This afternoon I found myself sitting on a bench eating lunch next to the poet John Bunyan. That's the writer of Pilgrim's Progress. Who died in 1688.
I was in Bunhill Fields - a cemetery on the northern edge of the City. It lies in the Finsbury district, between the Northern Line stations of Moorgate and Old Street.
The name is a corruption of "Bone Hill". In 1549 a massive number of bones were moved here from the churchyard of St Paul's Cathedral. Later, from 1657, it became the leading Noncomformist Cemetery. Following the Civil Wars of the 1640's, a number of Protestant sects established themselves. Only Anglicanism was recognised by the state, and followers of these other movements found they could not be buried in Church of England graveyards.
It remained London's principle dissenters' cemetery until 1854, when the laws relating to religion were relaxed. (The Burial Act of 1852 had also come into force). There are an estimated 230,000 inhumations in the Fields, and some 2000 graves are still marked today.
Daniel Defoe (of Robinson Crusoe fame) wrote an account of the Great Plague of 1665 - A Journal of the Plague Year - and he states that Bunhill Fields was used as a plague pit. He claims some stricken individuals, mad with fever, threw themselves into the pits and expired. Defoe himself was later buried here. He was on the run from creditors when he died, so was buried under the name Mr Dubow. The obelisk marking his grave was stolen, and turned up down in Southampton. After a time in Stoke Newington Library, it was returned to Bunhill Fields where it can be seen today. Just next to it is the tombstone of the visionary painter and poet William Blake, along with his wife.
As you can see from the image above, the stone does not mark the actual location of his body.
Just across from the City Road entrance to the Fields is the Chapel and House of the Methodist leader John Wesley. His mother, Susanna, is buried in the Fields. Also here is the poet Robert Southey.
Quakers had there own separate section of the cemetery. George Fox, one of the founders of the Quaker Movement, is buried there.
Some more views of the Fields:
Above is the tomb of Dame Mary Page (d. 1728). She was the wife of shipping magnate Sir Gregory Page. On the opposite side to this inscription is another which states that over 67 months some 240 gallons of water were extracted ("tapp'd") from her. This obviously refers to some medical complaint from which she suffered - and presumably died from - involving retention of water in the body.
Today it is a popular place for City workers to enjoy an alfresco lunch in the finer weather.
Part of the grounds are used by the Honourable Artillery Company, which is based next to the Fields. The HAC is the oldest military company in London - Finsbury Fields used to be used for archery practice from the Tudor period. These grounds saw some of England's first ever cricket matches.
I have had a good long look and cannot find any good ghost stories attached to this cemetery. Quakers and Methodists obviously rest easier in their graves...