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St Mary-le-Strand
and the Savoy
Key:  Current observations and notes   Holmes (1897)     Other sources      maps


A very old parish. The original St Mary's was founded c. 1150, and became a parish in 1239. In 1548 The church was demolished and the original burial ground lost  when Somerset House was built.  The church was not replaced until 1724 when the present church was consecrated.

St. Mary le Strand Churchyard.

Small, paved enclosure. Originally more extensive, but lost to the widening of The Strand in the eighteenth century. 
At the west end of the church, about 200 square yards in size, closed and not well kept. (Holmes) 


Additional ground, Russell Court.
Closed 1853, asphalted 1886, maintained as a playgound by 1896. Removed to make way for York Street (Now Tavistock St.) 1997. to a as a playground  and area now completely redeveloped - see photograph below. 
 430 square yards. It is probable that few grounds in London were more overcrowded with bodies than this one, which was entirely surrounded by the backs of small houses. When closed in 1853 it was in a very disgusting and unwholesome condition, and it continued to be most wretched until the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association asphalted it in 1886. It is maintained as a children's playground by the London County Council. This is the scene of " Tom all Alone's" in "Bleak House." There are 6 gravestones against the wall.  (Holmes 1897)
RUSSELL COURT, DRURY LANE.- This BURYING GROUND belongs to the parish of St. Mary le Strand; in its original state it was below the level of the adjoining ground, - now, the surface is on a line with the first floor windows of the houses entirely surrounding this place. It has long been in a very disgusting condition, but within the last month the surface has been " cleaned up," and the whole may now be called " the whited sepulchre." A man who had committed suicide was buried here on the 20th May, 1832; the body was in the most offensive condition, and was placed within a very little distance of the surface.
About twenty years ago, Mr. ----- , a very respectable tradesman in the neighbourhood, was employed to make a" cold air drain" at the west end of this ground; for this purpose it was necessary to cut through the wall of an adjoining house ; on taking up the ground floor of this house, large quantities of human bones were found scattered about, - it was supposed they had been dragged thither by rats, vast numbers of which annoy the inhabitants in the proximity of this burying ground.  
(Walker 1839)

The exact situation of the graveyard is not defined in the novel;  (i.e. Bleak House) but it was evidently near Lincoln's Inn, and Mr. Winter told us, in one of his delightful London letters, that it was also near Drury Lane. So strangely hidden away is it among close and dirty houses that it was only after three long searches through all the courts thereabouts that I found the "reeking little tunnel," and twice I passed the entrance without observing it. Opening out of Drury Lane, at the back and side of the theater, is a network of narrow, flagged passages built up with tall houses. There are rag and waste-paper shops in this retreat, two or three dreadful little greengrocers' stalls, a pawnbroker's, a surprising number of cobblers, and in the core of the place, where the alley widens into the semblance of a dwarfed court, a nest of dealers in theatrical finery, dancing-shoes, pasteboard rounds of beef and cutlets, stage armor, and second-hand play-books. Between Marquis Court on the one hand, Russell Court on the other, and a miserable alley called Cross Court which connects them, is what appears at first sight to be a solid block of tenements. The graveyard is in the very heart of this populous block. The door of one of the houses stood open, and through a barred staircase window at the back of the entry I caught a glimpse of a patch of grass—a sight so strange in this part of London that I went around to the other side of the block to examine further.

There I found the "reeking little tunnel." It is merely a stone-paved passage about four feet wide through the ground floor of a tenement. House doors open into it. A lamp hangs over the entrance. A rusty iron gate closes it at the farther end. Here is the "pestiferous and obscene church-yard," completely hemmed in by the habitations of the living. Few of the graves are marked, and most of the tombstones remaining are set up on end against the walls of the houses. Perhaps a church stood there once, but there is none now. Though burials are no longer permitted in this hideous spot, the people of the block, when they shut their doors at night, shut the dead in with them. The dishonoring of the old graves goes on briskly. Inside the gate lay various rubbish: a woman's boot, a broken coal scuttle, the foot of a tin candlestick, fragments of paper, sticks, bones, straw—unmentionable abominations; and over the dismal scene a reeking, smoke-laden fog spread darkness and moisture.
Contemporary, unfortunately unassigned, account of the appearance c. 1900. The spelling suggests an American author. 
The suggestion that this is the model for the Bleak House ground is very convincing, but is not confirmed by Dickens who indicates the ground in Drury Lane just round the corner. (See St Martin in the Fields)


Present site of Russell Court Ground

The Churchyard of the Chapel Royal  (Savoy Chapel)
Correct dedication St John the Baptist. Site curtailed during 19th century.  

St. Mary's, Savoy.½ acre. This ground was much used for the interment of soldiers. It belongs to Her Majesty the Queen, as Duchess of Lancaster, and was laid out as a public garden at the cost of the Queen, the Earl of Meath, and others. It is well maintained by the parish. (Holmes)


2003 - the donkey has been replaced by a portable lavatory.

Lost Grounds

Other burial
grounds in the Savoy. 
Rocque's map of the Savoy area shows the German church (bottom) a Dutch Church, and a French church. There are three grounds shown: the existing ground attached to the Savoy chapel ('St John's) one to the north of the German Chapel, and one called the 'Jesuit's ground'. This is curious, as all three chapels were protestant.  To which chapel these latter two grounds were attached is not clear. All now built over with various office blocks.

Old Somerset House Chapel and  Cemetery 
 Now covered by  Somerset House. between 1630 and 1635 a chapel was built for Henrietta Maria, consort of Charles 1st.  It became a highly regarded place for burial amongst Catholics, and in 1639 the artist Orazio Gentileschi, who had been working for Henrietta,  was buried there. Somerset house was completely rebuilt in the late 18th century, and the chapel was destroyed. But what happened to Orazio? I have been unable to find out. 
Cemetery of old St. Mary le Strand  
on the site of Somerset House. This was enlarged in 1355.