LONDON SLANT: NEW LIFE FOR A PLACE OF SLEEP

Bunhill Fields, a leafy graveyard in London’s financial district, is a welcome patch of green among looming concrete and glass. The final resting place of colourful characters including William Blake and Daniel Defoe, its peaceful atmosphere counteracts the urban urgency all around.

London slant Bunhill fields

An apple for the poet-painter. Visitors to William Blake’s grave in London’s Bunhill Fields leave tokens of appreciation, including coins, flowers and fruit.

Every morning stern-faced office workers stream along its central path, two unbroken ribbons heading east and west. I imagine the effigy of John Bunyan, recumbent on his tomb, turning to observe them as they scurry past. I fancy that the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, known for his skilful rendering of human foibles and desires, would be delighted to have found the perfect spot to continue his studies of London life.

John Bunyan Bunhill Fields London slant

No respect for a writer whose work has never been out of print for over 300 years. A London pigeon perches on the stomach of John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress.

Active from the late 17th century until 1854, burials have long ceased on this site. So I was quite surprised when I recently encountered a team of workmen digging around the graves. I asked one what was happening and he told me that Bone Hill, its original name, is a former marsh. Many of the tombs are subsiding—he pointed to one that had collapsed—but are now being shored up and cleaned. Errant vegetation is being removed and water jets are targeting years of city grime. Beautiful carvings and inscriptions are appearing in glowing white stone.

Bunhill Fields, London

Men at work. A skull and cross bones newly cleaned on a Bunhill Fields tomb.

It’s great that such care is being lavished on a place that could have been left behind in the scramble to build office towers. And it’s fascinating to watch as every week more of the monuments return to glowing health.

Now, some newly-buffed tombs are even starting to look rather stark. But I’m sure it won’t be long before nature begins to reassert itself. Because while I’m delighted to see this memorial ground of notable non-conformists being properly nurtured, atmosphere is important, too. And for that you need a scattering of wayward ivy and ferns peeking out among the stones.

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