|St Alfege Churchyard||Greenwich|
St Alfege Church is on the site of martyrdom of Alfege, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was kidnapped and later murdered by the Danes in 1012. The first church was built soon after his death. Due to the proximity of the royal palace at Greenwich the church has many royal associations and was where Henry VIII was baptised. Greenwich later lost its prominence; following storm damage in 1710 the church was rebuilt under the Fifty New Churches Act of 1711. Among those buried here are Thomas Tallis (1585) and General James Wolfe, who died in action in Quebec in 1759 and was brought back for burial in the family vault. The former churchyard adjacent to the church has grass and trees, surrounded by cobblestones, and perimeter planting; remaining tombstones are stacked by the church.
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The name Greenwich comes from Anglo Saxon 'gren wic', a green landing place. The present church building is the third on this site, and is the place of St Alfege's martyrdom on 19 April 1012. Alfege was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury in 1006, and in 1011 was kidnapped from Canterbury Cathedral by the Danes for refusing to pay £3,000 ransom from his diocese because the Danes had exacted a similar amount for safeguarding Canterbury, a promise they had not kept, and because his parishioners were impoverished by the Danes to the extent that raising of this sum would cause further hardship. He was imprisoned in Greenwich marshes and later murdered. The first church was built soon after his death, which is commemorated in a slab in the Chancel, rebuilt in the late C13th and during the Tudor period it was of great importance due to the proximity of the royal palace at Greenwich. Consequently the church has many royal associations such as the place of baptism of Henry VIII in 1491, and the marriage of Henry's sister Princess Mary to the Duke of Suffolk in 1514. The vicar from 1444-1454 was John Morton, later Cardinal and Chancellor of England. Thomas Tallis, described as 'the father of English Church music' was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal from 1540 to his death in 1585 and is likely to have played on the church organ console, which was installed in 1552; Tallis was buried in the Chancel, and is commemorated in a window in the present church. Other well-known people connected with St Alfege include John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, who worshipped here; Gordon of Khartoum was baptised here in 1833, as was Edgar Wallace in 1875.
Although Greenwich was a sizeable and wealthy town in the C14th and C15th, by the end Elizabeth I's reign the area outside the Palace was becoming rundown. St Alfege's steeple was in bad repair, later rebuilt in the C17th. A severe storm in November 1710 led to the collapse of the roof and the church was beyond repair; monuments in the church were shattered and among those lost were those of Edward the Confessor, Duke Humphry of Gloucester and his wife and other notable citizens. A defect in the largest pillar may have been caused by excavations for burials. Queen Anne, the patron of the parish, was petitioned for a new church; in 1711 the Fifty New Churches Act was passed and extended to include Greenwich, and the new church of St Alfege was one of the few that were built under the Act. It was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and built in 1712-14, and re-consecrated on 29 September 1718, a delay caused by the parishioners' initial objection to the requirement of a Royal Pew. Hawksmoor's tower was not built due to lack of funds, and instead the old tower, which had escaped storm damage in 1710, was re-cased to designs of John James of Greenwich in 1730. Badly bombed on 19 March 1941, the church was restored in 1953 by Sir Albert Richardson, where possible using original materials saved from the debris.
The body of General James Wolfe, who died in action in Quebec on 13 September 1759, was brought back and buried in the family vault here; the family home was Macartney House on Crooms Hill. Overlooking the churchyard is the former Greenwich National School of Education and Industry for Girls, built in 1814, which is now used as a church hall. Among those buried in the churchyard are Robert Ketewell and his wife. He was Clerk of Works for Queen Margaret of Anjou's royal palace of Placentia; there is a memorial to the Lethieullier family erected by Smart Lethieullier, an antiquary who was responsible for excavating Barking Abbey (q.v.) in 1724, stones from which had been used by Henry VIII to renovate Placentia in 1540/1.
When the original churchyard became full an additional area of land was acquired in 1803 and consecrated as a new burial ground. This in turn became overcrowded by 1853 and the two churchyards and church crypt were then closed for burial, having taken almost 45,000 burials. In 1889 a Church Faculty transferred management and maintenance of the burial land to the local authority, the Greenwich District Board of Works. The churchyard extension to the west, which contained the old mortuary building, was laid out as a recreation ground, now St Alfege Park (q.v.). The area to the east immediately around the church and the courtyard at the west end of the church comprised a second parcel of land, the two separated by St Alfege Passage. The churchyard adjacent to the church consists of a main area of grass with trees, having a cobble surround, with more grass and shrubs on the perimeter; the majority of the remaining tombstones are stacked by the church. Flagstone paths run around the church with a number of Victorian lamp posts.
'Greenwich Parish Church, St Alfege' short history of church and its environs, published June 1951 to mark launch of the restoration appeal; Greenwich Parish Church, St Alfege with St Peter, A brief history and guide (n.d.); H Jordan 'Public Parks 1885-1914', AA dissertation 1992 p140; Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South (Penguin) 1999, p245/6, 252; Robert and Celia Godley, 'Greenwich: A history of Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton, Deptford and Woolwich', 1999; Beryl Platts 'A History of Greenwich' 2nd ed. (Procter Press), 1986; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); K D Clark, 'Greenwich and Woolwich in Old Photographs' (Alan Sutton) 1990.