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Existing grounds

St. James
The open space has been much extended post-war to the north of the church. The ground to the west of the church is a perfect picture of gothic gloom; the southeast ground is partly paved, and has flower beds. 
Update 2007. The attractive gothic gloom mentioned above has been somewhat compromised by the addition of ugly bright red bars. What are they? Benches? Who thought this was a good idea? 
The crypt was cleared for alternative use  in the early 20th century and 300 coffins stored under the west end of the church.

¾ acre. This ground was purchased in 1673, enlarged in 1677, and is now laid out as a public garden and maintained by the vestry.  (Holmes)

CLERKENWELL CHURCH.- There are four burying grounds belonging to this parish, besides a vault underneath the church; two of the grounds adjoin the church, a third is behind the prison, and the fourth, or poor ground, is in Ray Street, the entrance to which is through a private dwelling house, occupied by a broker.  All these grounds are crowded, and in disorder; in the poor ground  little regard is paid to the depth of the graves, or the removal of the dead. In this filthy neighbourhood fever prevails, and poverty and wretchedness go hand-in-hand.  (Walker 1839)


Southeast ground

West ground - detail from early 19th. Cent Print

West ground, 2004

2007 - with red bars

Additional ground, Bowling Green Lane 
On the corner of Bowling Green Lane and Clerkenwell Close. The school is now closed (See Holmes below) but is still standing and in use for for small businesses and workshops. The burial ground/playground now in use as a car park. 

Update September 2007. The ground is surrounded by high boards bearing 'deep excavation' notices, so it sounds as if the ground is being cleared. 

Also called St. James's middle ground. This was leased by the parish, with the adjoining “Cherry Tree” public-house, in 1775 for 99 years. It is ¼ acre in size, situated at the corner of Rosoman Street and Bowling Green Lane. The London School Board secured it when the lease ran out, and it is now the playground of the Bowling Green Lane School.


View in 2004

View in 2007

St James additional ground, Pentonville Road.
Now Joseph Grimaldi Park: Grimaldi the clown  was buried here in 1837. The ground was nearly lost to development in the 1990s, but the facade of the chapel still exists, as the frontage of a new office block called Onyx house. Grimaldi's tomb is well cared for and the ground is a pleasant garden. The park extends to the north, but this is post-war clearance, not burial ground.   

This was formed as an additional ground for the parish of St. James, Clerkenwell. It is nearly an acre in extent, full of tombstones and very untidy, but the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association has undertaken to convert it into a public garden.

ST. JAMES'S BURYING GROUND, Clerkenwell. -This is a very extensive ground, and many of the lower Irish are buried here; the place appears excessively crowded. The mortality among children in this neighbourhood, within the last two months, has been very great. This will not occasion surprise when the locality of the burying ground, and the filth and wretchedness of the major part of the inhabitants are duly considered. 

View of 1896

Grimaldi's grave

St. John's Churchyard.  
2007 Little changed from Holmes' description below..
What exists of this is between the church and St. John Street, a narrow strip, about 320 square yards in extent, closed and paved with tiles and tombstones. Its laying-out by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association is in hand. (Holmes) 


Crypt of St John's during clearance

See Holborn for St John’s Burial Ground in Benjamin Street.
Spa Fields Burial-ground, Skinner Street. 
South of Spa fields chapel (Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion). This was one of the most appalling grounds in London, with a rapid recycling of grave space and a lot of suspicious burning going on.  In the 50 pages of Burial Ground Incendiarism. The Last Fire at the Bone-House at the Spa-Fields Golgotha (1846) Walker described the burning of coffins and body parts, the gruesome charges of witnesses to the recycling that allowed 1,500 bodies a year to go into an area of 2 acres for 50 years.

In May 0f 1802 the gravedigger, Joseph Naples, was indicted at Clerkenwell sessions for body snatching. Unfortunately for him, he met up with a Bow Street runner one evening, who became suspicious of the large load on Naples's shoulders. When challenged, Naples ran off. The load turned out to be the recently buried bodies of a woman and child. 
It emerged that Naples had been involved in supplying the local hospitals with up to three bodies a day during the winter season, using a basket the hospitals had helpfully provided.  He would also supply just the head of anyone who had died of something particularly interesting. He once offered the local undertaker a range of shrouds, caps, pillows etc., which he claimed were little worse for wear. He refused to buy them. When Naples’s privy was drained, it was found to be full of shrouds. (Report in  The Morning Post and Gazetteer, May 3rd 1802)

Now used as tennis courts, etc. The open space has been extended to the south.
Walker is slightly inaccurate: The chapel  itself was built in 1770 as a place of amusement called The Pantheon, which failed. It was reopened as an Anglican chapel, then purchased by The Countess of Huntingdon who turned it into a nonconformist chapel around 1777. Replaced c.1887 by an Italian Renaissance style church, The Church of our Most Holy Redeeemer, which still stands. A high Anglican church, it claims to be the only Anglican church with a  baldachino altar in Britain. (It isn't: St Mary Woolnoth has one.) Lady Huntingdon would not be pleased. 

Originally a tea-garden, afterwards a burial-ground, managed by a private individual. It is the property of the Marquis of  Northampton, is about 1¾ acres in extent, and in the evenings is occasionally used as a volunteer drill-ground. In 1885 the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association laid it out as a playground, and the London County Council maintains it.

SPA FIELDS.- This ground was originally taken for a tea garden; the speculation failed, and a chapel was built upon it, in which some ministers of the Church of England preached. The Bishop refused to consecrate it, and it was ultimately bought by Lady Huntingdon; she inducted one of her Chaplains, and it is now much frequented. The burying ground is very large, but absolutely saturated with dead.
 This place offers a difficult problem for solution;  no undertaker can explain it, excepting by a shrug of the
shoulders. I can affirm, from frequent personal observation, that enormous numbers of dead have been deposited here.



The view today, looking towards the church. 

Lost grounds
Nun's Burial-ground 

Houses west side of St. James’s Walk cover the site

Corporation Row Burial-pit 
The dwellings mentioned by Holmes are gone - North of Corporation Row is now open ground used as a children's adventure playground called the Three Corners Play and Youth project. 

(Replaced by) Artisans' dwellings on north side. (Holmes)

Priory Cemetery   
St.  John's Square, &c. cover the site.

St. James's Additional Ground, Ray Street 
Lost to Farringdon Rd and the Metropolitan Railway on the construction of the railway. 

It formerly was occupied by a butcher, named Rope, who had his slaughter house and stable at the back, and immediately adjoining the burial ground. About fifteen years ago, during the residence of this man, it was discovered that several bodies had been exhumed and placed in the stable, close to the slaughter-house; the inhabitants of the vicinity were powerfully excited, and the man, who had for many years carried on an extensive business, was deservedly ruined, and driven in disgrace from the neighbourhood.
(Walker 1839)


Possible vault - St Mark's, Myddleton Square (Built 1825-27)
Click here for a note on church and vault burials.