This is a large secluded park that has several small entrances off residential roads, so unless you’re exploring Bloomsbury’s side streets it’s very easy to not know it’s here.
With a name like St George’s, you won’t be surprised to learn that this pocket park is a former graveyard. What might surprise you though is that it was a graveyard shared by two churches, the Nicholas Hawksmoor church, St George’s Bloomsbury, and the church of St George the Martyr in Queen’s Square, now known as St George’s Holborn.
Neither church is next to the gardens though, as this was one of the early graveyards to be set up remote from its church. This was a time when the church’s graves were filling up so they decided to start buying remote plots of land to create more space.
The land was bought in 1713 and the burial ground opened in 1714. It was split into two separate plots, lengthways, with St George’s Bloomsbury having the northern side, and St George the Martyr having the southern side.
As there was a belief that being buried close to the church meant getting being nearer the front of the queue for redemption on the day of the Last Judgment, there was some reluctance to be buried in a plot of land so far from the church. It wasn’t until the influential churchman, Robert Nelson announced that he was happy to be buried there that other people were willing to take the plunge.
Celebrity endorsements are not a modern thing.
Following the ending of burials of the now packed full graveyards in 1854/5, St George’s Gardens were opened as a public park in 1884/1889, and as by now most of the area had long since ceased to be fields, this was a rare spot of greenery in the area.
In 1997, the gardens were awarded Lottery funding to be renovated, and the restored gardens reopened in 2001.
The park is dominated by the large number of London plane trees which cast a cool shade over the area, and dotted around are some of the monuments from past burials. A meandering path runs around the edge of the park, which is lined with bedding plants.
Of the monuments, an 18th-century obelisk is distinctive. A terracotta statue depicting Euterpe, muse of music stands alone in the garden, and was previously sited in the Apollo Inn on Tottenham Court Road.
You’ll notice in places a row of stones in the grass — these mark the former boundary between the land allocated to the two churches.
Although open as a park to visit, the gardens remain consecrated ground.