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Bunhill Fields 1800-1854

Deceased Online's Bunhill Fields collection has proved very popular so far. Thank you to all who have been in touch about the nonconformist ancestors (including Huguenots) you have found in the database. This week, I look at the later years of the collection, 1800-1854.

Headstones and monuments in Bunhill Fields
By 1800, Bunhill Fields was well-established as a burial ground for nonconformist Londoners. Some of the most important figures in the Methodist movement were interred there, including Susanna Wesley and Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon. Buried in 1808, Theophilus Lindsey (1723-1808), one of the founders of Unitarianism, lies nearby. So significant to dissenters was the graveyard that even those who died away from London were brought to Bunhill Fields to be buried: the Scottish minister Henry Hunter (1741-1802) died in Bristol but was laid to rest at Bunhill on 6 November 1802.

Burial entry of Jabez Carter Hornblower (1744-1814), showing his date of burial, name, age, residence and details of his burial plot
In the 19th century the cemetery also saw the burials of notable scientists, such as the steam engine pioneer Jabez Carter Hornblower (1744-1814), and anti-slavery campaigners, like Thomas Pringle (1789-1834). The latter was re-interred in 1970 at Eildon Church, Baviaans Valley, South Africa.

William Blake (1757-1827)
William Blake, painted in 1807 by Thomas Phillips
A little appreciated man of slender means in his lifetime, William Blake, would be celebrated after death as one of the most influential figures of the Romantic Age. Living in London almost all his life, Blake was born in Broad Street, Soho on 28th November 1757. His father, James, worked as a haberdasher and hosier. William was educated at home by his mother, Catherine, until the age of 10 when he was sent to Pars' drawing school near the Strand to develop his evident artistic talent. At 14, in 1772, William was apprenticed to an engraver, James Basire of Great Queen Street. In 1779, after working as a journeyman engraver, Blake began studying at the Royal Academy. 

Blake married Catherine Boucher in St Mary's Battersea on 18 August 1782. The couple had no children.

Raised as a dissenter, William Blake would strongly influenced by the Bible in both his art and poetry. As a child he told his parents, Catherine and James, that he had seen visions of God and angels. Blake's visions and mystical sense later influenced his work, including his first book of poems, Poetical Sketches, which was published in 1783. In the late eighteenth century, a period of reveration of the rational mind, Blake's mysticism was little understood by contemporaries, leading to the artist being dismissed by many as insane. 

Like other dissenters and writers who lived through the period of Enlightenment, William Blake wanted to bring about social and political reform. Unlike most enlightenment figures, Blake prioritized imagination over reason. He sought to achieve his aims through engravings, poems and illuminated pamphlets. His written and etched work was prolific and included Songs of Innocence (1789), Songs of Experience (1794), The Book of Urizen (1794), The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93), Milton (1804-08), and Vala, or The Four Zoas (1797; rewritten after 1800).

Between 1800 and 1803, Blake lived by the sea in Felpham, Sussex, but returned to London after being tried (and acquitted) for treason. In his last years, Blake produced Jerusalem (1804-1820) and was working on illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy at the time of his death.

William Blake died at home in Soho on 12 August 1827, aged 69, and was buried at Bunhill Fields. The grave location was later lost in a headstone clearance. The current headstone was later erected near the spot of his burial. Blake's wife, parents, and two brothers are also buried at Bunhill and can all be found in the Deceased Online database.
William Blake's headstone in Bunhill Fields (photograph May 2014)
As a Londoner, Blake appreciated the city's small oases of calm. Today, Bunhill offers a sanctuary to 21st century visitors. Perhaps when visiting his grave, they take a moment to think on his lines of finding beauty and peace in nature:

Eternity

He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternities’ sunrise
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour

William Blake was one of five buried at Bunhill Fields on 17 August 1827
Other notable individuals buried at Bunhill in this period were:

  • John Bradford (1750–1805) English dissenting minister
  • Eleanor Coade (1733-1821), Pioneer of the artificial stone known as 'Coade' stone
  • Thomas Hardy (1752–1832), political reformer and founder of the London Corresponding Society
  • John Hyatt (1767–1826), One of the founding preachers of Calvinist Methodism at Whitefield's Tabernacle, Tottenham Court Road 1806–1828.
  • David Nasmith (1799–1839) founder of the City Mission Movement
  • Joseph Nightingale (1775–1824), writer and preacher
  • Apsley Pellatt (1763–1826), glass manufacturer.
  • John Rippon (1750–1836), Baptist clergyman, composer of many well known hymns
  • Richard 'Conversation' Sharp (1759–1835) Prominent among the Dissenters' 'Deputies', critic, merchant and MP.
  • Henry Hunter (1741–1802), Scottish minister
  • James Ware (1756–1815), English eye surgeon and Fellow of Royal Society
Thank you to all those who contacted us on our Facebook and Twitter pages this week. Do keep letting us know what you think of the new collections and the ancestors you have found!

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