If you find yourself in or around Old Street and the concrete peering at you from every angle is getting a little too much or you don’t fancy eating your sandwiches at your desk again, then you could do worse than sit under the trees in a little nook of calm called Bunhill Fields on City Road.
Bunhill Fields, formally known as ‘Bone Hill’ started life literally as a pile of bones, unceremoniously dumped from St Paul Cathedral when they were having a clearout in the mid sixteenth century. Macabre? Not really. Not with the likes of the fantastic William Blake (1757-1827) looking across at you. Well his headstone anyway. It’s only an approximate marker of his grave but better news, the actual location of his grave has been discovered a few metres away. Other pioneers are buried there too; John Bunyan (1628-1688) who wrote Pilgrims Progress, Daniel Defoe (1661 – 1731) who wrote Robinson Crusoe and two Cromwell family members amongst others. The unconsecrated burial ground for plague victims was a perfect spot to bury non-conformists whose puritanical bent didn’t conform to the mores of the Church of England’s in the late 1600’s.
John Wesley’s mother, Susannah Wesley is also buried there. The founder of Methodism, his chapel is also on City Road, opposite the main entrance of the cemetery. After graduating from Oxford, he charged around Britain and the US on horseback on an evangelical mission to save souls. He was also one of the first supporters of the anti-slavery movement. He lived in the house next door to the chapel and they’ve kept it as it would have been; one of the church wardens will take you round if you ask. If you want to know more, there’s also a museum in the chapel basement.
Across the other side of the cemetery on Bunhill Row, the same street where Milton spent the last 12 years of his life and wrote ‘Paradise Lost’, is a nice pub if you fancy a little refreshment.
The little park is only open until 4pm from October to March and until 7pm from April until September. A good job really – you never know who you might meet at night. I doubt these rebels are resting peacefully and I’ve no doubt they’re still out on their adventures. They may take you on a few if you’re around. Oh no. (There’s a screenplay in that)
We crossed the cemetery from the pub and passing Blake’s gravestone, my friend said, ‘Oh no, my 50p has gone. I left Blake 50p’. He consoled himself by saying that ‘Blake took it, Blake would have taken it’.
Maybe Blake did. Have a look at this little park if you’re in the area – one of London’s little nice surprises.