St George's Gardens - archive material

(1) Harry Jones' own 1875 account of his vision - before the project came to completion - can be read here. The quote in bold in the following piece is characteristic!

(2) Sydney Morning Herald, 11 January 1876

It may seem extraordinary that a newspaper from the other side of the world should report on Harry Jones' project to create public gardens from the disused churchyard, but many had emigrated from this parish to Australia, and the context is the ongoing interest in the welfare of the parish after Bryan King's departure. It draws mainly on the views of The Times, comparing the ministries of King and Jones - you can see the parts of the article which deal with ritualism here.

....Now for the other picture, drawn by the same hand [The Times]. Here it is:-
Instead of quarrels about vestments, and chants, and postures, a spectacle of general enthusiasm for local improvement is described, in which the rector, the vestry, the Nonconformist, and the parish at large are united; and the rector only appeals to the public in order to insure, what he has every reason to expect, the favourable co-operation of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The proposal to convert the churchyard, once the scene of such bitter animosities, into the centre of peace, cheerfulness, harmony and health for the whole parish. Mr. Jones' sketch of the present and the future unconsciously tells the story of this revolution in a few words. There is an old churchyard planted with trees, and adjoining it is the burial-ground of the Wesleyan chapel. The chapel burial-ground is, however, separated from the churchyard by a gaol-like wall, 'high, spiked, and strong'. That was the kind of force which once surrounded the whole ecclesiastical establishment of the parish. "The obvious course", says Mr. Jones, with admirable directness, "is to throw all sectarian reminiscences to the winds, pull down the middle wall of partition between the dead Churchmen and their deceased Nonconformist neighbours, and thus provide a good acre or more for the formation of a well-ordered public garden". He would have it accessible to all the parish; and his imagination conjures up a picture of perfect pastoral harmony. Flower beds and trees will flourish, in the heart of a crowded parish, and in grateful proximity to the church, a rural retreat, where fountains, peacocks, and pigeons will recall, under the shadow of the church, no thoughts but those of unity and peace. All this, moreover, is not merely an imaginary idyll. The reality it would typify has been already in great measure created. This is not now Mr. Jones's idea, though he probably had a good share in it. It is the suggestion of the Vestry itself of St. George's-in-the-East. Mr. Jones is speaking for them, not to them, and he only appears as their representative. Nothing, of course, could have been done unless he had been willing to turn his rights over the churchyard to such good account; but it is the Vestry, and not the Rector who asks for the assistance of the Metropolitan Board of Works. They have warmly adopted the suggestion; they are prepared to furnish half the cost, which can hardly be less than a few thousand pounds, and they have prepared detailed plans and estimates.

But the project for converting the parish churchyard into a pleasure ground has not been received with universal favour. The Pall Mall Gazette, for instance, says:-
Mr. Jones knows Ratcliff-highway well, we presume - knows the population, their character, habits, morals, manners. What he wants to get - or what he ought to want, as being the only thing there is the least possibility of getting or preserving in such a neighbourhood - is simply a piece of green turf as large as possible, and to be kept as fresh and in such sort of order as may be found possible.

That is all. 'A piece of green turf' is good enough for the working man, that is, in the estimation of the journal 'written by gentlemen for gentlemen'. But it so happens that Ratcliff-highway no more represents the parish of which Mr. Jones is rector than Argyle-street or the Haymarket represents the West End. The bulk of the inhabitants are honest, hardworking people, with an intense love of flowers, and ready to appreciate everything which is being done to lighten the burthen of their earthly lot. That they can enjoy something more than 'a piece of green turf' is shown by their numerous pilgrimages to the various parks and public gardens within a walking distance. But then our gentlemen writers do not know this.

(3) East London Advertiser, 5 January 1901, page 7

Harry Jones and Open Spaces
London is far richer through the life of one who has just passed away than many Londoners realise. Prebendary Harry Jones, Chaplain-in-Ordinary to the Queen, was a man of such varied interests and such powerful influence that he leaves behind him countless humble mourners in the city and in the country, as well as among the intellectual and wealthy of the earth. And yet, by reason of the age he had attained, he must have lost many of those who were his companions in the more active years of his life.

Harry Jones, as he liked simply to be called, sat loose to certain points of doctrine or ritual closely cherished by his brother clergy; and among the numerous men who served under him as curates, some have o'er-leapt their master and become noted for more or less latitudinarian eccentricity; but he himself was sound in heart and mind and practice, and in connection with social, sanitary, and municipal questions he was eminently wise and successful. "That which is good," he wrote, "is of God, though it be but the sweetening of a drain; and that which is anywise right has its inevitable relation to the Lord of Righteousness." This was his creed; while his "Christian tie" was "the desire to do the will of God." Such men are sorely missed.

It is not, however, with regard to his social activity or his parochial life that I wish to say something about Harry Jones. These, no doubt, will be dealt with by his friends and colleagues; while he has left behind him an unusually large number of books and papers relating his own experiences and describing his own work. It is solely upon his connection with the movement for providing open spaces that I venture to dwell-a connection so valuable that it should not be forgotten.

A Ragged Churchyard
During the years 1874 and 1875, while rector of St. George's-in-the East, he made up his mind that the "ragged churchyard" attached to this church, disused for burials for twenty years, and the graveyard at the back of the adjacent Wesleyan Chapel, should be thrown into one and converted into a public garden. Having made up his mind he carried the scheme into effect. This was not actually the first churchyard to be thrown open, for St. Martin's little burial ground in Drury Lane, and that of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate, had been to a certain extent laid out for the public; but both of these grounds had to be closed again for some time before they were ready for the extensive use which was to be made of them. Prebendary Jones set to work in a business-like fashion, and after much labour and threatened failure, and after two whole days in the Consistory Court, he secured, on behalf of the Vestry, the required faculty. The Wesleyan ground was purchased for £2,700, the wall between it and the churchyard was pulled down, a new public pathway was made from Cable Street to Ratcliff Highway, and the garden was tastefully laid out with broad paths, stretches of grass, flower-beds, seats, and a fountain. As it has been open ever since, viz., twenty-five years, it may claim to have been the example for all the subsequent churchyard or burial-ground gardens laid out in London. Harry Jones describes the fight he had, and the difficulties he encountered in order to carry out this scheme in more than one of his books, but the result is shortly summed up in the following quotation from a letter I received in '95:-

Ours was, indeed, the first Churchyard Open Space, with a thoroughfare provided, and the making of it caused an adaptation or fresh application from the Act which made the formation of the others easier. I well remember Lord Meath coming and talking the whole prospect of the matter over. We had a disused 'Non-con.' burial-ground adjacent to our churchyard joined to it so as to make one area, unbroken by any fence between 'consecrated' and 'unconsecrated' soil. A unique procedure, I believe, which has created a precedent.

What to do with Burial Grounds
Not only has St. George's Gardens proved one of the most useful in London, but the Vestry has cause to be proud of the very efficient manner in which it has been kept up. The part of the burial-ground immediately east of the church was laid out and added to the garden in 1885, with the assistance of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association*. Now there are, in London alone, no less than ninety-nine public gardens which have been made from disused burial-grounds, and the example set in London is being followed in the provinces.

In the immediate proximity of St. Luke's, Berwick Street, and St. Philip's, Regent Street, Harry Jones had no opportunity of making a recreation-ground, but open-space movements in the neighbourhood always had his hearty co-operation. From the commencement of its existence he was a member of the Public Gardens Association, and very numerous are the letters and postcards the officers of that body have had from him on points connected with the history or formation of open spaces.

From St George's to the City
Early in 1897, Harry Jones was appointed by the Bishop to the City living of St. Vedast, Foster Lane, vacant through the death of Dr. Sparrow Simpson. He immediately interested himself in the church, and published a small pamphlet upon the history of the building and of the patron saint. With the parish of St. Vedast are annexed those of St. Michael le Querne, St. Matthew, Friday Street, and St. Peter Cheap, Wood Street, none of the three churches being in existence. There is no churchyard left belonging to St. Michael le Querne, while those of St. Vedast and St. Matthew are entirely surrounded by buildings; they are little hemmed-in courts, not suitable for making into public resting-places. But that of St. Peter Cheap, the site of the burned church, is differently situated, the eastern side being bounded by the pavement of Wood Street, close to Cheapside. This space, small in itself, is well known to City men by reason of the fine old plane tree which grows in it, showing a welcome green and throwing a grateful shade in the midst of the busiest part of the busiest city in the world. Upon the subject of the improvement of this little churchyard, its preservation from encroachment, and the security of the tree, Harry Jones devoted considerable time and attention; and to his death, in connection with certain negotiations respecting adjoining property, he maintained a valuable defensive attitude. In May, 1897, he wrote:- Please tell him [the Secretary of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association] that a picture of a nook in appropriately named 'Wood Street' has been growing in my mind's eye, and looks as if it might approach realisation.

The Ruling Passion in Death
Twice during the last week of 1900 - the week in which he was seized with fatal illness - did he write to the Secretary on the same matter, as well as to the churchwarden of St. Peter's. The widening of Wood Street had necessitated new railings being placed under the tree. The following is a quotation from one of those letters:- This morning I had a note from the churchwarden of St. Peter's, whom you have seen, and enclose it. In my reply I hope that 'the new railings won't injure the old tree, and that means will be found to avoid cutting roots in the way of them.' And I add, 'History as well as present feeling will appreciate special care in the preservation of what is a living London monument.'

It is satisfactory to be able to report that special care has been taken by the Corporation to avoid in any way injuring the roots of this tree, the 'living London monument', which he so faithfully guarded, who loved the bustle of the city streets while he loved the peacefulness of his Suffolk home.

One word more with regard to the churchyard of St. George's-in-the-East. To fully appreciate what an incalculable boon its opening has proved it should be visited. On warm and sunny days every available seat in the garden will be occupied. The grass is green and refreshing, the trees are shady and the flowers are bright. Rough men are there, and coarse girls from 'the Highway' - now called St. George's Street - but there is perfect order and good behaviour. There are also many quiet folk, poor folk, and little children. It is their own and their only park they not only love but respect it. And while most of them may be thoughtless, or engrossed with sordid cares of their narrow lives, some, perhaps are remembering, with a sense of deep-felt gratitude, the
dauntless and large-hearted rector who won the garden for them - "Leisure Hour."

* The MPGA is still going strong! It's posible that Fanny Wilkinson, landscape gardener to the Association (initially honorary, then paid - a first for a woman) was involved with this project. Fanny Rollo Wilkinson (1855-1951) was a remarkable woman, working from Bloomsbury and connected to the 'Bloomsbury set' and the social reformers of her time, with strong feminist principles.

(4) Letter from the Diocesan Chancellor (1907)

which makes it clear that St George's was indeed the first churchyard to be converted into public gardens, anticipating the 1881 Act

12, King's Bench Walk
Temple, E.C.
Telegrams: Tristram. 52, Temple.

Oct 30 1907

My dear Sir,

St George's in the East

I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 29th Inst, & I have perused 2 Geo II Cap 30. [This was the 1729 Act of Parliament creating the parish.]

The Freehold of the Church Yard of St George's in the East, being consecrated ground, is vested in you as Rector of the Parish, but the Fee is in abeyance. 

[in law, the incumbent for the time being holds the title or 'fee simple' to the church and churchyard - but where there is a vacancy in the parish, or the living is suspended, or where, as here, the churchyard is closed and management transferred to the local authority, it is not entirely clear where ultimate 'ownership' lies. Attempts to address this issue, and the legal confusions that result, have been made at General Synod but without success.]

By virtue of Consecration it is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Consistory Court of London, & no agreement by you or the Church Wardens for the transfer of its control & management as proposed would be valid in law, unleʃs confirmed by Faculty.

The usual & proper course for you & the Ch Wardens in such Cases to take is to settle terms of agreement with the Borough Council in the matter – and then file a Petition in the Consistory Ct embodying in it the terms of the proposed agreement, & praying the Court to sanction by a Faculty such agreement. When executed & empowering the Council to have the Care & Management of the Church Yard in future on the terms mentioned in the Agreement reserving to the Church its Jurisdiction over the Ch Yard.

On the case being heard I might suggest some alterations in the terms of agreement, & it is better that it shd not be executed until after the hearing of the Case in Court.

The Borough Council might be & usually are in such Cases parties to the Petition.

In 1876 I granted the First Faculty granted by any Ecclesiastical Court for laying out as Public Gardens the lower portion of this Church Yard – see Re the Rector & Church Wardens of St Georges in the East (LR Prob. Div. 311) & on granting the Faculty I said that “the Ch Yd would still remain subject to the orders of the Court, to which application could at any future time, if required, be made.”

This practice was confirmed by the Open Spaces Act 1881 44 & 45 Vic Cap 34 authorising Public Authorities expending rates on laying out Ch Yards subject to obtaining a Faculty for the purpose.

Yours very truly

J. H. Tristram

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