St. James Gardens – A Casualty Of HS2

The rate of change within London is such that streets can take on a very different appearance within a matter of months, however it is unusual for a public park and old burial ground to disappear, however this has been the fate of St. James Gardens.

St. James Gardens are alongside Euston Station, between Cardington Street and Hampstead Road. They were used as a burial ground for the parish of St. James Piccadilly between 1790 and 1853. In 1887 the majority of the monuments and tombstones were removed and St. James opened as a public garden.

The location of St. James Gardens is the green space to the left of Euston Station in the map extract below from the 1940 Bartholomew’s Atlas of Greater London. I have used this map as the gardens have now disappeared from Google Maps (apart from an unlabelled small green rectangle). The gardens are still visible on Streetview which also has the ability to rollback to historic views of a location, however I believe this is not a feature with the basic map so it is interesting to consider how locations will be recorded long term if we rely on Internet mapping services.

St. James Gardens

The following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map clearly shows St. James Gardens and also shows how what was once a rectangular burial ground had already been cut through by Cardington Street and the original Euston Station.

St. James Gardens

The land occupied by St. James Gardens is needed for the expansion of Euston Station to accommodate HS2, so the gardens closed at the end of June to enable preparatory work to be undertaken prior to HS2 construction.

This will primarily involve the exhumation of the bodies buried across the gardens, the removal of the monuments that remain along with the trees that line the gardens.

I have seen various estimates for the number of bodies that are thought to be buried, anything between 30,000 and 60,000 which clearly means no one really knows, however it will be a major task for the exhumation and reburial of such as large number bodies. The first phase of work will be the excavation of archaeological trial trenches so that the scale of the task can be better understood.

A week before the planned closure, I managed to get down to St. James Gardens and photograph a historic space that will soon be lost from the landscape of London for ever.

The plaque at the entrance from Hampstead Road recording the opening of the burial ground as public gardens on the 17th August 1887.

St. James Gardens

The Camden Council welcome sign:

St. James Gardens

The majority of the original gravestones and monuments were removed when the burial ground was converted into public gardens and only a few now remain. These were already fenced off.  The HS2 statement of the archaeological work to be carried out across the garden states that the remaining gravestones and monuments will be recorded, then removed and safely stored. There is no indication of their long term fate.

St. James Gardens

View across the gardens:

St. James Gardens

One of the most significant remaining monuments is that to the Christie family:

St. James Gardens

The memorial is to James Christie (the founder in 1766 of Christie’s auctioneer’s), who was buried in St. James Gardens. The memorial also records his wife and children (although I cannot find out who the John Chapman is, the only one on the memorial without a Christie surname).

St. James Gardens

John Christie, who was buried in St. James Gardens in 1803 (Source: Thomas Gainsborough [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

St. James Gardens

He had four sons, who are recorded on the monument. His eldest son, also James Christie took over the Auction business is recorded as are the other three who, I assume not being the eldest and therefore not inheriting the family business had to make their way in other professions.

Edward Christie is recorded as having been a Midshipman on HMS Theseus when he died at Port Royal, Jamaica of fever whilst on board a captured slave ship on the 18th July 1802, aged 19 years.

Albany Henry Christie is recorded as aged 39 when he died on the 3rd October 1821, but with no information on his profession or location, although I have found references to him being an articled clerk so he may have been in the legal profession.

St. James Gardens

The monument also records the death of his second son, Captain Charles Christie of the 5th Regiment, Bombay Native Infantry, killed in Persia by the River Aras in an attack made by a body of Russian troops on the 1st November 1812.

St. James Gardens

Captain Charles Christie had an adventurous life as part of the Bombay Regiment. In 1810, disguised as horse dealers, he was exploring a possible route through what is now Afghanistan and Iran to explore if a route was possible for European armies to invade India.

Christie was also part of an officer corp that entered Persian service following an 1809 treaty with the Shah of Persia. This included training Persian infantry and commanding one of the Persian regiments.

He was also involved in a number of military actions between Persia and Russia, as Russia was trying to take control of the area to the north of modern day Iran.

This involvement with Persia formally ceased in 1812 after an agreement between Great Britain and Russia, however a number of officers, including Christie, remained with the Persian army.

In a battle between the Persian and Russian armies in what is now Iran, Christie was shot in the neck, but refused to surrender and apparently killed six men before he was finally killed by the Russian forces. He was buried where he died close to the village of Aslan Duz which today is on the border between Iran and Azerbaijan on the River Aras.

The monument provides a snapshot of the careers of sons of the business and professional classes in the late 18th century. The eldest son would take on the family business, the route to financial success for the other sons would then often be the Navy, Army or Legal professions, as shown by the Christie family.

Unfortunately for Edward and Charles, their careers did not end with success, but with an early death a long way from home.

If you look back at the 1895 Ordnance Survey map shown above, you will see St. James Church between the burial ground and Hampstead Road. The print below from Old and New London shows the church facing a very rural Hampstead Road:

St. James Gardens

Edward Walford writing in Old and New London provides some more information on the church and who is buried in the burial ground, a location which does not get a very positive description:

“St. James’s Church, formerly a chapel of ease to the mother church of St. James’s, Piccadilly. It is a large brick building, and has a large, dreary, and ill-kept burial ground attached to it. Here lie George Morland, the painter, who died in 1804; John Hoppner, the portrait-painter, who died in 1810; Admiral Lord Gardner, the hero of Port l’Orient, and the friend of Howe, Bridport and Nelson; and without a memorial, Lord George Gordon, the mad leader of the Anti-Catholic Riots in 1780, who died a prisoner in Newgate in 1793.”

This was published in 1878 and the description of the burial ground as dreary and ill-kept probably explains why it was cleared and turned into public gardens in 1887.

View across St. James Gardens with some of the mature trees that will be lost:

St. James Gardens

Although the gravestones do not now exist, many of those who have unmarked graves in St. James Gardens played a significant part in late 18th and early 19th century history.

Captain Matthew Flinders, the navigator who led the first circumnavigation of Australia was buried here in 1814.

Lord George Gordon who led the protest from St. George’s Fields to the Houses of Parliament and which evolved into what became known as the Gordon Riots was buried here in 1793.

St. James Gardens

View over to the location of the London Temperance Hospital, the majority of which has now been demolished.

St. James Gardens

Walking around the gardens I found that the occasional solitary grave remains:

St. James Gardens

The mature tress have large, colourful cloths wrapped around their trunks. This was the result of a “yarn bombing” where hand knitted scarves are wrapped around the trunks of trees to draw attention to their fate.

St. James Gardens

St. James Gardens

The open space between the park and the Hampstead Road that was occupied by the London Temperance Hospital:

St. James Gardens

A few more of the remaining monuments and gravestones. The gravestone to lower right is to Catherine Griffiths and Griffith Griffiths along with their daughter Elizabeth and their son Daniel who is recorded as being drowned in the Thames on the 18th June 1852 at the age of 16.

St. James Gardens

View across the gardens from the edge of the gardens adjacent to Cardington Street:

St. James Gardens

Cardington Street on the left:

St. James Gardens

Cardington Street entrance to St. James Gardens with an HS2 poster announcing the closure of the gardens:

St. James Gardens

View across Cardington Street to the entrance:

St. James Gardens

St. James Gardens are now closed. Hoarding will hide the archaeological investigations across the site and the eventual removal of the monuments and the remains of those buried. St. James Gardens will eventually disappear beneath the development of Euston for HS2.

I hope that the few remaining memorials are moved to a location where they still have some relevance and with public access. It would be a shame if Captain Charles Christie, buried on the border between Iran and Azerbaijan, looses his remaining tangible connection with London.

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19 thoughts on “St. James Gardens – A Casualty Of HS2

  1. Andrew

    A shame to be losing public green space in the centre of London. Will some of it reappear after the work, like Finsbury Circus, or will it be gone forever?

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      If I have understood the plans for HS2 and the published maps documentation, they are gone forever.

      Reply
  2. Harry Miller

    Thanks for your article on St James Gardens. I was born just up the Hampstead Road over my father’s Pie and Mash shop in Seaton Place Market. As a child I played in the gardens where there was a small children’s playground. This must have disappeared at some point. Sadly, we had to leave the market when it was demolished in 1963 as part of the huge development that included the widening of Euston Road and the creation of the underpass at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Hampstead Road which you mentioned in a recent post. Please keep up the good work on your fascinating blog and if you ever dig up some pictures of the market where I was born I would be grateful. I have tried to find such information but Seaton Place Market seems to have vanished in the mists of time.

    Reply
    1. Jean

      My Mum Flo worked in your Dads shop for a while, we lived on the top of Harvey and Thompsons in one of three flats with 21 kids between us, after we all moved out it all collapsed it was in the local paper. My great great grandmother is buried in St James gardens, she died at 23 in childbirth, I will be wanting to know where everyone is being reburied, there is no respect for anything any more. Bring back the old times, do you remember the Tolmer cinema, they would come round in the interval with a flit spray to keep the bugs at bay, you would have to scrabble about to find a decent seat, everything in there was falling to bits. I loved the market when it got dark with all the lights on around the stalls, it had a special feeling about it, I remember Waltons stall on the corner and Rose and a horsemeat shop when the rationing was still on. We were all closer together then weren’t we.

      Reply
  3. Maggy

    Another thorough and thought-provoking post. Thank you. On the subject of historic maps online, I wonder if you have used the National Library of Scotland website? http://www.nls.uk
    It takes a bit of drilling into, but there is a good selection of historic OS and other maps, covering England as well as Scotland, free. eg this one of the area in your post: http://maps.nls.uk/view/101201493
    There is also http://www.old-maps.co.uk, but a subscription is needed to view maps at any useful scale

    Reply
  4. Michael

    Thanks for another thoroughly interesting post.
    Another part of London’s heritage is to give way to concrete and glass monstrocities; in this case so that some people can save 20 minutes getting to Birmingham. Is that a price worth paying? I think not ! Very sad.

    Reply
  5. Bernard Steel

    Excellent, though sad, post. I wonder if Christies (the firm) are aware of the wanton destruction of the gardens and burial ground? And all in the name of a misguided, monumentally expensive vanity project which we can ill afford.

    Reply
  6. Carolyn

    Fascinating reading – thanks for writing. And I would guess that the John Chapman on the Christie memorial would be the father of his wife Isabella?

    Reply
  7. Rosni

    I always learn so much from your posts – thank you. Sad that this valuable little garden is closing, in an area that has precious little green space.

    Reply
  8. rus

    I wonder what will the authorities do with so many remains once they have been removed, 60,000 bodies, will take up a lot of room.

    Reply
  9. John

    About seven years ago I designed a self-guided trail for Camden Council to link all the green spaces between St James Gardens and St Pancras Old Church. The council had just made attempts to clean up these spaces and wanted to encourage people to visit them. At each of the stops that I had identified, local primary schools worked with a sculptor to devise little markers, each with an image of something that I’d discovered in researching the walk. I now forgot what the children did for St James Gardens, but I wonder if it’s still there, and whether those clearing the space will know what it is and chuck it into a skip.

    Reply
  10. Jim Adlam

    It surprised me that (if I understand you correctly) the God-fearing Victorians were happy to clear away graves of people who had in some cases been buried only 34 years earlier – the equivalent of graves from 1984 being desecrated today. I wonder what the surviving relatives thought about it.
    Anyway, another interesting article about a place I had never heard of. And, as others have said, a shame to lose a green space in central London.

    Reply
  11. Peter Holford

    I found this post fascinating and somewhat poignant. The destruction of heritage tends to be a gradual process but huge schemes such as HS2 make it very apparent. Some of my ancestors lived on Drummond Street next to Euston Station. Much of the original line of Drummond Street has already been obliterated by the southward expansion of the station buildings (possibly when the arch was ‘redeveloped’). But there is enough left to the west of the station to see what sort of place it might have been. But last week I found out about the demise of the Brie Louise pub on Coburg Street – a great pub that has twice won the CAMRA pub of the year award – yes, it is to be flattened by HS2. And then I realised the rest of Drummond Street will go too.

    Progress may be inevitable but I’m not sure that this grandiose scheme is value for money. Certainly the social costs of the destruction of businesses and heritage never find there way into any cost-benefit analysis. If they did I’m sure HS2 would be stopped immediately. There are alternatives to increasing rail capacity to the North. The disused mainline from St Pancras to Manchester is one. And perhaps use some of that investment to make the Intercity line linking Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle an electric one? What is happening to the Euston area is wrong on so many levels.

    Reply
  12. Harry Miller

    Sorry to go on about Seaton Place Marketbut the same process that Peter describes is now happening to the pub in Cobourg Street. No attempt is made when the development takes place to retain or recreate any aspect of what was there formerly. A market could easily have been included in the new development when the Euston Road underpass was built and the office space next to it created. A petition was gathered at the time but completely ignored.

    Reply
  13. Paul Holland

    This is a disgrace and should never have been allowed, but as usual the council has rolled over like a good little puppy dog having eaten up the tow line of how good this will be for the local people. Never mind the destruction of the local environment or the desicration of an historic and sacred site. There are some things that cannot be replaced and this is one of them. Plant a few piddly little trees somewhere else does not absolve your guilt. And all for a waste of money white elephant project that will coincide with fewer people commuting in 10 years years time as working patterns change and more work from home or local places and more people are replaced by AI. Has noone taken that into account? They reckon around 50% of jobs will go due to AI and they will not be replaced by new sectors of employment – because there arnt any. How dumb can both main political parties be? To buy up this bullshit for short term job creation – even then the contracts are awarded to foreign firms anyway. And loads of short term workers flood over here for to fill the temporary jobs and then what? What when its all over? Nothing, just unemployment and the further draining of welfare support benefits such as the use of NHS services, free education and everything that goes with that. How many more billions of pounds are going to be wasted on top of the current billions?

    Reply

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