As I said earlier this week, I had some time off work and yesterday I had arranged to meet my friend Joely in Chelmsford before heading into London in the evening. It would appear I can’t do anything or go anywhere now without checking out a graveyard or two.
In Chelmsford a short walk down from the station there is Chelmsford Cathedral. We wandered around the shops for most of the day but in between we took a little stroll through the grounds of the cathedral. First thing I noticed about the gravestones was those by the cathedral itself were all chilling out on the floor. Monuments still stood on the outskirts but all the normal headstones were flat on their backs. As we walked away I looked back and thought that maybe this was an aesthetic choice, without them being upright you could see clearly across the grounds and maybe the stones were considered an eye sore or a bit morbid and not the look they were going for?
Resting headstones peeking through the grass.
I have done a bit of research on this today, and nowhere on the internet could I find any explanation why these are this way here. There are a series of articles however from the early 2000s when a lot of councils decided that headstones could be a health hazard after a child was killed when one toppled on top of him in 2000, among other accidents and deaths from falling stones in cemeteries.
Whether the headstones in Chelmsford Cathedral Cemetery are flat because of the look or because of safety, it is interesting because my immediate reaction was not one of distaste. To me, if a headstone is upright or flat doesn’t necessarily matter and I feel I would only object if they were removed completely. Although a lot of the articles I found were local media outlets with quite a few enraged family members who’s relatives headstones had been flattened without consultation. I don’t agree with that at all.
Later on in the evening, my other half and I did a mini pub crawl through Shoreditch in the city. In the penultimate pub, I was told ‘There’s another pub not far from here but we have to walk through a graveyard to get there’. So I grinned and agreed that one more pub on the other side of a graveyard was an excellent idea. Some mumbling about how I’m only interested in ‘blog fodder’ and a short walk later and I found myself wandering through the 4 acres and 120,000 graves at Bunhill Fields.
Bunhill Fields Burial Grounds Sign
Bunhill Fields was an open cemetery but is now a public garden and park. It effectively appears as a long path through the middle with fenced off tightly packed headstones along either side. Although, there are other paths and parts that I did not see, a perfect excuse to go back one day. My first thought was that there were largely headstones and minimal monuments here unlike the other cemeteries we have been visiting but I think we missed some of the larger monuments from the other side.
Aren’t the daffodils pretty?!
Burials started on this land in 1665 although it had been used as a kind of cemetery of sorts up until this point just not in an official way. It is believed burials took place here from Saxon times, and a hill of bones (probably influencing the name) was created here after St. Paul’s was demolished and rebuilt. The plague forced a solution for extra burial ground to be found and Bunhill was one such place. In 1854 after nearly 200 years, the cemetery was deemed full and this meant an order for its closure was placed. Interestingly, Bunhill was a place where Nonconformists were buried who were Protestants who did not want to follow the established Church of England. I believe one of the Magnificent Seven we are yet to visit is also a burial ground for these people. It was also known as a site for the burials of many literary figures and somewhere in the mass of graves you can find Daniel Defoe and William Blake. Wikipedia has a long list of notable burials here if you want to know more.
Propped up headstones against the railings
We stumbled upon Bunhill after a few pints and as the sun was setting. We didn’t stop long but it was great to have a visit and see another of London’s cemeteries and find out a bit about it. Next week I have a few more days off and some exciting adventures coming up so watch this space. Lastly, I’d like to mention we went to see the wonderful Wooden Overcoats live last night and if you haven’t checked it out yet then please make sure you do.
Have a great weekend and get in touch if you have any questions or comments- or especially if you know a bit more about the flat headstones in Chelmsford!