londonburials.co.uk
Home page
     Introduction    Books     Links   City    North London   South London

St Pancras
Grounds north of the Euston Rd
Key:  current observations and notes   Holmes (1897)     other sources     maps


St. Pancras Burial-ground, Pancras Road.
St. Giles in  the  Fields Burial-ground, Pancras Road.
All one open space, though it is fairly clear which part was which. The St Giles additional ground was opened in the 1780s, though not much loved by the parishioners, one of whom prepared this little speech for the churchwardens:

'As I have a mind to be exact, I have penned down my sentiments on this here bit of paper: I object to the burying-ground that is offered to this parish, for this reason, Mr Churchwarden, that I am sure that no man in his senses would go so far to be buried: In the next place, Mr Church-warden, I am told (for I know nothing but what I am told) that it is so improper a place for a burying-ground, that before a man can lay his head down in the ground, Mr Church-warden, he will certainly be drowned with water.' ( The Times, March 8th 1780)

Now further reduced as part has been taken recently for widening the railway into St. Pancras for Eurostar trains - it is now behind a forbidding wall.  Otherwise still very much as described by Mrs Holmes below - an oasis in a busy part of London, with rather more gravestones than is usual these days still in situ. The 'dome' has a display panel giving information on the ground's links with Thomas Hardy, who in his architectural days  supervised the exhumations and reshaping of the ground when the original Midland Railway railway was built in 1866. (Mrs Holmes date given below is incorrect.)   It's interesting to speculate on what effect this rather gruesome and unpleasant task had on his later writing - there are certainly echoes in many of the poems:

O passenger, pray list and catch
Our sighs and piteous groans,
Half stifled in this jumbled patch
Of wrenched memorial stones!


We late lamented, resting here
Are mixed to human jam
And each to each exclaims in fear
I know not which I am!

 (The levelled Churchyard) 


There is a large memorial to the French émigrés mentioned by Holmes; presumably their remains were reburied underneath.  
Mentioned in A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens with reference to body snatching. 
   During the recent work on the railway extension the coffin of Arthur-Richard Dillon, Archbishop of Narbonne, was discovered. A somewhat colourful character, He took refuge in England when his Archbishopric was abolished in 1790, and died in 1806. The body was found complete with its Sèvres porcelain false teeth. The teeth are now on show in the Museum of London; Dillon himself was reburied in Narbonne Cathedral in 2006.  

There was a fracas here in June of 1821. A Mr Coleman was passing by with his servant when he was shot at from the ground around midnight; luckily for Mr Coleman, the shot narrowly missed. This was not the first time this had happened; a similar incident had occurred the previous Sunday morning.
  Sometime later an Irish bricklayer from Drury Lane was discovered in the ground armed with a pistol, a razor, an old sword concealed in an umbrella and two knives; he was, apparently,  well supplied with tobacco and porter. He claimed that he was there merely to defend the corpse of a recently deceased relative. The pistol did not appear to have been used recently, but the Irishman was detained pending further enquiries. (The Times, June 19th 1821)
  This report illustrates the point that Holmes makes; the ground was a popular burial place for Catholics, as its history stretched back before the reformation.  The ground is a long walk from Drury Lane. 

Burial place of Johann Christian Bach (d. 1782) John Soane, (d. 1837) , his wife, and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Mother of Mary Shelley (d.1797), later moved to Bournemouth.

These two grounds now form one garden, about 6 acres in extent, maintained with much care for the use of the public by St. Pancras Vestry .St. Giles' ground dates from 1803, but the other is much older. In 1889 part of St. Pancras ground was acquired under a special Act by the Midland Railway Company. This part was, in 1
791, assigned to the French  émigrés, and many celebrated Frenchmen and Roman Catholics were buried there. Part of it has not actually been built upon, as the railway goes over it on arches. There are many high stacks of tombstones in the garden, and a "trophy" and a "dome" of headstones, numbering 496, which were taken from the part acquired by the railway.
 (Holmes)

The appearance presented by the ground of Old St. Pancras's parish is very extraordinary. Unaided imagination would scarcely reach to it, and we have therefore pencilled down its general aspect. An account of the number of bodies here deposited would startle the most apathetic.
    St. Pancras' ground is truly a distressing sight. The stones - an assembly of reproachful spirits - are falling all ways; the outbuildings put up on its confines are rent, and the paved pathways are everywhere disrupted, such is the loose and quaking state of the whole mass. The practice of pit-burial is still continued in this ground. When we were there last, we found a hole with six coffins in it, waiting its complement of about double that number
!
  (London Shadows, by George Godwin, 1854
)


Of the difficulty experienced in carrying the railway through the graveyard of Old St. Pancras Church, and also through that of St. Giles's parish which adjoins it, without any unavoidable disturbance of the dead, we have spoken in a previous chapter; but we may add here, that, though every precaution was taken by the agents of the Midland Railway Company, a most serio-comic incident occurred during the process. The company had purchased a new piece of ground in which to re-inter the human remains discovered in the part which they required. Among them was the corpse of a high dignitary of the Roman Catholic Church in France. Orders were received for the transshipment of the remains to his native land, and the delicate work of exhuming the corpse was entrusted to some clever gravediggers. On opening the ground they were surprised to find the bones, not of one man, but of several. Three skulls and three sets of bones were yielded up by the soil in which they had lain mouldering. The difficulty was how to identify the bones of a French ecclesiastic amid so many. After much discussion, the shrewdest of the gravediggers suggested that, as he was a foreigner, the darkest-coloured skull must be his. Acting upon this idea, the blackest bones were sorted and put together, until the requisite number of lefts and rights were obtained. These were reverently screwed up in a new coffin, conveyed to France, and buried again with all the "pomp and circumstance" of the Roman Catholic Church.
    (Agar Town and the Midland Railway',   Old and New London: Volume 5 (1878) From British History on Line. )


Early print


The Dome



The new wall




Mid nineteenth Century view


The French Monument


The Soane Monument

St Martin’s in the Fields Burial-ground in Pratt Street.

Ground purchased by St Martin in the Fields in 1805.  In use until 1856, at first for St Martin's parishioners (mainly the poor) then later for other parishes. 
Now a not especially exciting open space, with gravestones around the edge. To the south these have been arranged in a rather odd herring-bone pattern for no obvious reason. 
Over 18,000 burials recorded at the site. 

1¾ acres. This was consecrated in 1805; It is now a well-kept public garden under the control of the St. Pancras Vestry. A part appears to have been appropriated as a private garden for the almshouses and as a site for a chapel and other buildings. (Holmes)

On Saturday morning, about 4 o’clock, a party of resurrection men scaled the walls of St Martin’s burying-ground situated in the fields at the back of Camden-town, for the purpose, as it is supposed, of stealing the body of a grenadier nearly 7 feet high, who had died in the poor-house of that parish, and had been buried in the above mentioned place of interment. The sexton, to guard the ground, had, more ingeniously than lawfully, put together a number of gun-barrels so as to form a magazine, that they might all be discharged together. After burying the bodies of the paupers, he made it a practice to direct the muzzle of this formidable engine towards the mound of earth which was the general receptacle for the dead parochial poor, and having a string fixed to the trigger, he fastened the other end of it round a large piece of wood, which he buried in the grave about a foot below the surface of the ground, so that if anyone should attempt to dig, they must necessarily remove the above piece of wood, the string would pull the trigger, and a volley of bullets would immediately sweep that quarter of the burying ground. On the morning in question, about half past 4, he heard a tremendous report, and concluding it was his new piece of ordnance, he went out as soon as possible, and on arriving at the guarded spot, he found some spades, shovels, pick-axes, and other resurrection paraphernalia. Among other things he found a man’s hat, through one side of which a bullet had evidently passed; but from there being no track on the other side of it, it is concluded that the bullet had lodged in the head of the owner and killed him, and that he had been carried off by his associates. (The Times, Jan 29, 1817)

 


Thanks to Sophie Marton for the lower three pictures

St. James’s Burial-ground,  Hampstead Road.
In use from around 1780 - 1853 as an extra-parochial ground for St James Piccadilly. Quite an extensive area, now with tennis courts and a children's playground. Rather gloomy. Gravestones around the edge, some in the herringbone pattern described above - a speciality of this part of the London Borough of Camden. The improvements mentioned by Holmes were the resiting of Cardington Street, probably due to the enlargement of Euston Station, during the 1870s or 80s.

This belongs to the parish of St. James, Piccadilly. It was laid out as a public garden in 1887, and is maintained by the St. Pancras Vestry, a large slice at the east end having been taken off for public improvements. The remaining portion measures about 3 acres. (Holmes)



St James Cemetery, Highgate.
 One of the 'Big Seven' cemeteries, well known as the burial place of Karl Marx and a major tourist attraction.  The links page has a link to the Highgate cemetery website.
38 acres. First used in 1839. In 50 years 76,000 interments had taken place. It is in two portions and situated on a steep slope. Open daily. (Holmes)

Vault: Camden Chapel

Anglican. Built 1824. originally Camden Chapel, associated with the burial ground in Pratt Street. It became All Saints, with it's own parish, in 1852. In 1948 it became All Saints Greek Orthodox Cathedral. It is well maintained.  The fate of the vault burial not known.


Camden Chapel

Possible vaults:
St Mary's Eversholt St   (St Mary's Somers Town)  
Built 1822-4
Still standing - an early gothic revival church rather sneered at by architectural historians. Vaults unlikely.
Christchurch Albany Street 
Consecrated 1837. Now Antiochan Orthodox Church named St George's Cathedral. Somewhat dilapidated.


St Mary's Somers Town


Christchurch Albany St

St Michael's Highgate
Built 1831-2 on the site of the old Grammar school chapel dating from the 16th c. Extensive burial records from 1603. 

Kentish Town Church
Highgate Rd. Dedication St John the Baptist. Built 1783, rebuilt 1843-5. No longer in use. 
Click here for a note on church and vault burials.

To burial grounds south of the Euston Rd