Writers' cemetery gets listed status

22 February 2011
The final resting place of some of the greatest names in English literature has been given Grade I status.

Daniel Defoe, who wrote Robinson Crusoe, and John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress, are among those buried at Bunhill Fields Cemetery in central London.

The poet William Blake is also buried within its walls, although the exact location of his grave is unknown.

The cemetery, in Islington, North London, was established as a nonconformist burial ground in the 1660s and became a public garden in 1869.  By the time it was finally declared full and closed in 1853, at least 120,000 people had been interred in the four acres.

It has been given a Grade I entry on the national Register of Parks and Gardens by English Heritage. This means special consent must be applied for to make any changes to the site.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has also given 75 of its tombs separate Grade II listing.

Previously, the entire area was treated as Grade II-listed structure. David Garrard of English Heritage said: "Bunhill Fields has long fascinated historians and romantics and is considered the terra sancta of English Nonconformity. Few places document religious history as vividly."

"With its distinctive atmosphere and impressive monuments the cemetery offers both solace and beauty in the middle of our busy city."

The land for the cemetery was originally leased from St Paul's Cathedral, which had used it as a dumping ground for bones being cleared from the charnel house and tiny burial ground around the church.

So many cartloads of bones were dumped that the land is said to have risen high enough to support a windmill.

 

"With its distinctive atmosphere and impressive monuments the cemetery offers both solace and beauty in the middle of our busy city.
"Few places nationally document religious history as vividly or with such poignancy as Bunhill Fields and we welcome the minister's endorsement of our advice to list the 75 individual tombs."
unhill Fields cemetery in Islington, north London, where John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe and William Blake are buried. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian
Bunhill Fields, the London cemetery where some of the most radical figures in history lie quietly side by side in unhallowed ground, will today be declared a Grade I park by the government, with separate listings for scores of its monuments.
Pilgrims visit regularly to lay wreaths, including Blake Society members, who come every August on the anniversary of the death of the man who wrote Songs of Innocence and the poem which became the hymn Jerusalem. His bones were lost in a partial clearance and landscaping in the 19th century and the original sites of more burials were lost as a result of 1960s landscaping to repair second world war bomb damage.
Garrard says the burial ground is of unique importance as a vivid example of the London's old cramped cemeteries, with forests of headstones and thousands of graves jammed into every possible space, which shocked the Victorians and were almost all cleared as the large new garden cemeteries opened in the outskirts.
The land for the cemetery was originally leased from St Paul's Cathedral, which had used it as a dumping ground for bones being cleared from the charnel house and tiny burial ground around the church.
So many cartloads of bones were dumped that the land is said to have risen high enough to support a windmill. It was also designated as a plague pit, when – as chronicled by Defoe – thousands were dying in the city every week, but Garrard can find no evidence that plague victims were actually buried there.The cemetery was established as a nonconformist burial ground in the 1660s and became a public garden in 1869. By the time it was finally declared full and closed in 1853, at least 120,000 people had been interred in its four acres.Pilgrims visit regularly to lay wreaths, including Blake Society members, who come every August on the anniversary of the death of the man who wrote Songs of Innocence and the poem which became the hymn Jerusalem. His bones were lost in a partial clearance and landscaping in the 19th century and the original sites of more burials were lost as a result of 1960s landscaping to repair second world war bomb damage.Garrard says the burial ground is of unique importance as a vivid example of the London's old cramped cemeteries, with forests of headstones and thousands of graves jammed into every possible space, which shocked the Victorians and were almost all cleared as the large new garden cemeteries opened in the outskirts.The land for the cemetery was originally leased from St Paul's Cathedral, which had used it as a dumping ground for bones being cleared from the charnel house and tiny burial ground around the church. So many bones were dumped that the land is said to have risen high enough to support a windmill. 

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