Bunhill Fields: Last call for those who don’t conform

Bunhill Fields (technically a burial grounds, not a ‘consecrated’ Church of England cemetery) – its name perhaps derives from a corruption of ‘bonehill,’ in reference to the bones carted away from St. Paul’s Cathedral to make room for new interments.  Located in the London Borough of Islington, the list of those there buried reads like a virtual ‘Who’s Who’ of 17th century Nonconformity. Robert Southey called it the “Campo Santo of the Dissenters,” literally the “holy field,” referring to the Pisan Camposanto Monumentale. It’s the last resting place for an estimated 120,000 bodies marked by 2,333 monuments, mostly simple headstones with the exception of a Victorian addition to Bunyan’s tomb. The cemetery was damaged during WW2 & reconstructed in 1960 to a design by Sir Peter Shepheard (late dean of the Graduate School of Fine Arts & emeritus professor of landscape architecture at the Univ of Pa).  cf. London Non-Conformist registers 1694–1921

 

  • Thomas Wilcox [c.1549 – 1608] – Admonition to the Parliament (1572)
  • John Owen (1616-83), Congregationalist minister, chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Univ.
  • George Fox (1624-1691), founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers) – in the Quaker Gardens, next to the Bunhill Fields Meeting House
  • Richard Cromwell (1626–1712) & Henry Cromwell (1628–74) sons of Oliver Cromwell
  • John Bunyan (1628-1688), author of The Pilgrim’s Progress
  • Daniel Defoe (1661-1731), author of Robinson Crusoe
  • Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John & Charles Wesley; John Wesley’s (founder of Methodism) City Road Chapel, home, & burial place are located directly across the street
  • Isaac Watts (1674-1748), “Father of English hymnody”
  • Thomas Bayes (1702–1761)  Presbyterian minister & mathematician, remembered for his theories regarding statistics & probability.
  • William Blake (1757-1827), painter & poet, & wife Catherine (1762-1831) whom he married in 1782.blakes-tomb

My wife wrote her Master’s thesis on Blake.  Imagine our surprise, as we sat nearby, wondering who would leave freshly cut flowers at his tomb, when the cemetery grounds keeper identified himself as the donor! [Although he had no formal advanced education, he enjoyed reading Blake, & was especially proud of his homeland’s (Ireland) literary tradition]

 

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