The stories behind the statues at St Patrick’s cemetery

If you’ve ever travelled east of Stratford on the London Underground’s Central Line, you’ve probably seen the vast graveyard of St Patrick as the train clatters between Leyton and Leytonstone.  It is the final resting place of around 170,000 residents of East London.  On a pleasant Saturday afternoon, I explored this fascinating cemetery with my friend and fellow graveyard enthusiast Sharon and we discovered so many stories about the people buried there – stories of war, of love, of immigration, of the faith that united all of those buried at St Patrick’s.  Along with St Mary’s at Kensal Green, which Flickering Lamps visited earlier this year, St Patrick’s is one of only two cemeteries in London to cater exclusively to Catholics.

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A block of flats in south west London with its own Second World War air raid shelter

The period between the two World Wars was one of massive expansion for London.  The city’s population grew and grew, peaking at 8.6 million in 1939 (a total not surpassed until very recently), and new housing was built at a rate never seen before to accommodate this growth. These new homes, council houses and private houses alike, contained modern facilities such as indoor toilets, making them attractive to those living in older, less well-equipped homes.  But a new housing development in East Sheen, in south west London, had yet another desirable feature for potential buyers: as the fear of war grew in the 1930s, St Leonard’s Court came with its own purpose-built air raid shelter.

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St Alban, Wood Street: an old library book and a lonely church tower

I recently bought a copy of Mrs Basil Holmes’ 1896 book The London Burial Grounds.   Isabella Holmes was a remarkable woman who took it upon herself to explore what had happened to the many burial grounds in inner London that had been closed in the 1850s.  Her book records her findings, something which you can imagine will be a really useful resource for me when researching London’s old and forgotten burial grounds.  However, what I wasn’t expecting was that the book itself would tell more stories than simply the ones contained within its pages.

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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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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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Temple Church: the hidden church founded by the Knights Templar

The term “hidden gem” gets bandied around a lot in relation to all sorts of places in London – bars and restaurants, museums, galleries and historic buildings.  It’s a bit of an overworn phrase, but the subject of today’s post definitely fits the criteria for a hidden gem: small and off the beaten track, pretty and perfectly formed.

Through a little gateway on Fleet Street lies the Temple, the inner sanctum of Britain’s legal profession.  It’s a curious name – one that always intrigued me when I was younger, going through Temple Station whilst on the District Line and wondering if there actually was a temple there.  There is no temple, but amid the chambers of barristers is a little old church that has a history going all the way back to the Knights Templar.

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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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