CHAPTER IV. THE CHURCHYARD AND ITS MONUMENTS.
The large churchyard of St. Dunstan's owes its size (about 7
acres) to the great outbreaks of plague 1625-6 & 1665-6, which
necessitated additions to the ground. The vestry minutes about
these dates refer very frequently to the extensions, outlay, etc., and instructions given to the sexton as to burials not to be within a certain distance of the Church. So great was the number of burials, that by license
granted by the Bishop on January 24, 1625-6, at the request of the Vicar,
the Parish Clerk was empowered to bury parishioners, because there
was more work than the Curate could do. In that year 3960 burials took
place, and in 1665-6,—6580; and so greatly was the parish—then principally inhabited by seafaring men—depopulated, that it is recorded in
"The Life of Lord Clarendon" that "there seemed an impossibility to
procure seamen to fit out the fleet" (Lewis, Topographical Dict., 1849).
There are many mentions of the plague at Stepney in Defoe (Edit.
Bell & Co. 1891). He says, that besides the Church-yard there were other
burying-grounds in the parish—at Spitalfields, Petticoat Lane, & where
St. Paul's, Shadwell, & St. John's, Wapping stand. Also that most of the
cases came from Spitalfields on the borders of Shoreditch. That it was
very difficult to keep exact account of the number of burials. "Especially, if it be true, that the parish of Stepney had within the year 116
sextons, grave-diggers, and their assistants, that is to say bearers, bellmen and drivers of carts for carrying off the dead bodies.
"Indeed the work was not of a nature to allow them leisure to take an
exact tale of the dead bodies, which were all laid together into a pit, in
the dark, which pit no man could come nigh but at the utmost peril.
"I observed often that in the parishes of Whitechapel, Aldgate, and
Stepney there were 5, 6, and 700 a week in the Bills, whereas in the
opinion of those who lived in the City there died sometimes 2000 a
week in these parishes, and I saw it under the hand of one that made as
strict an examination as he could, that there really died of the plague
100,000 people in that one year (1665-6) whereas the Bills only showed
68,590." (fn. 1) (page 72).
At times the churchyard appears to have been the resort of the idle and
dissolute, for by a minute of 27 June 1655, it was ordered that" A Breviate of all Acts and Ordinances of Parliament that concerne the due
observation of the Lords daye bee drawne vpp published and sett vpp in
seuerall convenient places in and about the church to the end that all
idle and disorderly persons whoe walke vpp & downe on the lords daye
or lyers on the ground in the churchyard may bee tymely forewarned.
That a cage and a pare of stocks bee sett vpp in some convenient place
neare the church w'thin the church yard."
By the minutes of Nov. 27, 1683, it is evident that the backs of houses
at that time abutted upon the churchyard, for "Whereas by back dores
of Publick houses into the Church yard Potts and Bottles are indecently
shewen, And people from thence get into the Churchyard from Tipling
to prevent being taken, It is therefore ordered by the Vestry that no
Publick house shall hereafter be suffered to have any dore in the Church
yard or shall expose their Potts or Bottles or Painted Posts or Boards
into the Churchyard and that notice thereof be given to the respective
19th October, 1854. At a special meeting of the Vestry held as above, it
was explained that, by an Order in Council, Stepney churchyard would
be closed for burials on the 24th of October 1854, but upon the piece of
ground adjoining being consecrated, burials would be permitted therein
until October 1856.
The churchyard was, in March 1886, handed over to the Metropolitan
Public Gardens Association. Again in 1890 this Association resigned its
charge to the London County Council, who now conduct the area as a
public garden, but only under authority of the Rector.
Stepney was frequently visited by Samuel Pepys the diarist, the Trinity
House, of which he was twice Master, being then situated in the parish. (fn. 2)
Under date 3 June 1667, he writes: "Thence down by water to Deptford, it being Trinity Monday, when the Master is chosen, and thence,
finding them all at Church, and thinking they had dined, as usual at
Stepney, I turned back, having a good book in my hand, the life of Cardinal Wolsey, wrote by his own servant, and to Ratcliffe, and so walked
to Stepney, & spending time in the churchyard, looking over the gravestones, expecting when the company would come by."
The 'Spectator' on Stepney Churchyard
Stepney Church-yard forms the subject for a number of the "Spectator"
No. 518. Friday Oct. 24, 1712:
"Since I am talking of Death, and have mentioned an Epitaph, I must
tell you Sir, that I have made discovery of a churchyard in which I believe you might spend an afternoon with great pleasure to yourself, and
to the publick. It belongs to the Church of Stebon-heath, commonly
called Stepney. Whether or no it be that the people of that parish have
a particular genius for an epitaph, or that there be some poet among
them who undertakes that work by the great, I can't tell; but there are
more remarkable inscriptions in that place than in any other I have met
with; and I may say, without vanity, that there is not a Gentleman in
England better read in tombstones than myself, my studies having laid
very much in churchyards. I shall beg leave to send you a couple of epitaphs, for a sample of those I have just now mentioned. They are written
in a different manner: the first being in the diffused and luxuriant, the
second in the close contracted stile. The first has much of the simple and
pathetick; the second is something light, but nervous. The first is thus:
Here Thomas Sapper (fn. 3) lyes interr'd, Ah why!
Born in New England, did in London dye;
Was the third son of eight, begot upon
His mother Martha, by his father John.
Much favoured by his Prince he 'gan to be,
But nipt by Death at th' age of twenty three
Fatal to him was that we small pox name,
By which his mother and two brethren came
Also to breathe their last nine years before,
And now have left their Father to deplore
The loss of all his children, with his wife
Who was the joy and comfort of his life.
The second is as follows:
Here lies the body of Daniel Saul
Spittle-fields weaver, and that's all."
There are many other interesting and curious epitaphs mentioned in the
several books (Strype's Stow, Maitland, &c.) but it may be stated that
all, without exception, are now partly or wholly undecipherable, and
many are missing; though the Burial Registers, in most cases, confirm
their original existence.
The monuments & tomb-stones which have heraldic bearings on them,
are given in the following list partly on the authority of Mr. John T.
Page's articles in the East End News, 1896.
The Churchyard Cross
At the S. side of the west entrance has been erected a cross, made from
the scorched beams of the roof in the fire of 1901, with the following inscription: "In memory of the fire, October 12, 1901." The platform
upon which this cross rests is used as a pulpit on summer evenings.
The Churchyard Monuments
CAPT. WILLIAM SHARPE (date obliterated). A broken slab embedded in the ground. Arms: a fess bet. in chief 2 cross crosslets fitchée, and
in base a mullet. Crest: a pheon reversed. The carving is much worn.
CAPT. HENRY MUDD, 1692. Altar tomb of white stone, with polished granite slab. Inscription:
TO THE MEMORY OF CAPT. HENRY MUDD, WHO DIED 2ND JUNE, 1692: THIS
TOMB WAS REBUILT AT THE SOLE EXPENSE OF THE CORPORATION OF TRINITY
HOUSE OF DEPTFORD STROND IN THE YEAR 1776, AS A GRATEFUL TESTIMONY OF HIS BENEFACTIONS TO THAT CHARITY FOR DECAY'D SEAMEN,
THEIR WIDOWS AND FAMILIES. (fn. 4) RESTORED 1876.
Burial Register.—June 7 1692. Henry Mudd, of Ratcliffe, Esq.
JOHN REDMAN, 176—. Altar tomb. Arms: 3 cushions, impaling a
chief erm. Crest: a dexter hand couped at the wrist appaumée.
WILLIAM OGLE, 17—. Altar tomb. Arms: a fess bet. 3 crescents.
WILLIAM and SARAH FRIEND and family, 17(48). Recumbent
slab. Arms: a chevron bet. 3 stag's heads cabossed, impaling erm., on a chevron 3 cinquefoils.
BROWNING family. Altar tomb, much broken and decayed. Inscription and date obliterated. Arms: a chevron bet. 3 lions passant guardant.
Crest: a lion passant guardant.
JANE & ISAAC LEFEVRE 179-, 1812. Tall altar tomb, surrounded
by iron railings. Arms: per chevron sa. & gu., a chevronel bet. in chief 3 trefoils slipped, one and two, and in base an orb surmounted by a cross patée, impaling vert 3 stags trippant. Crest: a trefoil slipped.
MRS. GRACE ELDER, 1803. Also her daughter ANN ELDER,
1811. Plain recumbent stone on low plinth, enclosed by tall iron railings. This is the tomb referred to in No. 27, page 37.
AGENT HENRY NURSE, 1705, and family. Large recumbent slab.
Arms: a fess bet. 2 chevrons. Crest: a dexter arm embowed, grasping in the
hand a snake environing the arm.
THOMAS TAYLOR, (17) 53. Altar tomb. Arms: Erm., on a chief 3
escallops. Crest: out of a ducal coronet a dexter arm embowed, the hand grasping a sword.
SIR NATHANIEL HODGES, Knight (1727). Altar tomb, much
broken and decayed. Arms: 3 crescents and a canton, impaling a bardure.
Crest: on a ducal coronet over a knight's helmet, a crescent.
JOHN BODINGTON (date obliterated). Altar tomb. Arms: on a chief
semée of crosses cross let fitchée, a demi-lion rampant issuant. Crest: a demilion rampant.
CAP. IOHN PAULIN, 1707. Altar tomb. Arms: a lion rampant, on a
chief 3 roundles. Crest: 2 gambs supporting a roundle.
SAMUEL WALKER, 17(2)9. Altar tomb, much decayed. Arms: on
a bend 3 mullets. Crest: a bird rousant.
Altar tomb, inscription obliterated, but probably to JOHN GORUM,
1716. Arms: chequy, a bend engrailed. Crest: a pelican in her piety.
MRS. DINAH FOX (date obliterated). Altar tomb. Arms: a chevron
bet. 3 fox's heads erased. Crest: a fox passant.
WILLIAM HEATH (date obliterated). Large slab, on ground. Arms:
per chevron embattled, in chief 2 mullets of 6 points, in base a heathcock, impaling 3 two-pronged dung forks. Crest: a cock's head, wattled and combed.
MRS. MARY WESTERBEANE (date obliterated), JOSIAH (1792)
and ANN WALLIS, 1803. Large altar tomb. Arms: 3 birds close, impaling a wolf rampant, in chief a covered cup bet. 2 mullets of six points.
Crest: a bird rousant.
PETER BERE, 1721, and family. Large altar tomb, surrounded by
iron railings. Arms: a bear rampant, impaling a chevron bet. 3 bugle horns,
on a chief 3 demi-lions (?).
BETSEY HARRIS, 1831. The inscription on this stone is as follows:
Sacred to the Memory of BETSEY HARRIS who died suddenly while
contemplating on the beauties of the Moon the 24th of April 1831 in her
CAPT. WILLIAM WILDEY, 1679. Altar tomb much decayed.
Arms: a chevron gouttée bet. 3 martlets.
CAPT. THOMAS CHEVERS, 1675. Altar tomb, inscription and
arms much decayed. Arms: 3 lions rampant, 2 & 1, impaling on a fess 3
crescents, a canton. Inscription:—
Here lye interr'd the bodies of Capt. Thomas Chevers who departed
this life Nov. 18th 1675, aged 44 years. And of Ann Chevers his Wife,
who departed this Life Novr. 14 1675, aged 34 years. And of John
Chevers their son who departed this Life Nov. 13th 1675 aged 5 days.
Reader, consider well how poor a span
And how uncertain is the life of Man:
Here lye the Husband, Wife, & Child, by Death
All three in five days time deprived of Breath.
The Child dies first, the Mother on the Morrow
Follows, and then the Father dies with Sorrow.
A Cæsar falls by many wounds; well may
Two stabs at heart the stoutest Captain slay.
Burial Register.—Nov. 23, 1675. Capt. Thomas Chivers, Ann his wife,
John his sonne.
REV. MATTHEW MEAD, 1699. Large altar tomb, enclosed within
iron railings. The Rev. M. Mead was one of the founders and early
ministers of Stepney Meeting. (fn. 5)
ADMIRAL SIR JOHN LEAKE, 1720. Fine altar tomb, mainly of
marble, and surrounded by railings. The inscription is as follows:
To ye Memory of ye Honble. Sr. J no. Leake Kt. Rear Admrl. of Gt. Brittain
Admrl. & Commander in Chief of her late Majty. Queen Anne's fleet & one
of ye Lords Commissioners of ye Admiralty. Departd this life ye 21 of August
1720 Ætat 64 yrs. 1 m. 17 d. Who Anno 1689 in ye Dartmouth by engaging
Kilmore Castle relieved ye city of Londonderry in Ireland also Anno 1702 with
a Squadn. at Newfoundland he took and destroy'd 51 sail of French together
with all their Settlements. Anno 1704 he forced the van of ye French fleet at ye
Malaga engagemt, reld. Gibraltar twice burning and taking 13 sail of French
Men of War likewise. Anno 1706 reld. Barcelona ye Present Empr. of Germany besieged therein by Phillip of Spain and took 90 sail of Corn Ships ye same
year taking ye Cities of Carthagena and Alicant with ye Islands of Ivica, Majorca, Sardina & Minorca.
Burial Register.—Aug. 30 1720. Sr. John Leak from Greenwich.
There are also inscriptions on this tomb in memory of Dame Christian
Leake (1709), wife of Sir John; Mary Hills, her mother (1703); and
Captain Stephen Martin Leake, brother-in-law and heir of Sir John
JOHN SHAKESPEAR, 1775, and family. A large coped altar tomb.
Arms: on a bend a tilting spear. Crest: a falcon, wings addorsed, inverted,
holding a tilting spear in bend. "The same coat of arms appears on the
Shakespeare monument in the Church at Stratford-on-Avon, where,
with the tinctures added, it reads, Or, on a bend sa. a tilting spear of the
field." (J. T. Page.)
CAPT. ROBERT HALCROW, 1774. Coped altar tomb. Arms:
a lion rampant, on a chief 3 mullets. Crest: a demi-lion rampant. This tomb
is endowed by the bequest of Lady Welch.
CAPT. JOHN WILLMOTT, 1699. Large slab, lying on ground.
Arms: a fess bet. 3 eagle's heads erased. The Crest is obliterated.
RICHARD PHILLIPS (date obliterated). Large flat slab, crest and
arms much defaced, but probably as follows: Arms : 3 hawks (or falcons)
belled, impaling a chevron bet. 3 herons (or storks), a canton or, a lion rampant.
ABRAHAM ROBARTS, 1761, and family. Large altar tomb, enclosed by iron railings. Arms : 3 cross bows, a label for difference, on an
escutcheon of pretence, a chevron gouttée bet. 3 birds close, for Wildey. Crest:
a stag lodged regardant.
SUSANNA ELL, 1643. Monument in churchyard on north side of
church. The inscription is worth recording; there is one almost exactly
the same in memory to one Lockyer, a pill manufacturer, whose tomb
is in the north transept of St. Saviour's Cathedral, Southwark:
To say an Ell lies here, ev'n that alone
Were epitaph enough, no Brass, no Stone,
No glorious Tomb, no Monumental Hearse
No gilded Trophy, or lamp laboured Verse
Can dignifie her Grave, or set it forth
Like the immortal fame of her own Worth.
Then Reader, fix not here, but quit this room
And fly to Abraham's bosom, there's her tomb:
There rests her soul, and for her other Parts
They are imbalmed, & lodg'd in good mens' hearts
A braver monument of stone & lime
No Art can raise, for this shall outlast Time.
West end of Church.
ROGER CRABB, 1680. A stone slab, with inscription.
This Roger Crabb, described in the pamphlet "The English Hermit,
or Wonder of the Age," served in the Parliamentary Army; he gave all
his estate to the poor, only retaining a cottage at Ickenham, and lived
on dock leaves, mallows, and grass.
MARY ANGELL, 1693.
To say, an Angel here interred doth lye
May be thought strange, for Angels never dye.
Indeed some fell from Heaven to Hell,
Are lost, and rise no more.
This only fell by death to earth
Not lost, but gone before.
Her dust lodged here, her soul, perfect in grace
'Mongst saints and Angels now hath took its place.