Inventory Site Record

St Alfege Park (Greenwich)

Brief Description

St Alfege Park is on part of the former burial land of St Alfege, whose churchyard was extended in 1803 but eventually closed for burials in 1853. The west part of the burial ground containing the old mortuary was converted into a public garden in 1889 and its layout remains largely unchanged. The present church is the third on this site, built on the place of St Alfege's martyrdom on 19 April 1012. Due to the proximity of the royal palace at Greenwich, the church has many royal associations. The park is separated by a path from the church and original churchyard, with an entrance gate set into the brick wall. Numerous tombstones and graves are within the garden and around the perimeter.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
St Alfege Churchyard; St Alfege Recreation Ground
Site location:
Roan Street/Bardsley Lane, Greenwich
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Gardens
Open to public?
Opening times:
9am - dusk
Special conditions:
Children's playground, ball court, toilets
Public transport:
Rail: Greenwich. DLR: Greenwich, Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich. Bus: 177, 180, 188, 199, 286, 386.
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

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

Full Site Description

St Alfege Park is part of the former churchyard of St Alfege (q.v.), parish church of Greenwich. When the original churchyard became full an additional area of land was acquired in 1803 and consecrated as a new burial ground. This in turn became overcrowded by 1853 and the two churchyards and church crypt were then closed for burial, having taken almost 45,000 burials. In 1889 a Church Faculty transferred management and maintenance of the burial land to the local authority, the Greenwich District Board of Works. The churchyard extension to the west, which contained the old mortuary building, was laid out as a recreation ground and opened in 1889. The design and layout of the garden was undertaken by Fanny Wilkinson, landscape gardener of the MPGA. MPGA minutes of a meeting on 5 February 1889 refer to 500 trees donated by Mr W Jones of The Grove, Blackheath, commenting that 'Miss Wilkinson had put them into the ground then being laid out - St Alphege, Greenwich'. The area to the east immediately around the church and the courtyard at the west end of the church comprised a second parcel of land, the two separated by St Alfege Passage, the park having an entrance gate set into the brick wall.

The present church building is the third on this site, and marks the place of St Alfege's martyrdom on 19 April 1012. Alfege was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury in 1006, and in 1011 was kidnapped from Canterbury Cathedral by the Danes for refusing to pay £3,000 ransom from his diocese. This was because the Danes had exacted a similar amount for safeguarding Canterbury, a promise they had not kept, and because his parishioners were impoverished by the Danes to the extent that raising of this sum would cause further hardship. He was imprisoned in Greenwich marshes and later murdered. The first church was built soon after his death, which is commemorated in a slab in the Chancel. It was rebuilt in the late C13th.

During the Tudor period the church grew in importance due to the proximity of the royal palace of Placentia at Greenwich and there are many royal associations, for example in 1491 the future king Henry VIII was baptised here, and in 1514 Henry's sister Princess Mary married the Duke of Suffolk at St Alfege. Among those buried in the churchyard are Robert Ketewell, who was Clerk of Works for Queen Margaret of Anjou's palace of Placentia. There is a memorial to the Lethieullier family erected by Smart Lethieullier, an antiquary who was responsible for excavating Barking Abbey (q.v.) in 1724, stones from which had been used by Henry VIII to renovate Placentia in 1540/1. Other notable people associated with St Alfege include John Morton, who was vicar from 1444 to 1454, later Cardinal and Chancellor of England. Thomas Tallis, described as 'the father of English Church music' was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal from 1540 to his death in 1585 and is buried in the Chancel. John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, worshipped at St Alfege. Gordon of Khartoum was baptised here in 1833, as was Edgar Wallace in 1875. The body of General James Wolfe, who died in action in Quebec on 13 September 1759, was brought back and buried in the family vault here, his family home having been Macartney House on Crooms Hill.

Although Greenwich was a sizeable and wealthy town in the C14th and C15th, by the end of Queen Elizabeth I's reign the area outside the Palace was becoming rundown. St Alfege's steeple was in bad repair, later rebuilt in the C17th. A severe storm in November 1710 led to the collapse of the roof and the church was beyond repair; a defect in the largest pillar may have been caused by excavations for burials. Queen Anne, the patron of the parish, was petitioned for a new church; in 1711 the Fifty New Churches Act was passed and extended to include Greenwich, and the new church of St Alfege was one of the few that were built under the Act. It was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and built in 1712-14, and re-consecrated on 29 September 1718, a delay caused by the parishioners' initial objection to the requirement of a Royal Pew. Hawksmoor's tower was not built due to lack of funds, and instead the old tower, which had escaped storm damage in 1710, was re-cased to designs of John James of Greenwich in 1730. Badly bombed on 19 March 1941, the church was restored in 1953.

Numerous chest tombs and gravestones remain within the recreation ground as well as around the edges. In the 1950s a ball park and playground were provided and there is also a modern toilet block but a brick shelter was demolished in 2006. In the north-east corner a large bed surrounds the former mortuary with a number of large trees. The landscaping has areas of grass with clumps of evergreen shrubs and perimeter planting; paths run through the ground with a number of seats. Roan Street is so-called after John Roan who bequeathed his estate in 1643 to provide a school and clothing for poor boys, the school later rebuilt on Maze Hill. Since 2007 the recreation ground has been extended onto an adjacent timber yard to the north towards Creek Road.

Sources consulted:

'Greenwich Parish Church, St Alfege' short history of church and its environs, published June 1951 to mark launch of the restoration appeal; Greenwich Parish Church, St Alfege with St Peter, A brief history and guide (n.d.); H Jordan 'Public Parks 1885-1914', AA dissertation 1992 p140; Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South (Penguin) 1999, p245/6, 252; Robert and Celia Godley, 'Greenwich: A history of Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton, Deptford and Woolwich', 1999; Beryl Platts 'A History of Greenwich' 2nd ed. (Procter Press), 1986; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); K D Clark, 'Greenwich and Woolwich in Old Photographs' (Alan Sutton) 1990; LB Greenwich, 'St Alfege Park Management Plan 2008' (draft); Elizabeth Crawford, 'Enterprising Women: The Garretts and their Circle' (Francis Boutle Publishers, 2nd ed. 2009)

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ382776 (538186,177620)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
St Alfege Church
Site management:
LB Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces Department
1803; 1889
1889: MPGA (Fanny Wilkinson)
Listed structures:
LBII: Bardsley Lane walls to west & south, short length of wall to north at east end of Rec. Gd; Gate piers at west end of St Alfege Passage and old wall south and west from these.
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:
West Greenwich
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Area of Archaeological Potential
Other LA designation:
Community Open Space; most of park is within the Greenwich World Heritage Site Buffer Zone

St Alfege Park

St Alfege Park - Photo: Colin Wing
Date taken: 30/03/21 12:10

Click a photo to enlarge.

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