The ruins of Christ Church Greyfriars and the grave of a “she-wolf”

I remember the first time I saw Christ Church Greyfriars – I was on my way to a job interview near the Old Bailey, and as I was walking up Newgate Street from the tube station by St Paul’s I saw the ruins of a church.  Intrigued, I went over to the ruin to read the sign explaining what the site was.  I’ve always been fascinated by ruins – not just the reasons why a building became a ruin, but also why the ruin itself was preserved.  When one considers how valuable every square foot of space is in the City of London, it’s quite something to come across a ruin that’s stood there for over seventy years.

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Pennygown: the ruined chapel and medieval effigies of a Hebridean burial ground

I first came across the ruined chapel whilst on a wildlife trek – we had stopped near the little town of Salen to watch harbour porpoises in the Sound of Mull.  Intrigued as I was by the ruined chapel and its surrounding burial ground, there wasn’t time to stop and explore and I had to return a few days later to get a good look around the site.  My stay on the beautiful Scottish island of Mull had been blessed with warm sunshine, but on the final day of my trip – when I finally had time to visit the chapel and the burial ground surrounding it – the clouds had arrived.

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This is Pennygown burial ground, and it is still used by the people of the Mull today.

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Autumn comes to Abney Park

What better thing to do on a chilly Sunday afternoon than explore a beautiful old cemetery?  Abney Park in Stoke Newington is one of London’s gems – as well as being one of the city’s “Magnificent Seven” Victorian cemeteries, it’s a peaceful space that members of the local community have worked hard to make into a welcoming place for visitors.  It was founded in 1840 as the first completely non-denominational burial ground in England and is the final resting place of many well-known nonconformists.  Bunhill Fields, which for nearly two centuries had been the main site for nonconformist burials in London, closed in 1854, and Abney Park took over as the most prominent burial place of nonconformists.  Probably the most famous people to be buried at Abney Park are William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army.

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The ruin next door: exploring the Brick Church of St John the Evangelist, Stanmore

London is home to a number of ruined churches – in the City of London alone there are several, victims of the bombing raids of the Luftwaffe in the Second World War.  However, not all of the ruined churches of Greater London are victims of the Blitz.  In Stanmore, a comfortable suburb at the top of the Jubilee Line, another ruined church can be found alongside its Victorian successor.  The current parish church of St John the Evangelist was built in the mid-19th Century, but the picturesque ruins of the 17th Century church it replaced still survive in the church’s large burial ground.

The burial ground is a tranquil place, despite being close to a busy main road. Numerous squirrels darted in and out of the gravestones and a pair of magpies strutted around, while pigeons cooed softly, hidden from sight.  It was a humid September day when I visited, with shafts of sunlight shining through the clouds.  For an hour or so I had the place to myself, before the ruin was opened for the afternoon.

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A Roman house and baths hidden under the streets of London

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.

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“The Anatomizer’s Ground” – Uncovering the history of St Olave’s, Silver Street

The City of London is home to many curious little green spaces, gardens that today are often teeming with office workers enjoying their lunch on a sunny day. The little garden pictured below is just one of them, a small space nestled between office blocks and the busy thoroughfare of London Wall.  In the introduction to his 1901 book The Churches and Chapels of Old London, J G White notes that “the sites of old churches are very plainly indicated in most instances by little green spots, formerly church-yards, now changed into pleasant gardens and resting places.”  The subject of today’s post is the “green spot” on the site of the church of St Olave, Silver Street.

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Many of the City’s churches were closed and demolished as the area’s population began to decrease in the 19th Century, and more were destroyed in the Blitz and never rebuilt.  St Olave’s was situated in a part of the Square Mile that was particularly heavily hit by aerial bombardment during the Second World War – it lies just south of London Wall and the Barbican complex, an area devastated by the Luftwaffe.  Silver Street, where William Shakespeare once lived, is no longer on London’s maps, utterly wiped out by the devastation of the Blitz.

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