St George’s Gardens, Bloomsbury: two 18th Century burial grounds

Although the 19th Century is the most notorious period for desperate overcrowding in the churchyards and burial grounds of London, the problem of finding enough space to bury the city’s dead was not a new one.  As London grew both in population and size during the 18th Century, little room was set aside for cemeteries and the garden we are visiting today is the first example of Anglican churches being forced to locate their burial grounds in far away from the churches themselves.  Today, St George’s Gardens in Bloomsbury is very much a part of central London, but when the two burial grounds that were later landscaped into this pleasant park were first opened, they were surrounded by fields.

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The historian and the baron: tales from two churches in a Lancashire village

I visited the Lune Valley again recently, that picturesque corner of Lancashire that I’ve found to be rich in history and fascinating old churches.  This visit was no different – driving into the village of Hornby, a striking octagonal church tower caught my attention.  Stopping to explore this church and the church situated opposite uncovered the stories of two men with strong links to Hornby who both made their mark on history.

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Tower Hamlets: a neglected cemetery reborn as a nature reserve

Many of London’s big Victorian Cemeteries have suffered over the years.  Originally set up and run by private companies, many of these companies ran into financial difficulties after the Second World War, effectively abandoning cemeteries or selling them cheaply to local authorities.  As a result, these cemeteries became overgrown and vandalised.  Tower Hamlets, one of London’s “Magnificent Seven” Victorian cemeteries, was one of places that found itself derelict and unloved in the late 20th Century.  Thankfully, today all of that has changed.

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An Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Greenwich Park

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.

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The Major Oak: capturing the imagination for centuries

Oak trees loom large in English history.  From the sacred oak groves of pre-Roman Britons and the oak wands used by Druids to the oak tree that sheltered the future King Charles II as he escaped from the forces of Oliver Cromwell and the countless oaks used to construct England’s proud navies and merchant ships, this tree – perhaps more than any other – is seen as the national tree of England.  Many individual oaks up and down the country are revered and protected for their age, their size and shape or the stories attached to them.  The oak we’re looking at today is famous not just for its huge size and distinctive shape, but also for its link to that most famous of English legends, Robin Hood.

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The little mortuary at St George in the East and its reincarnation as a museum

St George’s Gardens, the park on the site of the former churchyard of St George in the East in Stepney, is a neat, peaceful place – when I visited, the play area was full of children, and other people were relaxing on benches or looking at the old monuments near the church.  In the midst of all of this is a derelict building that looks terribly sad and out of place.  However, this forlorn little building has a fascinating history that includes that most infamous of East End criminals, Jack the Ripper, and later became a pioneering centre for the education of local children.

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Ashby’s Mill: bringing Brixton’s hidden past to life

When I mentioned to friends that I’d visited Ashby’s Mill, their universal response was “I had no idea there was a windmill in Brixton!”  And it’s true enough that the south London district of Brixton isn’t somewhere that one immediately associates with windmills and rural life – it’s a built-up area that’s more likely to attract comments about crime or gentrification.  But in a little park by an ordinary housing estate is an extraordinary survivor from the days when Brixton was just an open space a few miles from London.  Today, the Brixton Windmill has been carefully restored and provides a wonderful opportunity for local people to get in touch with their area’s history.

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