A Plea for the St. Pancras Churchyard: being a remonstrance against its proposed desecration by the Midland Railway Company.

London: Warren Hall & James J. Lovitt, 88, Camden Road, N. W.

Price twopence


Dedicated to the
memory of the illustrious dead
whose mortal remains
repose in St. Pancras Churchyard,
and to that of the "Paupers"
interred in
St. Giles' Parochial Cemetery


SOME years ago the Midland Railway Company were seized with an uncontrollable desire "to come up to London," which they accordingly did, destroying in their progress two of our churches, besides disturbing thousands of bodies in the construction of their tunnel and viaduct through our parish churchyard. Having once gained what they consider to be a sure footing in that hallowed spot and established that which is so dear to the hearts of lawyers -- a precedent - they now drop the mask and come boldly forward with one of the most offensive and iniquitous schemes ever conceived. They do not, it is true, propose to remove any more bodies (unless at the desire of relatives) but content themselves with simply destroying the church and burying the churchyard ten feet deep.

Should their nefarious design succeed, notices will probably be displayed in conspicuous positions in St. Pancras Churchyard and in the adjacent parochial cemetery of St. Giles (for both are alike threatened) to this effect :-


When the refuse shall have accumulated to a sufficient height, and the churchyards with their tombs and monuments shall have been entirely blotted out, the company will proceed to erect "light sheds or buildings which would require no depth of foundation," such, for instance, as pens for cattle, sheep and pigs. Offensive as the scheme is in itself, it is rendered doubly so by the hypocritical profession of a desire "to leave the soil of the burial grounds untouched." After what has already happened there is not the slightest reason to suppose that a few years would not see massive warehouses with vaults and deep foundations arise on the spot. And this from a company which professes a pious horror of encouraging Sunday traffic! No attempt is made to stigmatize this odious proposition in the manner which it deserves, for the simple reason that the English language does not contain words to do it with. It is obvious that no argument on the general question of the sanctity of burial grounds will touch those who having taken their last look a the remains of a dearly loved mother, father, husband, wife, child brother, sister or friend in Old St. Pancras Churchyard, are yet able to view with equanimity, if not with approval, the speedy conversion of the graves over which they have mourned into the site of a depot for pigs. For the credit of human nature it is hoped that there are none who, having a personal interest in the ground, will fail to lift up their voice with no uncertain sound against the intended profanation.

The various official personages and public bodies who are more or less interested in the preservation of these-two burial grounds, appear to be quite dazzled by the prospect of the £25,000 purchase-money which the Company offers, and, instead of showing a united and bold front, the majority of them are apparently endeavouring to persuade themselves that they have, one and all, twenty-five thousand reasons for secretly, if not openly, favouring the disgraceful scheme now rapidly approaching completion. We are supposed to be enjoying the blessings of "a strong Government," and it remains to be seen what course they will take; but in the meanwhile St. Pancras itself must show unmistakably that it will not suffer its ancient burial ground to be obliterated simply because the traffic of a railway company has increased five-and-twenty per cent.

The lines which follow appeared originally in the Builder of September 7, 1867, and they are here reprinted, by the kind permission of the Editor. Not, indeed, that they possess any intrinsic merit, but simply because they give an historical account of the old churchyard, which may serve for the information of those who are not acquainted with the locality, and to refresh the memory of those who are.

Old St. Pancras.

THINGS have wonderfully changed since the author of "Speculum Britanniae" wrote in 1598, that "Pancras Church standeth all alone, as utterly forsaken, old and weatherbeaten, which for the antiquitie thereof, it is thought not to yield to Paule's in London. About this church haue been manie buildings now decaied leauing poore Pancras without companie or comfort; yet it is now and then visited with Kentish Towne and Highgate, which are members thereof, but they seldome come there, for that they haue chappels of ease within themselues; but when there is a corps to be interred, they are forced to leaue the same in this forsaken church or churchyard, where (no doubt) it resteth as secure against the day of resurrection as if it laie in stately Paule's." Honest John Norden as little foresaw the wreck which the Great Fire made of "stately Paule's," as he did the havoc which the Midland Railway Company have committed in "poore Pancras." The former event is a matter of history, and we propose in the present article to say a few words on the latter, and to mention some points of interest connected with the locality. Public attention was drawn to the subject in this journal about eighteen months ago and most of our readers are aware that the line of the Midland Railway passes directly across the churchyard.

The first thing which strikes a visitor on entering the churchyard is the number of gravestones bearing crosses, the occurrence of such inscriptions as, "Pie Jesu Domine, dona ei requiem," and representations of the Crucifixion. One of these is rather elaborate, and is carved in low relief, --a very unhappy imitation of rude Mediaeval work. Their appearance shows plainly that they were erected at a period when Anglicanism was not sufficiently advanced to admit of such things in a Church of England burial-ground. They belong, in fact, to Roman Catholics, with whom St. Pancras was at one time a very favourite place of interment. It has been asserted that this preference was owing to the fact that Roman Catholics were burnt there in Queen Elizabeth's reign. It has also been explained by saying that mass is said daily in a church dedicated to the same saint in the south of France, for the repose of the souls of the faithful buried at St. Pancras in London. Both of these statements appear, however, to be without foundations and Mr. Markland, in a note to Croker's edition of Boswell's "Life of .Johnson'' (1860, p. 840) says, - "I learn from unquestionable authority that it rests upon no foundation, and that mere prejudice exists among Roman Catholics in favour of this church, as is the case with respect to other places of burial in various parts of the kingdom." It is also said that this was the last church in England after the Reformation whose bell tolled for mass, and in which the rites of the Roman Church were celebrated. Several of these interments may be accounted for by the fact that a large number of French refugees, who were driven from France at the Revolution, settled close by in Clarendon-square. They would naturally find a last resting-place in their parish churchyard. Amongst them were several bishops, but the inscriptions on many of their gravestones are entirely obliterated (thanks to a London atmosphere and the exhalations from some gas-works in the neighbourhood), whilst the bodies of others have been removed. The most conspicuous of the monuments was that erected to the memory of Jean Franeçois de la Marche, Bishop of St. Pol de Leon. Forced to fly from France, he devoted himself whilst in this country to helping and consoling his suffering fellow-countrymen He, died in Queen-street, Bloomsbury, in 1806. His epitaph is said to have been written by the Marquis of Buckingham. A mean, neglected grave-stone, situated a few feet from the eastern wall, tells us that Arthur Richard de Lox, Archbishop of Narbonne, is buried underneath. He died in 1806. One of the most touching epitaphs in the churchyard is that of a poor French nobleman, who, whilst grateful for the shelter which England afforded him, cannot forget "Ma Normandie." It runs as follows: - "Ici, loin de sa patrie, repose L. F. E. Camus, Seigneur de Pontcarré, da noble et très-anceienne famille de magistrature, premier Président du Parlement- de Normandie, Conseiller du Roi en tous se conseils. Décédé le 6 Janvier, 1810, agé de 64 ans. Fidéle à son Dieu à son Roi, à ses serments, il fut persécuté, dépouillé d'une grande fortune. Proscrit, il vint avec une partie de sa famille sur cette terre hospitalière et généreuse. Longues années aprés sa veuve et ses enfane ont rendu cet hommage à sa mémoire vénérée." The Comte d'Hervilly and several other French marshals are buried here, as is also the Chevalier de Sainte Croix, Minister Plenipotentiary of Louis XVI, at the court of Sweden. At the fall of his royal master he fled to this country, where he became involved in much pecuniary distress, and died in 1803. We may also mention Tiberius Cavallo, a well-known Neapolitan writer on natural philosophy; the Chevalier d'Eon, the unfortunate nobleman whose sex was a matter of so much dispute during the last century, Jeremy Collier; Timothy Cunningham, author of the "Law Dictionary" James Leoni, architect; General Pascal de Paoli, Corsican patriot; Stephen Paxton and William Webbe, both well-known musical composers of the last century; Samuel Francis Ravenet and William Woollett engravers; John Walker, the lexicographer; William Godwin, author. Of "Caleb Williams" and "Political Justice," and his wife, Mary Woolstonecraft, who wrote the "Rights of Woman." Although the monument remained, the bodies of these individuals were removed many years ago to Bournemouth. Amongst the eminent Roman Catholics we must not omit Father O'Leary, of the order of St. Francis, who died in 1802; He was much esteemed for his amiability, but he held heretical opinion with regard to the temporal power of the Pope. The monument was erected by Earl Moira, and repaired by public subscription as recently as 1815.

The appearance of the churchyard is materially altered since its invasion by the Midland Railway Company. It is as nearly as possible five acres in extent, and in its original condition Old St. Pancras Churchyard was a very dismal place indeed. There were no paths, and the grass was apparently never cut, but had been for some years allowed to grow and die down again. The outline of most of the graves was entirely obliterated, and scarcely any two gravestones were parallel. The burial ground of St. Giles, which joins Old St. Pancras Churchyard, is of about the same size, but the desolation is relieved by the presence of a few trees. We may remark that the building formerly used as the Cemetery Chapel, in the vaults of which a large number of bodies are interred, is now a school house.

The churchyard consisted originally of about 1½ acre, and the population in the immediate neighbourhood was exceedingly small, the chapel- of-ease at Kentish Town being really of more importance than the mother-church. In the latter part of the last century the population increased very rapidly, and several new streets and squares were built in the neighbourhood of the New Road. The churchyard was soon over- crowded, and the vestry-books of the period contain continual complaints to this effect. In the year 1792 an Act was obtained to enlarge the ground, stop up a foot-road which ran across the churchyard, and build a house for the sexton. So anxious were the Pancratians to economise their space that the sexton's house was built on the old ground instead of on the new. This fact was brought to light when the house was demolished, a short time back, by the Midland Railway Company, bones and fragments of coffins having been discovered amongst the foundations. It was originally intended that the railway should pass over the churchyard by a viaduct which would just clear the tombstones, and the only powers conferred on the company (so far as St. Pancras churchyard is concerned) by their original Act of July 22, 1868, are those necessary to take the Sexton's house, and a portion of the churchyard, for constructing the piers, the dimensions of which are strictly limited. The representatives of persons buried in those parts of the ground required for the piers were allowed to remove the remains of their friends, the cost being borne by the company. The original plan, though very objectionable, was not nearly so bad as the one which was afterwards carried out. By a subsequent Act, which received the Royal Assent on the 25th of July, 1864, the company were empowered to make a tunnel, to join the Metropolitan at King's Cross, in addition to the viaduct above mentioned, which carries the line leading to the proposed terminus in the New-road. No part of the tunnel was to be within 12ft. of the surface, and the company were not to acquire an absolute interest in any part of the churchyard, but were empowered to purchase and take an easement under it, to such an extent as might be necessary for the construction of the railway. Now it is obvious to any one possessing even a slight knowledge of London graveyards, that a limit of 12ft. from the surface is of very little use in preserving the remains intact.

The sickening nature of the excavations which were rendered necessary by the rebuilding and enlargement of the old church in 1840, was; described in these columns by Mr. Gough, the architect engaged in the work. Mr. Chadwick* quotes the evidence of the chairman of the Holborn and Finsbury division of Sewers, showing that the exudations arising from the decomposition of the bodies were most offensive in the excavations of a sewer situated at a distance of 30ft. from the churchyard. These statements refer to a period of twenty-five years ago; and seeing that the ground has now been closed for some time, the work removing the bodies during the recent encroachment by he Midland Railway Company, has not been attended with much inconvenience. At all events, the task of tunnelling through a densely-packed mass of old coffins was not pleasant to contemplate; so the company drove the proverbial coach-and-six through their Act, and opened a trench right across the churchyard. In the course of their operations they removed between 10,000 and 15,000 bodies, which were re-interred in an adjoining piece of ground which had been purchased and consecrated for the express purpose. The removal appears to have been effected with great care, and with as much reverence as the case would admit of. Attempts have even been made to place the tombstones in their proper relative positions in the new ground, but the crowded state of the churchyard must have rendered this almost impossible. There is little doubt that the plan adopted by the company was the best, although at sight it looks like a gross violation of their pledge. The proceedings of the railway company have been the cause of much pain to the inhabitants of the parish, most of whom were, however, too poor to do anything but complain. On the occasion of one of our visits, the subject was being discussed very warmly by two or three groups of people whose friends were buried in the ground. The news reached even to Corsica, where much indignation was felt at the proposed removal of the bodies of Paoli and his countrymen. These graves have, however, not been interfered with

Respect for the dead, and for their last resting-place, is happily not uncommon, and it is important that no violence should be done to such a sentiment. Those portions of the earth which have been set apart and used for sepulture should not be lightly disturbed. It is quite necessary to consider whether the ground has been "consecrated;" it is in one sense holy by the remains of those who were dear to us. The law it is true, recognises no such claim as this; but, on the other hand it has conferred certain important privileges on consecrated ground. Burhill-fields has never been consecrated, but it has most properly allowed to remain undisturbed. With "poore Pancras," however the case is different. The choice of the company lay between a churchyard and some gas-works, and it was easy to predict which would be taken.

The bodies, we have said, were removed to a new piece of ground consecrated a short time previously. Now, supposing the company finds, in a few years, that this new graveyard would be a desirable site for a goods- shed, is there any reason to believe that it would not be built in due course? Judging from the facility with which the company obtained permission to make a huge gash in the old ground, we should say decidedly no. The solemn dedication of ground to sacred purposes becomes, in fact, a mere form when it can be deconsecrated almost as a matter of course by simply applying to Parliament. Such a state of things is not desirable. and, for all the protection afforded, the ceremony of consecration might as well be performed in a dumb show.

The Midland Company made an attempt, we believe, to buy the entire ground, including the church; but this was happily frustrated, - for the present, at all events. It will, however, probably happen sooner or later. The churchyard of Old St. Pancras is somewhat peculiarly situated. By the Act 56 Geo. III., cap. 39, the rights and privileges of Old St. Pancras as a mother church were transferred to the new edifice in the New-road; but whilst the old building ceased to be the parish t church, the burying-ground remained the parish churchyard, and, as such, is vested in the Vicar of St. Pancras. Unremitting efforts have been made by the Rev. Mr. Arrowsmith, perpetual curate of Old St. Pancras, to preserve the ground attached to his church; but the courts decided that he had no locus standi.

Whilst defending burial-grounds we must avoid falling into a very common misapprehension, and which it may not be improper to mention by way of conclusion. It is generally held that a person once deposited in a churchyard has a sort of legal right to that ground for ever afterwards. The law of the subject was clearly laid down in a judgement given by Lord Stowell, in the case of Gilbert v. The Churchwardens of St. Andrew's, Holborn, on the use of iron coffins. "It has been argued," says his lordship, "that the ground once given to the body is appropriated to it for ever. It is literally in mortmain unalienably. It is not only the domus ultima, but the domus oeterna of that tenant, who is never to be disturbed, be his condition what it may. The introduction of another body into that lodgement at any time, however distant is an unwarrantable intrusion. If these positions be true, it certainly follows that the question of comparative duration sinks into utter insignificance. In Support of them, it seems to be assumed that the tenant himself is imperishable; for, surely there can be no inextinguishable title, no perpetuity of possession, belonging to a subject which itself is perishable. But the fact is that 'man' and 'for ever' are terms quite incompatible in any state of his existence, dead or living, in this world. The time must come when ipsoe periere ruinoe, when the posthumous remains must mingle with and compose a part of that soil in which they have been deposited. . . . The domus oeterna is a mere flourish of rhetoric; the process of nature will speedily resolve them into an intimate mixture with their kindred dust; and their dust will help to furnish a place of repose for other occupants in succession. The common cemetery is not res unius oetatis, the propety of one generation now departed, but is likewise the common property of the living, and of generations yet unborn." The judgement goes on to say that any contrivance which prolongs the time of dissolution beyond the period at which the common local understanding and usage have fixed it, is an act of injustice, unless compensated in some way or other. Such contrivances, moreover, ensure to bodies a much longer possession, and a comparatively small portion of the dead will shoulder out the living and their posterity.

This, however, is not sufficient to justify such a desecration as that recently committed by the Midland Railway Company, and we have not a word to say in favour of the way in which companies "acquire" a church and churchyard, with as little compunction as they would buy a public-house and tea-gardens.


If a vague belief in the doctrines of a future state is sufficient to inspire the heathen with the extraordinary sentiments of respect and affection for the last resting-places of their dead, described in the following extracts, what should be the feelings of Christians on the subject, seeing that they have the most certain warrants of Holy Scripture for the far higher doctrines of the Resurrection of the Body?-

In a work of some note on morals, called "Merits and Demerits Examined," a man is directed to keep a debtor and creditor account with himself of the acts of each day, and at the end of the year to wind it up. Various lists and comparative tables are given to both good and bad actions in the several relations of life. To reprove one unjustly counts as three on the debtor's side, to level a tomb as fifty, to dig up a corpse as one hundred. - (Davis' Chinese, London, 1840, p. 220.)

But Nature herself so provides that irreverence to the dead is the exception to the usual rule, the all but universal usage of humanity. Whether cultivated or savage, almost every people has considered the violation of a burying-place a sort of sacrilege. And it is owing probably to this deep-seated and universal reverence for the places of burial, that even in our Christian era, it was not thought requisite, for some ages, specially to consecrate them. The holiness of a burial place is almost universally allowed. Even amongst the savage New Zealanders a place of interment is tapu, or sacred. The wild and warlike Afghans have a great reverence for burying-grounds, which they call by the expressive phrase "cities of the silent." Amongst the Turks great reverence is paid to the resting-places of the dead, and nowhere, perhaps, are they so beautiful. Their great and increasing size is owing to the repugnance of this people even to disturb the soil where a body has been laid. The Moors of Africa, on the borders of the Great Desert, are accustomed to plant one particular shrub over graves, and no stranger is allowed to pluck a leaf, or even to touch it, so great a veneration have they for the dead. - (Mrs. Stone's God's Acre, London, 1858, pp. 90, 92.) Amongst the ancient Romans a sepulchre, or any place in which a person was buried, was religiosus. Even the place where a slave was buried was considered religiosus. Whoever violated a sepulchre was subject to an action termed sepulcri violati actio. Those who removed the bodies or bones from the sepulchre were punished by death or deportatio in insulam, according to their rank; if the sepulchre was violated in any other way, they were punished by deportatio or condemnation to the mines. - (Smith's Dictionary of the Greek and Roman Antiquities, art FUNUS.)

This care for the place of sepulture of a poor despised slave may be fitly contrasted with the cruel language used by Mr. Frere during the Government enquiry, held at the Vestry Hall, on the 27th of May. Speaking on behalf of the Rector of St. Giles'. in support of the proposed acquisition by the Midland Railway Company of the burial ground belonging to that parish, he said: - "To my certain knowledge a very large proportion of those buried there were paupers." Viewed as the rhetorical flourish of an advocate such language is indecent, but if it is to be accepted as the deliberate opinion of the Rev. Canon Nisbet with respect to the poorer portion of his "dearly beloved brethren," it would be well for the reverend gentleman to return for a space to his Bible and to the study of the first principles of the Christina religion.

June, 1874.

* A Supplementary Report . . . on interment in Towns, London 1843

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