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St Martin's in the Fields
Key:    Current observations and notes   Holmes (1897)     Other sources         Maps

As its name suggests, a large rural parish until the seventeenth century.Subdivided into a number of smaller parishes over the years, the first being St Anne Soho in 1687. 
St. Martin’s Churchyard.
Famous burials include the Physicist Robert Boyle (d 1691) Nell Gwynne, (d 1687) Newgate prison escapee Jack Sheppard  (hanged 1724) and furniture maker Thomas Chippendale (d 1779).
Area around church now paved and used as an outdoor market selling mainly tourist tat. Originally the churchyard extended much further to the south. (See map below.) Under redevelopment 2006.
    The extensive burial ground, containing an estimated 60-70,000 burials,  was emptied and replaced by Duncannon Street and buildings to the South in 1827/30. At the same time burial vaults around and under the church were greatly extended.  These were cleared in 1937. Full English breakfasts are now served where coffins once mouldered. 
    The parish was always short of burial space. Apart from the grounds mentioned on this page,  an extra-parochial ground in Pratt Street, St. Pancras, was consecrated in 1805; see the St. Pancras page for details. 

acre. This is stone-paved, has trees and seats in it supplied by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, and is maintained by the vestry. (Holmes)

ST. MARTIN IN THE FIELDS.-The old burying ground adjoining the church has been broken up for the purpose of making improvements in the city of Westminster; the dead were disinterred, and their remains removed to vaults, called catacombs. This circumstance is commemorated by the following inscription, on the north side of St. Martin's church :-

“ These catacombs were constructed at the expense of the Commissioners of his Majesty's Woods and Forests, in exchange for part of the burial ground of this parish, on the south side of the church, given up for the public improvements, and were consecrated by the Lord Bishop of London on the 7th day of June, 1831. The Rev. Geo. Richards, D.D. Vicar; John Smith, James Aldridge, Churchwardens."

The description of the new vaults is taken from the Sunday Times of June 12th, 1831 :-

“The new vaults under St. Martin's burying ground are the most capacious structure of the sort in London. They were opened on Tuesday, at the consecration of the new burial ground. They consist of a series of vaults, running out of one another in various directions; they are lofty, and when lighted up, as on Tuesday, really presented something of a comfortable appearance. Some of the vaults having been quite filled with the coffins taken out of the old burying grounds, have been blocked up at both ends, - in fact, hermetically sealed, a plan which is to be adopted with the other vaults in succession, when the cold tenants shall be sufficiently numerous. They are of tolerable height; about; ten feet to the turn of the arch, twenty in width, and nearly forty in length; capable of holding, we should suppose, one thousand coffins each. They are white-washed around, and at top, and the flagging at the bottom keeps them dry beneath the foot. All the leaden coffins, removed from the burial ground, are placed in one vault. On the end of one conspicuously placed beneath a grating, through which the light descends, was inscribed the name of Lady Hannah Gordon. There are arcades or corridors leading to the vaults, which branch off right and left, along which are ranges of head-stones, recording the names of individuals whose bones, removed from their old resting place, repose beneath. These have a handsome appearance, lying as they do, at either side, close to the wall, and looking somewhat like an artificial balustrade, flanking the wall in the centre. Crowds of ladies perambulated the vaults for some time, and the whole had more the appearance of a fashionable promenade than a grim repository of decomposing mortality ."  (Walker 1839)

Early 19th c. view showing wall of burial ground.

Pre 1792 showing old church - burial ground to the right.

Additional ground in Drury Lane.
Once one of the most appalling grounds in London. Described by the Board of Health as notorious when still open in 1850: “ the ground, according to the statement of the sexton, often feels quite greasy to the touch” The Times in 1843 reported that a family would not accept a burial in a 2.5 ft deep hole so the diggers pickaxed open a coffin, “exposing the mortal remains of its pale tenant”, tipped out the corpse, “smashing and mixing it up with the clay”, and then dug up two more coffins.
Now a pleasant garden with a children's playground. Mortuary chapel and watch house remain.
If Dickens' recollections are accurate (see below) then this is the model from the burial ground in Bleak House. Presumably the entry to the ground at that time was through Crown Court, and the ground was walled off along Drury Lane. Horwood does not confirm this layout. 
Most writers claim the Russell Court Ground to be the model (See St Mary-le-Strand.) This is much closer to the description in Bleak House. However, arriving at that ground would involve turning right at the Drury Lane Theatre rather than left
   Walker describes  this as the Drury Lane Burying Ground, which would suggest an entrance there - between the watch house and chapel, as today.
The mystery remains. 

Less than ¼ acre. Laid out as a public garden, and now maintained by the vestry. It is well kept, and contains some gymnastic apparatus for the use of the children. Also called the Tavistock burial-ground. 

DRURY LANE BURYING GROUND belongs to the parish of St. Martin's in the Fields; - many thousands of bodies have been here deposited. The substratum was, some years since, so saturated with dead, that the place " as shut up" for a period. The ground was subsequently raised to its present height-level with the first floor windows surrounding the place, and in this superstratum vast numbers of bodies have, up to this period, been deposited. A short time since a pit was dug ( a very common practice here) in one corner of the ground; in it many bodies were deposited at different periods, the top of the pit being covered only with boards. This ground is a most intolerable and highly dangerous nuisance to the entire neighbourhood. Rather more than two years ago, in making three areas to the centre houses on the western side of this burying ground, many bodies were disturbed and mutilated; the inhabitants of the houses are frequently annoyed by the most disgusting and repulsive sights.
(Walker 1839)

Letter to Miss Palfrey, 4th April 1868. 
Convey yourself back to London by the agency of that powerful locomotive, your imagination, and walk through the centre avenue of Covent Garden market from West to East:- that is to say, with your back towards the church, and your face towards Drury Lane Theatre. Keep straight on along the side of the theatre, and about half way down, on the  left side of the way, behind the houses, is a closely hemmed-in grave yard - happily long disused and closed by the law. I do not remember that the graveyard is accessible from the street now, but when I was a boy it was to be got at by a low covered passage under a house, and was guarded by a rusty iron gate. In that churchyard I long afterwards buried the "Nemo" of Bleak House. 
Charles Dickens.



Lost grounds
St. Martin's additional ground- An extensive ground to the North-west on the other side of St Martin's Lane. Built over in 1772 - the parish workhouse. This was demolished in 1871 to make way for the northern extension of the National Gallery.

Roque showing ground around the church and additional ground to the NW. 

Burial-ground for the Friends (Quakers)  of the Westminster Division
In the area originally bounded by Long Acre, Castle, Hanover and King Streets. Approached by a court in Long Acre. In use 1675 - 1716 and possibly later. 
Meeting house, but not the burial ground, appears on Rocque on the east side of  Hanover Street  (Spelt Hannover.  Now Endell Street.)

Burial-ground of St. Mary
 Rounceval Convent. 
Pre-reformation. Northumberland House was built on the site of the convent, and this in turn was pulled down when Northumberland Avenue was cut through in 1874. 


Alms House Ground Crown Street, Soho. 

Consecrated c 1685, 
This was an additional ground for the Parish of St Martin in the Fields, although by the date of consecration it was actually in the parish of St Anne Soho. It was associated with St Martin's Almshouses.
  This small triangualar  ground was on the north side of a church, though not associated with it. The church has a fascinating history. It was built  c 1680 as the first Greek Orthodox church in Britain, and  was immediately (and unjustly) embroiled in the Popish plot. It did not remain a Greek Church for long and it became a French Protestant chapel around 1682.  Calvinists took over in 1822, and it became  an Anglican chapel of ease to St Anne in 1850, finally becoming the parish church of St Mary the Virgin Crown Street (Later Charing Cross Rd) in 1854. It was closed in 1932 and demolished by 1934.
   The burial ground disappeared in 1823 when a  schoolroom was built on the site. This school later became the St Martin's College of Art, which spread to the site of the church after demolition. It remains on the site today. 

Rocque. Crown Street was then Hog Lane.

Possible vault
St Michael le Strand, Burleigh Street.
Opened 1833, demolished 1907. Probably not a good candidate as it only became a separate parish in 1849. It stood on the corner of Burleigh St. and Exeter St.