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…


the attachments to this post:

st alphege church map low
st alphege church map low


7 Comments to “St Alfege Churchyard – the early years.”

  1. [...] many comments from amazed locals. Meanwhile, Greenwich Phantom has more coverage, and some background historical information about the deconsecrated church yard.TweetNews Tagged: church, greenwich, Monuments, SE10, st [...]

  2. Adam says:

    If the “Park” is a churchyard then the gravestones cannot be touched (save for minor works) without a Faculty from the Chancellor of the Diocese. See Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1991 -particularly 13(5) which should apply in this case:

    Where at any time (whether before or after faculty proceedings have been instituted) it appears to the consistory court of a diocese that a person has committed, or caused or permitted the commission of, any act in relation to a church or churchyard in the diocese or any article appertaining to a church in the diocese which was unlawful under ecclesiastical law, the court may make an order (a “restoration order”) requiring that person to take such steps as the court may consider necessary, within such time as the court may specify, for the purpose of restoring the position so far as possible to that which existed immediately before the act was committed.

  3. I think it’s complicated by what went o, either late in the 19th or early in the 20th Century, which I have to remind myself on, but which was where the gravestones were dug up and put to one side. I read about it many moons ago, and I have to retrace my steps which is why I haven’t finished the history today, but there was definitely jiggery pokery went on and I’m not entirely sure of the status of the land now.

  4. Paul says:

    The story’s in the Daily Mirror today, pages 22-23 IIRC.

  5. laurelleSE3 says:

    Thank you for your article, Greenwich Phantom, I am following this story closely and eagerly await your follow-ups on this topic. I find the subject interesting probably because I just love the park – an oasis of calm amid a chaotic urban area.

  6. cerletone says:

    I popped into the park this afternoon to have a look. Whilst undoubtedly there has been much damage done to these headstones, the pieces I picked up and turned over did not have long detailed epitaphs on them. In fact most appeared not to have anything engraved upon them. There were some lumps of concrete also in the pile, which probably adds to the impression of utter carnage. I don’t really remember this part of the graveyard, but it looks like it was hugely overgrown and the aim – however mistaken – was to make it more appealing, possibly for the urban vegetable plot that’s appeared there (complete with greenhouse and tomatoes), because everyone knows that visitors to redundant graveyards like to find a tomato or two upon which they can nibble whilst they lament the passing of their ancestors (or in this case the passing of the headstones of their ancestors).

    On a positive and more serious note, there’s a legal notice pinned to the gate, dated the 17th September from the council instructing whoever is responsible for the works to stop as they are unauthorised. Someone may have mentioned this before; if they have I apologise, but it’s midnight and I can’t muster the enthusiasm to read posts to see.

  7. cerletone says:

    I just found a photo I took in 2005 of this part of the graveyard and it was indeed badly overgrown with holly and gorse by the look of it. My picture was actually of the fab little workshop that back onto the yard from the alley, but it’s clearly in need of care and attention.