremely dingy court, which opens out into Carey Street. It was converted from secular to religious uses in 1823, by a Dissenting congregation, of whom Mr. Diprose writes-

"These pious people, looking very naturally to ways and means, turned the vaults beneath their meeting-house into a burial-place, which soon became filled with coffins up to the very rafters, so that there was only the wooden flooring between the living youth and the festering dead, for a Sunday-school was held in the chapel as well as the congregational meeting. This state of things was allowed to continue till 1844, when a new sewer having to be carried under the building, the Commissioners of Sewers discovered the loathsome charnel-house, and had the place closed, but left the bodies to lie there and rot, heedless of all consequences. The upper premises then became tenanted by a set of teetotallers, who, amongst other uses, turned it into a dancing-room, where the thoughtless and giddy went to ‘foot it’ away over the mouldering remains of sad mortality, part of the bygone generation turning to dust beneath the dancers’ feet." This loathsome abomination ceased in 1847-8, when a surgeon, Mr. G. A. Walker, gained possession of the chapel with the intention of removing the remains from the vault, or "dusthole," as it was usually called, to a more appropriate place. The work of exhumation was then commenced, and a pyramid of human bones was exposed to view, separated from piles of coffin wood in various stages of decay. This "Golgotha" was visited by about 6,000 persons, previous to its removal, and some idea may be formed of the horrid appearance of the scene, when it is stated that the quantity of remains comprised four upheaved van loads. The whole mass of bodies was decently interred by Mr. Walker, at his own cost, in one pit in the cemetery at Norwood, the coffin wood being piled up and burnt. It is indeed strange to think that such foul abuses were not swept away until the reign of Victoria.
(Walter Thornbury, A Narrative of its History, its People and its Places. Illustrated with Numerous Engravings from the Most Authentic Sources.: Old and New London: Volume 3(7.44))

 
A church, called Enon Chapel, was built some twenty years ago, by a minister, as a speculation, in Clement's Lane in the Strand, close on to that busiest thoroughfare in the world. He opened the upper part for the worship of God, and devoted the lower - separated from the upper merely by a board floor - to the burial of the dead. In this place, 60 feet by 29 and 6 deep, 12,000 bodies have been interred! It was dangerous to sit in the church ; faintings occurred every day in it, and sickness, and for some distance about it, life was not safe. And yet people not really knowing the state of things, never thought of laying anything to the vault under the chapel.
   
But perhaps the reader will exercise his arithmetical powers, and say that it would be impossible to bury 12,000 persons in so small a place, within twenty years. He does not understand the manner in which the speculating parson managed his affairs. It came out before the Committee of the House of Commons, that sixty loads of mingled dirt and human remains were carted away from the vault at different times, and thrown into the Thames the other side of Waterloo Bridge. Once a portion of a load fell off in the street, and the crowd picked up out of it a human skull. It was no longer safe to cart away the remains, and yet the reverend speculator could not afford to lose his fine income from the burials, and so his ever-busy intellect invented a novel mode of getting rid of the bodies - he used great quantities of quicklime! But quicklime would not devour coffins, and so they were split up and burnt in secret by the owner of the chapel. several witnesses swore to this before the Committee. Said one of them:
    "I have seen the man and his wife burn them it is quite a common thing."

London by Day and Night, by David W.Bartlett, 1852

At the time I attended it, there were interments, and the place was in a filthy state: the smell was most abominable and very injurious; I have frequently gone home myself with a severe headache, which I suppose to have been occasioned by the smell, more particularly in the summer time; also, there were insects, something similar to a bug in shape and appearance, only with wings, about the size of a small bug; I have seen in the summertime hundreds of them flying about in the chapel; I have taken them home in my hat, and my wife has taken them home in her clothes; we always considered that they proceeded from the dead bodies underneath. 
Samuel Pitts, cabinet maker and regular attendee at Enon 1828 - 1834. Testimony to Select Committee quoted in 'The Changing Face of Death' (Jupp and Howard)


Dancing on the Dead


Almshouse Ground, Clements Lane.

This map of c 1800 shows the almshouse ground (marked in red) south of the row of almshouses and north of other buildings, presumably shops. A cheery outlook for the residents. According the The Times the ground did not come into use until 1802. It is now part of the open space to the west of the Law Courts. 

At the bottom - the south end - of this Lane, is another burying place, belonging to the alms houses, within a few feet of the Strand. This place is, I believe, filled with dead; many of the coffins being near the surface. (Walker 1839)


The Site today

Rolls Chapel

In the Liberty of the Rolls, since 1922 part of Westminster. Despite much protest, the much rebuilt medieval chapel was largely demolished in 1895 and replaced with a new building on the site. Some of the monuments were kept, though  Mrs Holmes tells us that the vault (containing the remains of the disgraced speaker John Trevor, amongst others ) disappeared at this time. 
  I have seen reference to a small burial ground somewhere near, but have no hard information.


Rolls Chapel in 1800