A few weeks ago, I went to Brompton Cemetery again. I was with my friend Sharon, a fellow graveyard explorer, and I also had a new camera lens to put through its paces. Since my last visit, a lot of the undergrowth that had swallowed up a good many gravestones had been cleared, and as a result we came across many graves that I’d never seen before. Last time I wrote about Brompton, I felt that I’d not been able to do the place justice in just one article, so it seems like a good time to revisit the cemetery and look at more of its rich heritage. Some of the graves featured this time around are grand and mysterious, others are modest and unassuming; yet all of them have their own fascinating stories to tell.
30 St Mary Axe – better known by its nickname “The Gherkin” – is one of the most distinctive skyscrapers in London. It stands on the site of the old Baltic Exchange, which was badly damaged by a Provisional IRA bomb in 1992 and subsequently demolished. It was during excavations taking place prior to the construction of the Gherkin that, in 1995, the skeleton of a Roman Londoner who had lain undisturbed for 1,600 years was discovered.
Not far from the famous Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park is a field that was once a large cemetery. Today, all that remains are a few modest mounds that mark where the burials took place, and it’s unlikely that most people who walk past them, or sit on them, have any idea what they are. This is perhaps not surprising, as this old burial ground is over 1,000 years old.
Hidden behind high walls, the Charterhouse in Clerkenwell exudes an air of mystery – at least to those who, like me, spend their lunchbreaks wandering around the interesting old places close to their place of work. The Charterhouse is only open to the public for pre-booked guided tours, but a few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the Charterhouse to attend a wonderful lecture about the history of the site by the Charterhouse’s head archivist, Dr Stephen Porter.
Lower Thames Street isn’t exactly a promising-looking place when it comes to searching for relics of Roman-era London. The wide, busy road cuts through the City, and the buildings that line it are mostly modern, concrete and uninspiring. Yet underneath one of these buildings something wonderful has been preserved: the ruins of a Roman bath house.
In the shadows of the international terminal at St Pancras Station, close enough for platform announcements to be heard, is a tiny old church which has a history that supposedly stretches back almost as far as St Pancras himself. St Pancras was a Roman martyr who was beheaded in about 304AD for his Christian beliefs, and the church claims that the site has been a place of Christian worship since the 4th Century. Until the 19th Century, Old St Pancras was a rural church, close to the River Fleet, but today it is nestled in amongst the railway infrastructure of St Pancras and the houses and flats of Somers Town. When approaching the church, the first thing that struck me was how high the ground level of the churchyard is compared to its surroundings.