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Westminster
(Parishes of St Margaret and St. John)
Key:   Current observations and notes    Holmes (1897)    Other sources     Maps


Additional notes by Brian Firth
The Churchyard of Westminster Abbey.
See St Margaretís. 

What remains of the extensive burial-ground which once occupied this site is the piece of land on the north side of the Abbey, and the cloisters.  (Holmes)
St Margaretís Churchyard.
Things took a long time to improve: as late as 1850 complaints were still being made about the obnoxious state of St Margaret's burial ground.   In 1848, there were 300 burials  annually, coffin remnants were heaped next to the abbey and the smell was sickening, according to The Builder. The level was raised and the ground lawned, burying the remaining stones. The ground was eventually closed for burials in 1853.
     
Now a bland lawn, all of a piece with the Abbey ground. Remains removed to Brookwood in 1855, and again in 1866, after District Railway excavation.

This was laid out as a public garden, and forms one ground with the Abbey churchyard. It is well kept up by the burial board of the parish. The size of the churchyard, with the ground used for interments which belongs to the Abbey, is about 2ľ acres.  
(Holmes)

ST. MARGARET'S, Westminster. (1) - There are two burying grounds belonging to this parish, one near the Abbey, adjoining the church, and the other in the Broadway, Westminster. The latter was formerly used as a burying place for soldiers; that practice has, however, been discontinued, - the ground is excessively crowded; funerals are very frequent. The ground behind the church, is too full to admit of increase, with propriety or safety.  
(1) See the remarks from the Quarterly Review, on the condition of this ground, in the year 1814.
(Walker 1839)


Christ Church Churchyard, Victoria Street  
A very old ground, established around 1640 around a chapel of ease to St Margaret's, later Christ Church, which was bombed in the war.  A number of interesting burials here including Sir William Waller (d.1668) the black writer Ignatius Sancho, (1730 - 1780) and one Margaret Batten, who died in 1739 at the reputed age of 136. Colonel Thomas Blood, crown jewels thief, all-purpose con man and bad guy, was buried here in 1680, but dug up again soon after just to make sure he was really dead. 
Part of the ground was used as a plague pit in 1665. 
Now a public garden. The northern half has been obliterated by a dreadful 60s telephone exchange. Curtailed to the south by Victoria Street. 
There are various pieces of statuary in the garden, including a bizarre memorial to Henry Purcell with flowers coming out of his head. The information board mentions gravestones 'against the wall of the telephone exchange' but I couldn't find these. There is a patch of brambles which might possibly conceal them. 

Also called St. Margaret's burying-ground.This church was a chapel of ease to St. Margaret's. The adjoining graveyard has had a vicarage built in it. What remains is 7,000 square yards in size, closed, with flat tombstones and grass. (Holmes)


Rocque

The view today - a popular feeding place at lunchtime for both people and pigeons


St. John the Evangelist Churchyard, Smith Square.
Entire area south of the church has becoming roadway, leaving the building as an island. The church is now a concert hall; the cleared crypt is a cafe. 
This churchyard used to extend, at the beginning of the century, for some distance on the south side of the church, but was thrown into the road. Now all that remains is a very small bare enclosure, not ľ acre in size, railed in round the church. (Holmes)
There are two other burying grounds near to this spot, belonging to ST. JOHN'S, Westminster, the old and the new ground; the latter filled so fast, that the parish authorities were obliged to employ the old ground again. Soldiers are now buried here. 
(Walker 1839)


Rocque

Additional ground for St. Johnís Parish, Horseferry Road.
Good size open space - some table tombs and gravestones left on the north wall. Packed with people at lunchtime, so still much frequented. 
Because of overcrowding, earth was brought in 3 times to build up this ground. It was extended in 1823 and closed in 1853. It was curtailed and landscaped after road widening in 1884.

Walled in in 1627, and very much used, especially for the burial of soldiers. It is 1Ĺ acres in size, and has been laid out as public garden. It is neatly kept by the vestry, and much frequented.
(Holmes)
ST. JOHN'S BURYING GROUND, Westminster, is very spacious and overcrowded; the churchwardens have been obliged to give up a part of the ground, for the interment of the poor, which had formerly been set apart, for the more fortunate. The soil here is very damp, and, at a shallow depth, the water flows in abundantly; the depth of the graves varies from four to eight feet. (Walker, 1839.) 

  


Rocque

The view today


Vincent Square.
Earl Street is now that part of Marsham St. Between Horseferry Rd and Vincent St. The Plague pits are now presumably underneath government buildings. Vincent square is still school playing fields. 

8 acres.
This is what remains of the Tothill Fields pest-field. It is the playground of Westminster School, and some buildings have been erected in it. A stone- paved yard in Earl Street is said to be the site of the plague pits, now the yard of Her Majesty's Stationary Office, Waste Paper Department. (Holmes)

St Stephen's, Rochester Row
This church was opened (1850) just as the practice of church and vault burial was being outlawed by order in council and the burials act. Nevertheless an exception was made for the body of the patron of the church, Baroness Burdett Coutts, and one Mrs Brown, on condition that the bodies were 'embedded in powdered charcoal, and entombed in well cemenented brickwork'. As it turned out, the Baroness was buried in Westminster Abbey, but one William Brown was buried in the chancel in 1855. I am not sure what happened to Mrs Brown. 

Lost grounds
Millbank Penitentiary Burial-ground.
Appears now to be covered by the site of Millbank Schools. It may be covered by buildings, or under the playground at the rear of the two schools. Shown on O.S. of 1873.

432 square yards in
size. In 1830-33 there were an average of 14 interments per annum, but at times it was more used. The site of this graveyard will be preserved when the space which used to be occupied by the prison is built upon.
(Holmes)

  
"Then as we turned the corner by the general centre tower, at the apex of pentagon 4, we discovered, on the side of the path next the boundary-wall, an oblong piece of land, enclosed within a low black iron rail, and with a solitary cider-tree growing in a round green tuft close beside the fence. This was exactly opposite to the tongue of ground between the pentagons 3 and 4, so that it occupied very nearly the same position at the back of the jail as the outer gate does in front of it.
    "That," said Warder Power, "is the churchyard of the prison. It's no longer used as a burying-place for the convicts now. In the cholera of 1848, so many corpses were interred there that the authorities thought it unhealthy. The bodies of convicts dying in the prison arc buried at the Victoria Cemetery, Mile End, now. After a post-mortem examination has taken place, an officer of the prison goes with the coffin, and is generally the only person present at the ceremony."
    We entered the sad spot, and found the earth arranged in mounds, and planted all over with marigolds, the bright orange flowers of which studded the place, and seemed in the sunshine almost to spangle the surface. At one part were three tombstones, raised to the memory of some departed prison officers; but of the remains of the wretched convicts that lay buried there, not a single record was to be found. It was well that no stone chronicled their wretched fate, and yet it was most sad that men should leave the world in such a way." 
(Henry Mayhew and John Binny, The Criminal Prisons of London, 1862) 


Contemporary print - burial ground to the left,
cabbages to the right.



Sketch map showing site of burial ground


Knightsbridge Green.
The triangular area remains across the road from Harrods . It is paved, with one large tree.
Victims of the plague from the leper hospital and elsewhere were buried here. A grassy, closed triangle opposite Tattersalls.
(Holmes)


Photograph courtesy of Robert Bard

Lost grounds

Buckingham Chapel, Palace Street. 
Site now covered by new mega-development called Cardinal Place. The houses on the opposite side of the road are eighteenth century; they now have to look out on this monstrous development. Some might prefer Walker's annoying effluvium. 

Covered by brewery on south side.
(Holmes)
BUCKINGHAM CHAPEL, situated in Palace Street, about three minutes' walk from Buckingham Palace. There are two vaults and a burying ground belonging to this chapel; one of. the vaults is underneath very large school rooms for boys and girls, where some hundreds of children here receive their daily education, and the other is underneath the chapel; the entrance to these vaults, is through a trap-door, in the passage, dividing the school rooms from the chapel; steps lead to the bottom of the building ; on the right, is the vault underneath the schools. When I visited this place a body had recently been interred, and the effluvium from it was particularly annoying. The vault is supported on wooden pillars, and there is only one grating, which fronts the street, to admit light and air; the floors of the school rooms, white-washed on the under surface, form the roof or ceiling of the vault - it is no difficult matter to see the children in the lower school room from this vault, as there are apertures in the boards sufficiently large to admit the light from above. This place is spacious, but very low; - the vault on the left, under the chapel, is about the same size as that under the schools, though much lower. I was assured that the ground was so full of bodies, that there was difficulty in allotting a grave; the roof of this vault, is formed by the under surface of the floor of the chapel; it is white-washed, the light  passes through it; the smell emitted from this place is very offensive. In the vault underneath the chapel there are piles of bodies placed in lead; the upper ones are within a few inches of the wooden floor.

On a level with the chapel, and behind it and the school rooms, is the burial ground, which is much crowded, - most of the graves being full 7 feet deep, and nearly filled to the surface, with the dead; the ground is raised, more than six feet from the original level, - formed only by the debris of mortality. No funerals are permitted on a Sunday.

Interments are allowed, in either vault, in lead or not ,- if not in lead, two wooden cases are required, a shell, and an outer coffin.
(Walker 1839)


Site of Buckingham Chapel

Romney Street Chapel
Replaced by a large brick office block. Site of the chapel seems to be the entrance yard - being redeveloped June 2004. 

ROMNEY STREET CHAPEL, close to St. John's burial ground.- This is a Baptist place of worship, with vaults underneath, not unlike those under Buckingham chapel, but not so large. The smell from the vaults is exceedingly offensive, and produces a feeling of nausea.

(Walker1839)

Churches that may have had vaults or church burials

St Paul's Wilton Place 
Opened 1843
St Michael's, Chester Square 
(Opened 1846)
Holy Trinity Prince Consort Rd. 
Present church built in 1861, but on the site of of the chapel of Holy Trinity Knightsbridge, which dates back at least to 1629. 

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