Across the road from Wesley’s Chapel is Bunhill Fields. It is estimated that as many 120,000 people were buried here from the 17th to the 19th Century. The site was finally declared full by city officials in 1853.
The burial ground became a primary grave location for nonconformists, radicals, and other controversial figures. Many left wing groups still hold the site to be sacred ground. Poets, artists, songwriters, and political dissenters of all shades and stripes were laid to rest here. The site presently contains 75 tombs and 2,333 monuments or headstones.
Some prominent people buried here include:
John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, began writing his book whilst in prison for his political and religious beliefs. After the Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress is the second most translated book into other languages in history.
Isaac Watts, known as the “Father of English Hymns,” – Not a minute goes by where somebody somewhere isn’t signing one of his songs. Perhaps his best- known work is “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”
Susanna Wesley, mother of nineteen children – including Charles and John
Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe
Well-known poet and artist William Blake was also laid to rest here.
Another 6,000 are buried behind Wesley’s Chapel just across City Road.
In the Quaker burial ground to the west of Bunhill Row, lies George Fox (1691) along with some 20,000 other graves. Fox is the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers or Friends.
The first written record of the land that became Bunhill Fields is in 1104. Prior to that, it is believed that the land had been used as a Saxon burial ground. In 1315, the City of London leased the area that now stretched to 23 acres, for the purpose of allowing farm animals to graze. Ownership passed to St. Paul’s Cathedral from 1514 to 1867.
Did You Know?
Hollows in and throughout the fields were used as a kind of refuse dump – the bones of dead animals were spread here. The name “Bunhill” actually comes from “Bone Hill” as a result.
In 1549, a thousand cartloads of human bones were dumped here from the Charnel House in St. Paul’s Churchyard. Before that date, dead Londoners had been buried in St. Paul’s Churchyard just long enough for the flesh to rot away, after which the bones were dug up & placed in the Charnel House “to await the resurrection of the dead”.
Just outside of the Fields, a section of housing went up referred to as “Bunhill Row”. John Milton lived here from in 1662 until his death in 1674. While here, he wrote Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes.
In 1664, the Black Death (i.e., the Bubonic Plague) broke out across London. By the summer, nearly 1,000 were dying each week. By 1665, it would seem that Bunhill Fields was eventually commissioned as mass burial place for the City of London.
On September 2, 1666, the Great Fire of London broke out. “By 4 September half the City had gone. Nearly 400 acres had been burned within the City walls & 63 acres outside them; 87 churches had been destroyed, together with 44 livery halls & 13,200 houses, but miraculously only nine lives had been lost. Homeless Londoners camped out in Bunhill Fields after the Great Fire while their homes were rebuilt.
The Act of Uniformity of 1663 established the Church of England as the national church. Its significance is that it also established a distinct category of Christian believers who wished to remain outside the national church—these became known as nonconformists or dissenters. If not used for the burial of plague victims, Bunhill Fields developed rapidly as a cemetery popular with nonconformist believers.
Bunhill Fields burying-ground has been called the Campo Santo of English dissent—the burial place of men & women who were committed above all to freedom of conscience in religion but who may well have disagreed amongst themselves on points of doctrine (Isaac Watts would have very little in common with Richard Price). Some of the most notable people from British history—especially British Nonconformist church history—are buried & commemorated here.”
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4: 13 – 18
One day, some of these graves are going to be opened up. The clear teaching of Scripture is that Jesus Christ is The Resurrection and the Life (see John 11: 25)