Avenues of Bones.

In my many walks around London this spring and summer, I have come across a forgotten part of this city. Its disused cemeteries.

These cemeteries were used from medieval times and up to the 18th century, when they became overflown and the administration ordered them closed and others built outside of the central part of town.

Cemeteries pushed outside of Central London aside, the reality is that the city is sprinkled with the graves of the past. There are graves sprinkled randomly in between two residential buildings near Blackfriars Bridge. I wouldn’t like to see them if I looked outside my window at night. There are some other graves and mortuary stones sprinkled in a garden not far from St Paul’s Cathedral (again, to give residents something fun to look at night). For sure, graves are under our feet when we walk down the street. It is just that there is no stone to mark them as such.

Back to the old cemeteries for now and to the places that have captured my attention.

Bunhill Row, near Old Street. The resting place of William Blake, Daniel Defoe and John Bunyan, of another 150,000 souls and possibly the most spoiled pigeons and squirrels in the world.

Cross Bones, Southwark. A fence full of mortuary memorabilia signals the presence of this cemetery: cards, photos, ribbons left by those who have lost someone greet visitors at the gate. Cross Bones has been disused for some time now as well, however it is known in London as the cemetery of the destitute. Throughout medieval times and later centuries, it became a burial place for those who society could not bury in “mainstream” places: prostitutes, their babies, and thieves. Of all the cemeteries I have seen this year, this one seemed the saddest. 

St Anne’s Church, Soho. The interesting part about this cemetery is that it lies 2m above ground level due to the high number of people that have been interred here. There are no mortuary stones to signal its existence, only a serene patch of green turf to cover its grounds. As such, it is one of the places that you pass by without much awareness of what lies beneath the ground.

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