Free Radicals in the City

On the way home from the cinema, we discovered we'd parked right next to Bunhill Fields Cemetery, burial ground of London's famous radicals and infamous dissenters.  We whiled away a few moments searching for the graves of Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe; William Blake, London poet and artist; Eleanor Coade, inventor of the famous Coade stone and John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress.  

Bunhill's name derives from 'Bone Hill' and a somewhat grissly story dating back to the sixteenth century when nearby St Paul's Cathedral had regular clear outs of its charnel house.  Great cartloads of bones were brought here every now and then from 1549 onwards and buried, unceremoniously, under a thin layer of soil.  The mound of bones soon rose high enough for the building of several windmills on top to catch the breeze.  

Listed as a plague pit for Londoners, it had a tradition of burial but the land was never consecrated by the Church.  It is unhallowed ground and is said to be the most haunted in London.  

In the 17th Century, the Fields were bought by a Mr Tindal who allowed anyone to be buried here as long as they could pay, no matter what their religion.  Word got out, and it soon became the graveyard of choice for non-conformists, Christians who did not want to be buried in a Church of England graveyard.  

Rapidly becoming a place of pilgrimage for London's radical reformers, and non-conformists, it was nicknamed the 'Campo Santo' of dissenters by the poet Robert Southey in the nineteenth century. In 1854, it was declared full, with over 120,000 people buried beneath its 4 acres.

The graveyard is crowded and crammed with a forest of mossy headstones, just a taste of what all London cemeteries must once have been like.  Most are behind railings, but most of the famous gravestones are not and when we were there, flowers lay at the base of many of them.  The pilgrimage continues.  

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.

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