Tucked away behind surrounding buildings is the green oasis of St George’s Gardens, once a burial ground but now a shady public garden, with evocative memories of its past in the occasional chest tomb in the grounds, including one belonging to the grand-daughter of Oliver Cromwell.
These Gardens just to the north of Brunswick Square were once the burial ground for not one but two nearby churches – the Nicholas Hawksmoor church, St George’s Bloomsbury, and the church of St George the Martyr in Queen’s Square, now known as St George’s Holborn. The land was bought in 1713 and the burial ground opened in 1714. The Gardens remain consecrated ground.
This was one of the first burial grounds away from a church. London was growing fast and churchyards were overflowing. Burials moved to what was then open country so a high protective wall was built, to keep out body-snatchers who supplied a nearby anatomy school. The burial ground’s wall plan may also have been the work of Hawksmoor.
As London grew the burial ground overflowed, like the churchyards before it. The area was poor and without green spaces – Bloomsbury’s elegant squares were locked and used only by the rich. Burial grounds were the only public spaces. Campaigners including Miranda Hill and the Kyrle Society and Octavia Hill fought to create ‘outdoor sitting rooms’ to ‘bring beauty home to the poor’. St George’s Gardens were originally opened in 1884 and then restored around the millenium, re-opening after their facelift in Spring 2001.
The gardens are maintained by Camden Council and are open to the public during daylight hours.
There is an active Friends group which watches developments around the Gardens closely and challenges excessive building height or inappropriate use. The Friends also organise a free community party every year on the Saturday nearest to St George’s Day.