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History

St George's Gardens was one of the very first burial grounds to be established away from a church. The land was bought in 1713 to serve the parishioners of two churches: St George the Martyr, Queen Square, and St George's, Bloomsbury, the latter (then still unbuilt) by the great architect Nicholas Hawksmoor.

The plot which was just over a hectare, lay out in the open fields, well to the north of Bloomsbury. It was divided in two by a wall, demarcating the two parishes. Rocque's map from 1746 showing the early layout of the gardens is shown to the right. Please click the image for an enlargement.

To begin with, families were reluctant to have their relatives buried so far from town. But an influential churchman, Robert Nelson, decided to be buried there and soon others followed. By 1725 there were around twenty burials a month. The few exceptional monuments and chest tombs still standing represent the many hundreds of men, women and children buried in unmarked graves in this small space over more than a century. By the early 1800s the burial ground was already in a very bad state and by 1855 the overcrowding was such that it finally closed.

A map showing the Gardens in 1819 can be seen by clicking here.

An article describing the gardens can be found by clicking here. Published in Lloyds Weekly in 1902 it describes the locality of the gardens and some of the famous connections it holds.

A map showing the Gardens in 1911 can be seen by clicking here.

Thirty years later the garden was reopened, in two stages, as a public garden. It was a pioneering example in a movement which aimed to make the many overgrown urban graveyards into 'open air sitting rooms' for the poor, in the words of housing reformer Octavia Hill. William Holmes who designed the garden united the two burial plots and gave it a typically Victorian air, with meandering paths and lawns.

The already mature London plane trees remained, along with the chest tombs and monuments, to remind its users of the garden's early 18th century origins. Thanks to local resident John Alsop, a postcard from the time can be seen on the right. Please click to enlarge. Can you spot any differences in the gardens?

A more recent image of the Gardens has just been unearthed thanks to the Prints and Drawings department of the British Museum. The image was produced in 1935 by the artist Cynthia Burnley. Please click on the image for an enlarged version. We are very grateful to the British Museum for the image however we have as yet been unable to trace the copyright holder.

 

Damage in World War II led to the loss of the Board School and Prospect Terrace at the east end, but otherwise the tiny park has remained little changed to the present day, undisturbed by traffic and an oasis of calm for the local community.

In 1997 the Gardens became one of a group of Camden's historic parks to receive lottery funding under the new Urban Parks Programme. The restored Gardens reopened in Spring 2001.

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