St Alfege Churchyard – the early years.
After the gloom of yesterday’s news, I thought I’d continue the theme of St Alfege’s Churchyard by looking at the early years of what is now St Alfege’s Park (minus some of its precious artefacts after last week’s disgrace…)
Of course next year, the Church commemortes 1000 years since Greenwich’s very own saint’s bizarre martyrdom and there’s been a church on the site for almost as long, but the bit of churchyard we’re talking about is much younger (though still nearly three hundred years old.)
The issue, as ever, was space. It didn’t take long for the original yard – the bit immediately surrounding the church itself – and the crypt under the church to get full of pious Greenwichians and by 1716 the earth was getting embarrassingly full of dead bodies.
The sum of £150 was scraped together to buy half an acre of land from a Mr Moore. Surely that should be easily enough for years and years, thought the parishioners.
But Greenwich was booming and medicine was not. Still the corpses came. By 1774 they were spilling over again and it took an Act of Parliament to ‘enable the feoffees (holders of a fiefdom, I understand…) of Mr Roan’s estate to sell a messuage or tenement‘ which, although measured in the arcane units of perches, roods and poles, appears to be much the same size as the other parcel of land. Inflation – or good bargaining – gleaned £500 for that particular transaction. A bit of that was later sold off to a Messingham Shepherd for £350, because surely no one would need all that land just for stiffs.
On reflection, that was probably an unwise idea, since the dead have a habit of continuing to turn up. By 1808 a further enlargement became ‘absolutely necessary,’ since ‘decent interment of the bodies in the churchyard and burial ground could not be obtained.’
Thomas Neate, esq. was eventually prevailed upon to give up part of his garden for £1500 – not that he could have been too bothered since he didn’t live there. His tenant, whose garden it was, one Thomas Kealley, was probably less pleased – especially when the parishioners, ‘in vestry’, only kept an acre and a quarter of his back yard and flogged the rest off to someone else, a Mr John Pearson, who they clearly saw coming – he paid £1700.
And that takes me to 1816, when my copy of An Account of the Legacies, Gifts, Rents, Fees &etc Appertaining to the Church and Poor of the Parish of St Alphege Greenwich in the County of Kent, a snappily-titled charity-book sold in aid of the poor women in the Jubilee Almshouses, runs out. I need to move to other publications for the later history of the churchyard – the reasons for its becoming a park and the headstones to be placed around the perimeter – and time moves on apace. All that’s for another day…
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