Inventory Site Record

St James Clerkenwell Church Garden (Islington)

Brief Description

St James Clerkenwell Church Garden is on the site of the former C12th St Mary’s Nunnery run by Augustinian canonesses. When the Nunnery was dissolved in 1539 its church was converted into the Clerkenwell parish church of St James. The old church was rebuilt in 1625, later replaced by the current building in 1788-92. The steeple was rebuilt in 1849 and the church was later restored in 1882. Among those buried here are many of the 200 Islington Protestants martyred at Smithfield in the Reformation in the 1550s. The churchyard was laid out and opened as a public garden in 1890. The garden has notable London plane trees and is enclosed by C19th railings and piers. In 1987 part of the medieval cloisters from the former C12th nunnery were excavated in the churchyard garden.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
St Mary's Nunnery; St James Clerkenwell Parish Church
Site location:
Clerkenwell Close/Clerkenwell Green
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Gardens
Open to public?
Opening times:
8am - dusk. Church Open Mon-Fri 12-2pm
Special conditions:
Children's playground
Public transport:
Tube: Farringdon (Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, Circle). Rail: Farringdon. Bus: 19, 38, 55, 153, 243

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.islington.gov.uk/services/parks-environment/parks/your_parks/greenspace_az

Full Site Description

St Mary's Nunnery of Augustinian canonesses was one of three medieval religious foundations established in the area and was founded on land donated by Jordan Brisset in c.1144. The Nunnery was dissolved in 1539 and the church converted into Clerkenwell parish church of St James, which was apparently already being used as such by that time. In 1540 the site of the nunnery was granted to Thomas, Duke of Norfolk, but the freehold of the church passed through various hands until it was conveyed in 1656 to trustees on behalf of the parishioners, who at the same time obtained the right to appoint the vicar. Unlike other parishes, they continued to retain this right after the Restoration of 1660 and elections for this purpose were held until the early C20th.

The old church was rebuilt in the early C17th and in 1673 land was purchased for the churchyard, which was enlarged in 1677. A new church was built in 1788-92 to designs of James Carr, a local architect, the spire modelled on that of St Martin in the Fields. The steeple was rebuilt in 1849 and the church was later restored in 1882. Monuments from the old church were set up in the porch in the C19th.

Among the many Protestants who were martyred in the Reformation were the 200 Islington Martyrs, burnt at Smithfield in the 1550s, many of whom were buried in the churchyard here. It was also the burial place of the victims of the explosion in 1867 when the Clerkenwell House of Detention was blown up by the Fenian Conspiracy to release their people inside. After it closed to burial, the churchyard was laid out and opened as a public garden in 1890, maintained by the vestry. It has notable London plane trees, and good C19th railings and piers. Part of the range of the mediaeval cloister from the former C12th nunnery was excavated in the churchyard garden in 1987.

Sources consulted:

Mary Cosh, An historical walk through Clerkenwell, London,1987; Andrew Duncan, 'Walking Village London', New Holland, 1997; Arthur Mee 'The King's England: London North of the Thames except the City and Westminster' (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1972); Mervyn Blatch, 'A Guide to London's Churches' (Constable, London 2nd ed. 1995); Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998); Mrs Basil Holmes, The London Burial Grounds, (1896)

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ315822 (531520,182220)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Islington
Site management:
C16th; 1670s; 1890
Listed structures:
LBII: Church and attached railings; 3 bollards adjacent to church. SAM: Nunnery of Mary de Fonte
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:
St James's Walk
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Archaeological Priority Area
Other LA designation:
Local/strategic view corridor. Church: local landmark. Shopping Policy Area

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