I visited the Bunhill Fields Burial Ground this morning. Near the Old Street roundabout in City Road, the burial ground is sandwiched between the latter road and Bunhill Row. Its main alley is a popular pedestrian path, especially during the evening rush hour.
Although never consecrated, the site had long been used for the disposal of human bones (hence its name, which derives from “Bone Hill”) and from the middle of the 17th century, it became a graveyard for Nonconformists. By the time it was closed to burials in 1854, it contained some 123,000 graves. Views such as the above give credence to that figure.
Beside the tightly packed graveyard is this open area with benches which must be quite pleasant in summer. In 1867, an Act of Parliament preserved Bunhill Fields as an “Open Space” to be enjoyed by the public. It was subsequently redesigned to that effect.
A number of famous people are buried here, though in some cases the exact location of their graves is in doubt, apparently. While most graves are confined within iron railings, a few are free-standing, like the above.
In a paved area, we find the tomb of the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan. The tomb was restored in 1862, which accounts for its relatively good condition, though the effigy is rather eroded.
I found the above memorial rather eye-catching among the ground burials and box-shaped tombs. I think there was only one other like it in the entire graveyard. It commemorates the author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders and what intrigued me about it was that it had been paid for by children. The inscription on the side explains:
I can’t help thinking that if someone proposed such a project today it would arouse considerable criticism. Note also the unusual spelling of the writer’s surname.
Bunhill Fields inevitably attracts pigeons and whenever I stopped to take a photo, a crowd of them came to join me, hoping I was about to distribute food. Along with the pigeons, though, there were other creatures and I even heard a woodpecker drilling away high in the branches of the ancient trees. If you look carefully at the above picture, you might see a bird-feeder hanging in the nearest tree.
Besides those of writers, other famous names occur on the stones, many of which are now illegible. Titles and honorifics abound and as usual, women often seem to survive their husbands, acquiring in the process the – to us – strange designation of “relict”.
And what do we make of this intriguing inscription? At first sight, it seems to be a testimony to friendship carried faithfully unto the grave and as such is quite moving. Then we see this phrase: “early allied in blood to the illustrious house of Percy”.
Possibly, this refers to the so called “Kings of the North”, the Percy (or Perci) family, powerful in the Middle Ages. But what does “early allied in blood” mean? The word “blood” implies family descent but why, then, “early allied”, as if to say that she became a relative of the Percy clan only after birth? I do not know and must leave it for the present as a paradox.