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St George's Fields gardens are on the site of the former burial ground of St George Hanover Square, established in 1763 and closed in 1852. Following closure, while remaining Church property, the headstones were placed around the walls and the land was used for various purposes, including allotments in WWI and later sports. In 1964 the land was deconsecrated by Act of Parliament and the site was cleared by the Parish of St George. It was sold in 1967 to the Utopian Housing Society who built 7 blocks, housing 300 flats and maisonettes, completed in 1973. Many of the site's mature trees, including a plane c250 years old and a red oak, were retained; the main buildings were separated with garden areas around them and each flat had an open view of the gardens. It was set up as a community ownership development but passed into private tenant ownership in 1982 and continues to be self-managed. There is a fine collection of trees, areas of lawn and shrubberies, ornamental ponds and a collection of ferns, a woodland garden and herb garden. In 2008 a woodland garden was created, and there is a herb garden and fishponds.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/02/2019
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.stgeorgesfields.org.uk
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
St George's Fields - Photo: Sarah Jackson
Click photo to enlarge.
It is possible that among those buried in the Burial Ground of St George, Hanover Square were those who died on the gallows at Tyburn, now the site of Marble Arch (q.v.). The Tyburn Gallows Tree was used from the C12th until 1783, a 12-ft high triangular structure capable of hanging 8 people on each of its sides.
Among the notable people interred in the burial ground here was The Revd. Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), the popular author of novels such as 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy', who died of pleurisy. His body was snatched from its tomb and sold to the Professor of Anatomy at Cambridge who, recognising his friend, returned it to St George's. Others buried here include the artist Paul Sandby (1721-1809) who reputedly introduced the aquatint to England; and Anne Radcliffe (1764-1823) author of a popular Gothic romance, 'The Mysteries of Udolpho'. Another interesting burial here is that of Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804), illegitimate daughter of Royal Naval Officer Sir John Lindsay and an African woman, possibly a captured slave, who he met when stationed in the Caribbean. Dido was brought to England as a child and entrusted to her father's uncle, William Murray, later Lord Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice. He owned Kenwood House (q.v.), where Dido was raised as part of his aristocratic family. A portrait of her and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray by Scottish painter David Martin is in the collection of the Earl of Mansfield at Scone Palace. Dido later married a steward, John Davinier, and they lived in Pimlico until her death in 1804.
The graveyard had two six-foot high walls 3 feet apart, possibly as a deterrent to body-snatchers although the outer wall may have been added to mark the actual boundary. Following its closure as a cemetery, while remaining the property of the church, the land was used for various purposes. In WWI, the land was used for allotments, the headstones having been placed around the walls, and it was later used for sports including tennis until the 1960s. At one time the Royal Toxophilitic Society cleared a portion for archery practice. The burial ground's Chapel of Ascension, which was 'dedicated to rest and reflection' and had paintings by Frederick Shields, was destroyed in WWII. In 1964 the land was deconsecrated by Act of Parliament and the site was cleared by the Parish of St George, the majority of the lead coffins taken to Hertfordshire for reburial, although many bones remained in the soil. It remains debateable whether all the remains were removed and there is speculation that there may still be bodies on the site. At that time Sterne's remains were removed to Yorkshire, initially proving complicated when his coffin was found to contain one body and two heads.
In 1967 the land was sold to the Utopian Housing Society who gained planning permission for 7 blocks housing 300 flats and maisonettes. The scheme was designed by Design 5 Ltd architects and was completed in 1973. This estate has been described as one of the more successful 1960s housing schemes that were designed to provide 'an ideal environment for modern urban living', inspired by the ideas of the Italian futurist architect Antonio Sant' Elie's 'Nuova Citta' (1914). The harshness of the architecture is considerably softened here by the emphasis on the landscaping. Many of the site's mature trees, including a plane c.250 years old and a red oak, were retained during construction and the development was planned to ensure that the main buildings were separated, with garden areas woven around them, and that each flat had an open view of the gardens. Flats in the stepped, ziggurat-style blocks were provided with spacious balconies with deep plant troughs and planting was encouraged, and the original plans described the estate as 'the new hanging gardens of Bayswater'. It was set up as a community ownership development but passed into private tenant ownership following the Conservative Government's Housing Bill in 1982.
The estate continues to be self-managed, and is run by an elected board of directors drawn from among the residents, employing a small team of staff including gardeners. The estate has a fine collection of trees, which is being added to, areas of lawn and shrubberies, ornamental ponds and a collection of ferns. The Church retained a strip of land in the north originally for use as a service road when pedestrianisation of Connaught Street was planned, but this is now leased to the Hyde Park Nursery School. A woodland garden has been created incorporating many trees and plants that were previously on the estate in pots and planters, and there is also a herb garden for residents' use.
Booklet produced by board of residents 'St George's Fields Marble Arch W2, A Garden Estate in Central London' (n.d., c.2000); https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/women-in-history/dido-belle/