Inventory Site Record

St Giles' Churchyard (Camden)

Brief Description

St Giles-in-the-Fields Church was built in the 1730s on the site of an earlier church and also of two plague pits of the Black Death. The church is surrounded by a small railed churchyard, with a lych gate on St Giles High Street in the style of a Doric triumphal arch. Following closure as a burial ground, St Giles' Churchyard was later laid out as a garden and opened to the public in 1891, maintained by Holborn Borough Council. The garden has a few tombs remaining; gravestones are ranged along the east boundary wall adjacent to a paved area to the east of the church shaded by mature trees; York stone paths run through grass, and behind the church is a formal area of ornamental planting. The play facilities in the church grounds were improved in c.2015 through funding from the Pocket Parks initiative.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
St Giles-in-the-Fields
Site location:
St Giles High Street/St Giles Passage/Flitcroft Street
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Gardens, Pocket Park
Open to public?
Opening times:
7.30am - dusk
Special conditions:
Church has opened for London Open House
Public transport:
Tube: Tottenham Court Road (Central, Northern). Bus: 1, 7, 8, 10, 14, 19, 24, 29, 73, 134.
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.camden.gov.uk

Full Site Description

St Giles-in-the-Fields was built on the site of an earlier church, and is surrounded by a small railed churchyard with grass and a few tombs, rose beds and a herbaceous border among trees. The church is Classical in style, built in stone with a copper roof, and was designed in 1731-33 by Henry Flitcroft, who also designed the Vestry Rooms. The church was restored in 1896, and again in c.1952 when N Haines and G Jackson also restored the interior decoration. Within the church is a carved monument dated 1634 to George Chapman, the translator of Homer, which was probably designed by Inigo Jones. The lych gate on St Giles High Street was built in 1800, a stone structure with wrought-iron gates in the style of a Doric triumphal arch. The lunette panel on the west face has a cast of the oak original (restored and kept in the church), depicting the Resurrection of the Dead, dated 1686-7 by Love.

The site was once that of two plague pits of the Black Death; the St Giles area had long been poverty-stricken, the slum conditions in its densely-packed streets, known as the St Giles Rookery, were deemed by some to have been instrumental in spreading the Great Plague in 1665. By the late C18th St Giles' Churchyard was full to overflowing and an account of 1793 described in horrific detail how bodies and coffins were piled up. St Giles Vestry at first brought in soil in order to raise the ground level of the churchyard to allow more burials, but soon needed to purchase an additional plot of land for the purpose in St Pancras. This was consecrated in 1803, but itself became oversubscribed, with 10,000 burials recorded between 1843 and 1845 alone. The plot was next to the burial ground of Old St Pancras Church, and, together with another additional burial ground for St George's Bloomsbury, these former burial grounds were later combined to become the public gardens now known as St Pancras Gardens (q.v.).

Like many overcrowded churchyards in London, its closure came as a result of the first Burial Act of 1852 and its subsequent amendments during the 1850s. The Metropolitan Open Spaces Acts of 1877 and 1881 and the Disused Burial Grounds Act of 1884, later extended under the Metropolitan Open Spaces Act of 1887, enabled 'open spaces and burial grounds in the Metropolis for the use of the inhabitants thereof for exercise and recreation'. St Giles' Churchyard was itself laid out as a garden and opened to the public in 1891, maintained by Holborn Borough Council. The gravestones were removed and many now line the east boundary wall, with a few tombs left in situ in the garden. A paved area to the east of the church is shaded by mature trees and York stone paths wind through the lawn at the rear of the church, where there is now a formally laid out area of ornamental planting adjacent to the church.

The play facilities in the church grounds were improved in c.2015 with funding through GLA’s Pocket Parks scheme, an initiative of the Mayor of London’s drive to create 100 Pocket Parks across London launched in 2013, with community grants of up to £20,000 available. The community fund was part of a £2m investment to bring 100 underused urban spaces back into use by March 2015. The scheme was delivered by Groundwork and enabled the creation of more than 100 pocket parks across 26 London boroughs, and ranged from community orchards to edible bus stops, the first to open being in Stockwell. A Pocket Park, defined as ‘a piece of land of up to 0.4 hectares, which may already be underdeveloped or derelict’, is considered to provide a small area of inviting public green space where people can relax, exercise, socialise and play, and can be natural and/or formal in character.

In 2016 the Pocket Parks initiative went England-wide with a £1.5m fund launched by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Community groups were invited to apply for grants up to £15,000, but applicants were also required to raise match funding from other sources. This led to 87 funded projects across the country, although no projects were in London. In 2018 the Pocket Parks Plus Scheme was launched by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), eventually making £3.75m available when it was widened to include not only new pocket parks but also projects to refurbish existing parks or parts of parks. This led to funding 198 projects, which included 32 projects in London. The third funding round was launched by MHCLG in 2019 and on 3 March 2020, World Wildlife Day, the recipients of the £1.35m fund were announced. Of the 68 winners, 10 are in London. The government has now provided 352 grants to support community groups to create 146 new parks and give a vital boost to 206 derelict urban spaces in towns and cities in every region of the country.

Sources consulted:

Survey of London; M W Hammond, 'Camden's Parks and Gardens', LB Camden, 1973; John Richardson, 'A History of Camden. Hampstead, Holborn, St Pancras' (Historical Publications Ltd, 1999). Information on GLA Pocket Parks initiative. 

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ300811 (529960,181260)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Church, leased to LB Camden
Site management:
LB Camden Parks & Open Spaces
C18th; 1891; C20th
Listed structures:
LBI: St Giles-in-the-Fields Church. LBII*: Vestry Room. LBII: Lych gate; wall with lamp south-west of church
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Denmark Street
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Area of Special Character: Central London Area
Other LA designation:
Private Open Space

St Giles' Churchyard

St Giles' Churchyard from the south, March 2010. Photo: S Williams

St Giles' Churchyard, Formal planting at rear of church, March 2010. Photo: S Williams
St Giles' Churchyard, View from gates to East with tombs, March 2010. Photo: S Williams
St Giles' Churchyard, Lych gate, March 2010. Photo: S Williams

Click a photo to enlarge.

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