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Portsoken Ward
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Existing ground

St. Botolph’s Churchyard, Aldgate.
Curtailed to the north by widening of Botolph Street. No ground left to South or East. A heavily used and overcrowded ground. The plague pit in this churchyard is described by Defoe in Journal of the Plague Year.

¼ acre -  laid out by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association.

ALDGATE CHURCH YARD.- The state of this burying ground is truly alarming. The fatal occurrence which took place in September, 1838, during the opening of a grave (the particulars of which will be found below), not only excited considerable alarm at the moment, but must convince the most sceptical, of the dangers of inhumation in the church yards of the metropolis. This ground is crowded to excess.
The inscription on a tomb-stone in front of the High Street, is worth preserving:-

" Sacred to the memory of Thomas Ebrail, Citizen and Corn Meter, who was shot by a Life Guardsman, on the 9th April, 1810, in the shop of Mr. Goodire, Fenchurch Street, and died on the 17th of the same month, in the 24th year of his age.

The Coroner's Inquest brought in a verdict, Murdered by a Life Guardsman, unknown.

" Thus saith the Lord God, my right hand shall not spare the sinners, and my sword shall not cease over them that shed innocent blood upon the earth.” - Second Esdras, c. 15, v. 21, 22.
Also of Thomas Ebrall, who, worn out with grief for the loss of the above dutiful Son, departed this life August 23d, 1810, aged 48 years.  (Walker)


On Friday evening, an inquest was held in the Committee Room of the Workhouse, of the parish of St. Botolph's, Aldgate, on the bodies of Thomas Oakes, the grave digger belonging to Aldgate Church, and Edward Luddett, a fish dealer, at Billingsgate market, who came by their deaths on that forenoon under the following circumstances :-Mr. Edward Cheeper, the master of the work-house, stated, that about eleven o'clock, while passing through Church Passage, Aldgate, he heard the loud screams of a female in the church yard, and he instantly hastened to the spot, and looking into the grave, about twenty feet deep, at the north side of the church yard, he saw the deceased grave digger, Oakes, lying on his back apparently dead. A ladder was instantly procured, and the deceased young man, Luddett, who by this time, with several others, had been attracted to the spot, instantly volunteered to descend to the assistance of Oakes. On his reaching the bottom of the grave, witness called out to him to place the ropes under the arms of Oakes, and the instant he stooped to raise the head of Oakes, he appeared as if struck with a cannon ball, and fell back with his head in a different direction to his fellow sufferer, and appeared instantly to expire. King, the former grave digger, made two or three ineffectual attempts to descend, but so foul was the air, that he was obliged to be drawn up again, and it was full twenty-five minutes, or half an hour, before the bodies were taken up by means of a hook attached to a rope. Every possible exertion had been made to recover the bodies, and the conduct of the medical gentleman, Mr. Jones, who promptly attended, was beyond all praise.

Mr. Davis, a member of the Society of Friends, residing in Church Passage, corroborated the last witness, and said he was on the spot, and that every exertion had been used to get up the bodies. 

William Mallin deposed, that he and the deceased (Luddett), who was a friend of his, were accidentally passing by the church yard, when they heard that a man was suffocated in a grave, and Luddett volunteered to descend the ladder.

Mrs. Mary Fleetwood stated, that she was the daughter of Philip, the sexton, and her father not being well on that morning, it was the duty of Oakes to ring the chimes at half past ten o'clock, and she finding that he had not done so, went to look for him, and ultimately proceeded to the grave, where she saw him lying at the bottom. She instantly gave an alarm, and Mr. Cheeper and other persons were soon on the spot. The grave was what was termed a deep grave, and had been opened for about four weeks.

Juror ( Mr. Heard, a Common Councilman of Holborn.) -Was not this grave what is called a pauper's grave ?

Witness.- It was, Sir.- The witness proceeded to state, that such graves as those were kept open until there were seventeen or eighteen bodies interred in them; there was only the body of a still-born infant in the one in question. It was not the custom to put any earth between the coffins in those graves, except in cases where the persons died of contagious diseases, and in that case some slaked lime and a thin layer of earth were put down to separate them. The practice of digging deep graves had been adopted by order of the Churchwardens five or six years ago. Witness knew of instances, wherein grave diggers could not go down a grave, owing to the foulness of the air  but she was not aware that the fact had been made known to the Churchwardens. On such occasions, they (the deceased, and his predecessor King) Were in the habit of burning straw, and using other means to dispel the impure air, and then going down. The deceased had been employed as a grave digger about six months, and was, she should think, about 53 years of age. William Thomas King, the late grave digger to the parish, made one or two ineffectual attempts to descend, but without being able to succeed. Mr. Jones, surgeon, of Jewry Street, stated, that a little before eleven o'clock, he proceeded to the church yard, when he found a young man about to descend into the grave. Having at once discovered that the cause of the death of the unfortunate men was carbonic acid gas, generated from decayed animal matter, he would not permit the party to go down, as not the slightest hopes could be entertained of saving the lives of those who were already at the bottom. The body of the young man was the first taken up, and though he (Mr. Jones) had not the slightest hope of restoring animation, he used every remedy, but of course without effect. The case of the other man was beyond all hope. The witness, on being asked his opinion, as to the effect of keeping a grave open a couple of months, replied, that the noxious effluvia from it must be very injurious to health. Mr. Townley, a respectable tradesman, residing close to the church, complained of the practice adopted in the church yard, which he said was most distressing to the sight, and injurious to the health of the inhabitants of that crowded neighbourhood, and he hoped something would be done about it. Mr. Tyars, the Deputy of the Ward, said, he had on several occasions sent a presentment, expressing in the strongest language he could use, to the Archdeacon of the diocese, or his Surrogate, descriptive of the filthy state of the vaults and the burying ground, but no notice had been taken of the evil. He would appeal to the medical gentleman present (Mr. Jones), if burials in a densely populated neighbourhood were not most injurious to health; and for his own part, he hoped the time was not distant when such a practice would be discontinued. Mr. Jones confirmed the opinion of Mr. Tyars. The jury then retired to the inquest room, and the Coroner having summed up the evidence, they returned a verdict of ‘accidental death’ in both cases.

Copied from the Weekly Dispatch of the 9th Sept. 1838, quoted in Walker.


West of church, 2004. Site of Defoe's plague pit

North of church, 2002

Rocque. Churchyard has been much curtailed since then.

Lost grounds

Holy Trinity, Minories.
On the site of the Abbey of the Minories, a convent. Became a parish after the dissolution of the monasteries. Church closed 1899, Destroyed by bombing 1941.At the bend in the road in Clare Street.  Now built on - no trace.