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St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

This week, I explore the history of one the largest cemeteries in the UK - St Pancras and Islington Cemetery in North London.

St Pancras and Islington Cemetery sits in the London suburb of Finchley. Founded in 1854, the cemetery is now the UK's largest cemetery in terms of numbers of burials with over 800,000 interments. All of these can be seen on the Deceased Online database. The reason why the cemetery is so large is that those buried came from some of the most heavily populated parts of London: St Pancras and Islington.

The Ludwig Mond Mausoleum stands in memory of the Mond family of industrialists.

Today St Pancras forms part of the London Borough of Camden. In 1854 it covered a large chunk of north London, running from the Gatehouse of Highgate in the north to King's Cross in the south. Islington is St Pancras's neighbour and now stretches from Archway to the City. At the time the Vestry centred around St Mary's Church but, from 1900, Islington would incorporate the parishes of Clerkenwell and St Luke's Old Street. These districts were, and still are, some of the most highly populated parts of London and the UK. As noted in the post on Brompton Cemetery and the Magnificent Seven cemeteries, London in the 1840s and '50s was experiencing a crisis of overpopulation in its churchyards. In St Pancras Old Churchyard alone there were around 1,200 internments a year. This led to an urgent need for new and more sanitary burial spaces.

The Metropolitan Burials Acts beginning in 1852 obliged London vestries to set up their own burial boards and create new burial grounds that were at least one hundred yards from a dwelling house. Under the new acts, the Vestry of St Pancras bought the 87.5 acres of Horse Shoe Farm (formerly part of Finchley Common) in 1853. There the newly formed St Pancras Burial Board founded its new, spacious cemetery. The neighbouring Vestry of St Mary's Islington bought some of the neighbouring land in Finchley and established their own cemetery. Two of Islington's most celebrated graveyards, the nonconformist Bunhill Fields and the Anglican St John's Clerkenwell, were closed to new burials from this time. Some bodies in the grounds of St Mary's Islington, St Luke's Old Street, and Bunhill Fields would be reburied at the new cemetery.

This 'dual cemetery' was consecrated and opened officially in July 1854. The first burial took place on Thursday 3 August 1854.

Image from the database showing the records of the first burials at St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

One of the oldest and most beautiful churches in London, St Pancras Old Church, today overlooks high speed trains whizzing to France. Their London terminus, St Pancras Station, was built in the mid-1860s. Some of its land was taken by the Midland Railway from the church yard of the Old Church. Around 8,000 bodies were exhumed from their burial plots and some were relocated to the new cemetery in Finchley. The young trainee architect responsible for the excavation of part of the graveyard was the future poet and novelist, Thomas Hardy. His time in St Pancras was relatively short, ending in 1867, but it is forever remembered in the form of the 'Hardy Tree'. This ash tree grew to surround some of the headstones which were neatly piled, according to Hardy's instructions. Some headstones, like that of the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin were left standing and can still be seen in the churchyard today. This spot is particularly significant for fans of Romantic literature as it was here that Wollstonecraft's novelist daughter, Mary Godwin declared her love for the poet Percy Shelley in June 1814. Wollstonecraft's body was later relocated to Bournemouth. The churchyard also featured in the works of the seminal Victorian author Charles Dickens. In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens refers twice to the grounds, firstly as the burial place of Roger Cly and secondly as the site of grave robbery (or 'fishing') by Jerry Cruncher.

The Hardy Tree in the grounds of St Pancras Old Church
Over the years the landscape of the St Pancras and Islington Cemetery has dramatically altered. What was once a barren wilderness is now a beautiful oasis in suburbia, carefully planted with trees and shrubs. The Islington and St Pancras Burial Boards employed common landscape gardeners and architects, and worked together to build two chapels, entrance lodges, main roads, and viaducts.

Look out for more on London's overcrowded burial grounds with the release of another Magnificent Seven cemetery in the near future.

Next week I shall be finding out about some of the famous and influential people who have been buried at the cemetery.


Are any of your relatives among the 800,000 buried in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery? And were they relocated there from St Pancras Old Church? Please let us know by writing in the Comments Box below or posting on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

Sources

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=64866
http://www.islington.gov.uk/islington/history-heritage/heritage_borough/bor_history/Pages/default.aspx
http://jamesthurgill.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/the-hardy-tree-st-pancras-old-church-london/

Comments

  1. most of my relatives where married/buried at old and new st pancres. Is this the same church that is near the old coal sheds that go towards kings cross. remember playing in the gardens when I was young. might need to check records to see if any of the graves of relatives have been moved.

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  2. St. Pancras Old Church is near the old coal sheds - I too used to play there when I was young. My gt grandmother was buried at St. Pancras Cemetery in 1895. Not sure if the old or new cemetery - probably the new. My grandfather and his siblings were all baptised in the old church in the 1850s & 1860s.

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  3. Thanks for your comments, Jenny and Marietta. Both the Old and the New St Pancras Churches have fascinating histories. Today, the St Pancras Old Church is very close to the Eurostar line. There are many changes going on in the King's Cross area currently with new buildings and conversions.

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  4. My husband's ancestor Joseph George Edmond Le Guay and his second wife Martha, both died on or about the same day - 18th Jan 1901 at Holborn and were both buried at Islington cemetery on 23rd Jan 1901. I think this strange, and maybe their cause of death was a fire or influenza? We live in Australia and haven't had the opportunity to visit their graves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jo, I would definitely recommend ordering the death certificates from www.gro.gov.uk in order to establish the exact causes of death. Regarding visiting the graves, if you are not able to travel to the UK, it may be possible for you to ask a member of a family history society or a professional genealogist to visit the graves for you and take photographs. I am not sure if the cemetery itself offers this service.
      Emma.

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  5. My father's cousin Hendrik Briegoos who died in 1977 is there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hendrick was my Grandfather. My Dad was John Briegoos. He sadly passed away Feb 3rd 2018

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    2. Thank you for sharing. Sorry to hear of your sad loss.

      Emma.

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  6. Thank you for letting us know. Can you tell us any more about him?

    Emma.

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  7. My 5 x 1st cousing John Lovering Cooke is buried here H2 Grave Number 2234. Born 1834 Tawstock Devon, Died 26 Dec 1872 London.
    He was a gunner in the Royal Artillery in the siege of Lucknow, India. Returning to become a churchman at the sailor's institute in Boulogne. Widow of Emma Plumridge.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for sharing these details.
      What a well-travelled life, John Cooke led!
      Emma.

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  8. Thank you for this information. I am the gr-gr-grandaughter of Mrs. Ellen Myalls who died 1903 in Islington. Born Ellen Elliott of Maragaret Marsh in Dorset, she first married John Bastable and later Mr, Elias Myalls. Because of the remarriage and removed burial, we had lost track of the 'very poor' lady. Thank you again for your work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for letting us know.
      It can be difficult to trace ancestors who travelled around England, as well as those with multiple marriages.
      Well done for tracking Ellen down!
      Emma.

      Delete
  9. Thank you for this interesting read. I have tried to find my gr-gr-great grandfather in the St Pancras cemetary to no avail. I believe he may have died on the Dreadnought Hospital ship in 1842 but cannot find information of what happened to the bodies once they died there. I found record of his daughter buried in St Pancras in 1894 but not him. Living in Australia hampers investigations but you have given me a few more ideas of where to look. Thank you.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your comment. I am pleased you have a few clues as to how to further the research. Good luck in finding the details!

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  10. My Tunbridge (or Tumbridge) relatives were buried at Islington 1893. would that be this cemetery? I would like to know how to locate their gravestones. I live in Australia so wondered if they are on line anywhere?
    cheers Marie-Louise


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Marie-Louise, have you checked the database at www.deceasedonline.com? Emma

      Delete

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