Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
There has been a church named for St George the Martyr on this site since at least the 12th century. The present church was consecrated in 1736 at a cost of £6,000 out of a fund that had been created by Parliament for the building of 50 new churches in London during the time of Queen Anne. The churchyard was enlarged in 1816 and, having been closed for new burials in 1853, was laid out as a garden by St George the Martyr Vestry and opened to the public in 1882.
In the early 1900s, London County Council wanted to extend Tabard Street across the churchyard to carry traffic directly into Borough High Street. Tabard Street was the new name for the infamous Kent Street. The new name carried a reference to Chaucer as his pilgrims started their pilgrimage in the Tabard Inn in Borough High Street and they would have taken the route down Kent Street on their way to Canterbury. In compensation, London County Council acquired additional land which was added to the garden and overall the size of the garden was increased by 5,000 sq ft.
The LCC refurbished the whole garden area which would be maintained by Southwark Borough Council. Trees were preserved during the works and existing footpaths adapted with new ones added. Several new seats were added with some installed around trees. Drainage was undertaken, a water supply and new fencing installed, and there was new planting and the formation of a grass area. It had been planned to include a children’s play area with playground equipment but there were rights of way issues that would take several years to determine so instead the area was laid out and planted. The new renovated and enlarged public park was opened in 1906.
There is an air of sadness about St George’s Garden. Perhaps it’s because of the gravestones seemingly randomly leaned against a wall, perhaps it is the wall itself which is all that remains of the infamous, and very melancholy, Marshalsea Prison which was just the other side of the wall to the north. The garden, once the churchyard around St George the Martyr Church, is now cut off from the church, separated from the church by road improvements at the beginning of the 20th century.
Today the plane trees have grown taller and the extension to Tabard Street built in 1906 is now a pedestrian piazza with seating and island planted beds which brings some cohesion between church and garden. A herb garden and a rockery have been created in the garden using disused gravestones by volunteers with the Bankside Open Spaces Trust .
There was another burial ground within the Parish of St George the Martyr, a little way south of where the Lock Hospital stood at the end of Great Dover Street. In 1659, the parish had been given some meadow land in Lock Field to be held in trust for the poor of the parish. Part of this land was enclosed and consecrated in 1711 to form a burial ground and named the Lock Burial Ground although it had not been a part of the hospital. It was mainly used for pauper burials and had become very overcrowded by the 1850s when it was closed for further burials. It was laid out by the parish vestry and opened as a public open space in 1887. It was named St George’s Recreation Ground with a smaller area enclosed in Buckenham Square.
The larger area was lost when the Bricklayers Arms roundabout and flyover were built in the late 1960s. The smaller area survived and at some stage was renamed Mayflower Gardens to commemorate the adjacent Congregational Church, destroyed in the second world war, that had been dedicated to the Pilgrim Fathers. Mayflower Gardens is now a part of St Saviour’s and St Olave’s Girls School.