Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Bunhill Fields Forever

Here in the states, we just finished Halloween. At my previous home, we had hundreds (no exaggeration—record of 223) of trick-or-treaters show up at the door. Now we live in a more rural area, and some years we have none. I was tickled to have 15 this year. So, in honor of Halloween, I give you a spooky nineteenth century place to consider.

Bunhill Fields.

The area at the edge of London in the nineteenth was used as a burial ground from ancient times. The name, in fact, may derive from the words “Bone Hill.” But its lineage wasn’t the only thing that made it a place that could frighten. Consider the following:

  1. It was originally intended to bury victims of The Plague (though, aside for the pit for the bodies, it doesn’t appear to have served that purpose).
  2. The churchyard at nearby St. Paul’s was crowded enough that when it was time for the next burial, a portion of someone else ended up getting dug up in the process. Those bones were dumped into Bunhill Fields.
  3. The space was never officially consecrated by the Church of England.
  4. Period drawings show gravestones at odd angles and grass growing wildly between the memorials. Someone did put up a spiked gate on the northeast corner, to hinder the work of resurrection men attempting to steal bodies.

Gives one the chills, what.

But the good news is that, because the ground was unconsecrated, those who did not conform to the Anglican Church (for example, Quakers and in some cases Methodists) could be buried there.

By the time Bunhill Fields was closed to new burials in the mid-1800s, it had seen more than 123,000 internments, including the likes of Daniel Defoe and William Blake. In 1867, the city built new walls and gates, laid out paths, and opened it as a public garden. The city even straightened tombstones and recut inscriptions. Iron plaques on the south wall directed visitors to particular plots.

Today, it is a pleasant park, proving that some things need not be scary after all.

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