Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Currently (2017) surrounded by major building work, the garden around Christ Church is usually a quiet retreat from the bustle of Blackfriars Road. It has huge plane trees around the perimeter over a hundred years old and a few gravestones arranged around the perimeter point to its former use as the burial ground attached to the church.
The burial ground, which had been enlarged in 1817, was closed for further burials in 1853. About 30 years later, the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association approached the Rector about the possibility of laying the space out as a public garden at the MPGA’s expense. The Rector took a long time to reply and when he did he advised he would be agreeable but that entrance would only be allowed for those in possession of a ticket and within restricted hours. The MPGA was unable to agree with these conditions but the Rector insisted that there were members of his congregation who had relatives buried in the graveyard who would not wish to see the area cleared and become a public place of recreation. Nevertheless, despite this and the 1884 Disused Burial Grounds Act which prohibited building on land that had previously been used for burial, schools were erected on the site. The Rector stated these were only temporary.
The MPGA and the Rector did however eventually reach agreement and a formal written agreement was entered into in June 1899. The MPGA would bear the costs of laying out the space as a public garden and it would be maintained by the St Saviour’s District Board of Works. The garden was opened a year later, the 101st open space laid out and paid for by the MPGA. The dedication ceremony was conducted by the Bishop of Rochester and those present included the Earl of Meath (Chairman of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association), Rev. AH Fontaine (the rector) and the local MP Mr R K Causton.
It was announced at the ceremony that John Passmore Edwards would be presenting a drinking fountain, at a cost of £100, to the new garden. It was installed the following October, the inscription declares it was “the desire of the donor to thereby add to the enjoyment of those using the churchyard.” The drinking fountain was Grade II listed in 1998 and restored to working order as part of the refurbishment project carried out to celebrate the Garden's centenary in 2000.
There is a cross marked out in the grass formed by crazy paving. The church was bombed by German planes in April 1941 and set on fire, and the cross marks the spot where the blazing cross from the church fell and seared the grass.
The Garden is now maintained by Southwark Council in partnership with the Bankside Open Spaces Trust . Other works undertaken in the renovation in 2000 included the installation of a scented garden, a wildlife garden and the creation of a beer garden where hops were planted to grow over pergolas.