Churches built in the eighteenth century and early would almost
inevitably have vaults under them. There would also usually be burials
under the floor of the church itself.
This tradition continued into the nineteenth century: many new
churches were built in the 1820s and 1830s, and most would make
provision for vault or church burial. Why?
During the early 19th
century, burial space was at a premium; the new cemeteries had yet to be
opened, and parish grounds were full to bursting. The new churches were
often built on small sites, hemmed in by buildings, with no room for a
burial ground. Vaults were a common solution to the problem, and the
practice was mirrored in non-conformist chapels. Interestingly, the committee formed to raise funds for the construction
of Christchurch, Highbury Grove (Islington) in 1848 made it clear that
'The ground must not be used for burials'. * The fact that this
stricture was required at this late date underlines the fact that it
was common practice elsewhere.
within the church also made
an enormous contribution to the finances of the parish. In some cases
the vaults started to fill before the rest of the church was finished,
establishing an income stream very early on in the life of the church.
For all of these reasons I have listed churches that were built before 1850. Where I have
no evidence at this time of the presence of vaults or church burials in
a particular church I
have listed them as ‘possible’. Mrs Homes includes a list of burial
vaults in The London Burial Grounds but this list is very
deficient, and does not in any case include buildings that had already
By the 1850s
such practices were increasingly seen as a health hazard, though the churches,
for obvious financial reasons, stoutly defended them. During this decade
all church buildings and vaults were closed to further burials, unless
special permission was granted. In the mid 1850s special permission was
obtained for a church burial at St Stephen's Rochester Row on condition
that bodies were 'embedded in powdered charcoal and entombed in well-cemented brickwork'. *
in Parish Churches of London, Clarke, 1966.