|St John the Baptist Churchyard||Greenwich|
The village of Eltham existed by the C11th, with a church from at least the C12th. The burial ground is likely to be of the same date. The present church of St John the Baptist was consecrated in 1875 and contains the remains of a sarcophagus from the C12th church. Eltham grew and became a suburb when the railways arrived and the area was developed. The churchyard entrance has a C19th lych gate, from where a path leads to the church. Among fine C18th and C19th monuments are those of John T North of Avery Hill, the family vault of Sir William James, and of the Blenkiron family. One of the first Australian aborigines to visit Europe was also buried here in 1794.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/12/2006
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Eltham was an old settlement that is recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086, and there may have been a Roman settlement here earlier. There has been a church on the site from Saxon times, which was rebuilt in the late C17th with a wooden tower and shingle spire. The present church, which dates from 1872-5 contains the remains of a sarcophagus from the C12th church, a stone with a cross set into the wall inside the porch. Records of baptismal Chrysom Oil being brought from Rochester Cathedral to Eltham in 1115 suggest there was a church by then and Adam de Bromleigh is documented as the Rector in 1160. In 1166 the patron of the living at Eltham, William Earl of Gloucester, gave the 'Church of St John of Hautham with its appurts' to the Priory he had founded in Keynsham, Somerset. In the church are memorials to local dignitaries including Sir John Shaw (d.1667) of Eltham Lodge, the mansion he built after he leased the former Great Park of Eltham Palace (q.v.). Digging under Sir John Shaw's aisle to create his burial vault in 1667 caused the roof of the nave to collapse, rebuilt in 1668.
In the C17th, C18th and C19th the church was much added to, particularly as the population of the parish grew, and Eltham became a suburb as a result of development following arrival of the railway. Between 1872 and 1879 the old church, which had been located to the north of the current church on a site since built over, was demolished and the new church, designed by Sir Arthur Bloomfield, was built with a larger footprint on part of the churchyard. Although the new church was consecrated in 1875, the tower and spire were not completed until 1879, and this was celebrated in 1880 by a service of thanksgiving on the feast day of St John the Baptist, 24 June. The C19th oak pews were originally in Lambeth parish church of St Mary, now the Garden Museum (q.v.), which were brought here in c1974. The church was restored by Thomas Ford following damage in WWII and the vestry was extended to the north in 1988.
The churchyard is on an oblong site surrounded by a brick wall. The oldest area is to the north, probably dating from the time of the original church in the C12th, parts of the walls to south and east date from the C17th. The main area of the old churchyard has monuments largely of the C18th and C19th set in rough grass with no paths apart from that around the church. There are a number of old yews and other trees, including sycamore. Among the notable monuments is the red granite memorial to John T North (d.1898) of Avery Hill (q.v.); the obelisk to the family of William Blenkiron (d.1871), who had a famous stud farm on the former Middle Park of Eltham Palace (q.v.), now the site of Middle Park Estate; and the family vault of Sir William James (d.1783) of Park Farm Place, whose widow, Dame Anne James erected this memorial and also built Severndroog Castle (q.v.) on Shooters Hill after his death. Others buried here include Thomas Doggett (d.1721), a comedian and also founder of the Thames Watermen's annual rowing race, Doggetts Coat & Badge Race; and by the east wall of the church is the gravestone to Yemerrawanyea Kebbarah, one of the first two Australian aboriginal Chiefs to come to Europe, who arrived in 1792 with Admiral Arthur Philip who was 1st Governor of New South Wales. They were presented at Court but Yemerrawanyea Kebbarah later died in May 1794 and was buried by the churchyard wall. Chief Benelong returned to Australia and his name is recalled in Benelong Point where the Sydney Opera House stands.
The south-east entrance to the churchyard is at the junction of Eltham High Street and Well Hall Road where a tiled lych gate of 1881 leads to a path to the church. The area in front of the church is neatly mown with a holly near the lych gate and a number of tombstones and chest tombs, as well as a cross of 1901. In the south wall is the 1924 Eltham War Memorial in the form of a large stone cross, and a 1886 drinking fountain. To the west of the churchyard is an extension of the burial ground.
Sue Swales, Meg Game, Ian Yarham, 'Nature Conservation in Greenwich', Ecology Handbook 10 (London Ecology Unit), 1989; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South (Penguin) 1999; Darrell Spurgeon 'Discover Eltham and its Environs', Greenwich Guide-books, 2000); LB Greenwich Historic Monuments webpage. See www.gregory.elthamhistory.org.uk for reproduction of R R C Gregory's 'The Story of Royal Eltham' (1909)