David Orme has created a web site that will interest genealogists and historians alike. "The London Burial Grounds" attempts to provide a record of all the burial grounds in London, including current photographs and/or maps along with historical notes and images where possible. Not all the burial grounds are yet recorded, but a large number of them already appear to be described on the site.
The London Burial Grounds provides lists of the cemeteries, maps showing their locations and, in many cases, photographs. What surprised me is that the number of burial grounds in London is decreasing. According to this site, in 1800 there were around 500 of them; by 1900 this was down to around 350. The bombardments of World War II destroyed more, and then still others were lost in post-war development, despite the Disused Burial Grounds Act. However, hundreds still remain.
The web site gives a lot of historical information, including this quote:
The typical medieval churchyard was a model of 'green' practice. Most people were buried without coffins, and there was no tradition of gravestones. After a number of years had passed, the grave could be reopened, any remaining bones removed to a charnel, and the ground used again. The only effect would be the slow raising of the ground level as the centuries passed.
Disruption could be caused by the outbreak of plague. In severe outbreaks, plague pits were dug, usually outside the city, such as at Charterhouse Square, Smithfield. This worked well enough, though of course, as the city spread the plague, pits would end up within it, usually built over.
The great plague of 1665 was a severe test for the London parishes. At its height, plague pits were dug in areas such as Finsbury, Houndsditch, Tothill Fields and Knightsbridge. For the most part, however, parishes struggled on with burial within the parish, resorting to great pits within existing churchyards such as that at Aldgate described by Daniel Defoe. Pepys commented on how high the ground had risen in the churchyard of St Olave Hart Street as a result of the plague.
The site then goes on to describe the declining number of burying grounds in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. It also describes nonconformist, Catholic, and private burying grounds, as well as church vaults.
Finally, the Links page on this site provides pointers to many more sites of interest to those studying London burial grounds. The links point to topographic maps, church web sites, museums, web sites for several local religious groups, genealogy sites, and one more that I want to review before my next trip to London: a website featuring London Walks.
The London Burial Grounds is not a genealogy site. It does not contain any databases listing the people buried in the cemeteries, apart from a handful of celebrity burials. Although the site may be helpful to genealogists, tracing ancestors is not its primary function. Nonetheless, anyone researching ancestors who lived and died in London will find this to be an interesting site.
To view David Orme's excellent "The London Burial Grounds," go to http://www.londonburials.co.uk