St George-the-Martyr Churchyard and St George's Garden (Southwark)
There has been a church on the site since the C12th although the present church of St George the Martyr dates from the C18th. It is often referred to as 'Little Dorrit’s Church' because Charles Dickens’ character was baptised and married here. In 1816 the small churchyard was enlarged by Act of Parliament but it was eventually closed for burials in 1853 and was converted into a public garden in 1882. When Tabard Street was extended to Borough High Street, part of the churchyard was lost, and the detached portion was re-opened as public gardens in 1902, now called St George's Garden. The north boundary wall originally formed the southern boundary of Marshalsea Prison, where Dickens' father was incarcerated. The garden has been re-landscaped and has a number of gravestones in one corner.
- Previous / Other name:
- St George's parish church; St George with St Alphege and St June
- Site location:
- Borough High Street/Tabard Street
- SE1 1JA
- Type of site:
- Public Gardens
- Open to public?
- Opening times:
- 7.30am - sunset
- Special conditions:
- Public transport:
- Tube: Borough (Northern), London Bridge (Northern, Jubilee). Bus: 21, 35, 40, 343, P3
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/04/2012
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.bost.org.uk; www.stgeorge-themartyr.co.uk
Full Site Description
St George the Martyr is an ancient parish, and may have been the first church in London to be dedicated to St George. The earliest reference to a church here is in 1122, recording the gift of the advowson to Bermondsey Priory by Thomas de Arderne and his son. The Norman church was rebuilt in the late C14th, but this later church was replaced by a new church of St George-the-Martyr in 1734-6 designed by architect John Price. The interior was altered in 1807/8, and in 1897 a fine ceiling was created, the work of Basil Champneys, which was restored in 1951/2 after the church suffered WWII bomb damage. It is often referred to as Little Dorrit’s Church because Charles Dickens’ character was baptised and married here. Her kneeling figure can be seen in the stained glass east window. Dickens (1812-1870) moved to Southwark aged 12 when his father was imprisoned in the nearby Marshalsea Prison, lodging in a house that belonged to the Vestry Clerk of St George’s. He often wrote about Southwark in his novels and some of the locations can still be identified today. Other literary figures associated with Southwark include Geoffrey Chaucer, John Keats and William Shakespeare.
In 1816 the church's small churchyard was enlarged by Act of Parliament and land was purchased in Shaw's Court, Church Street and White Street. It was closed for burials in 1853, although the last recorded burial was actually in 1868. Among those buried at St George-the-Martyr were Bishop Bonner (d.1569) who died in Marshalsea Prison; mathematician Edward Cocker (d.1675); author John Rushworth (d.1690) and Nahum Tate (d.1715) poet laureate who wrote the carol 'While Shepherds watched their flocks at night'.
In 1882 the churchyard was made into a public garden by the Rector and Church Wardens and it was opened to the public by Southwark Metropolitan Borough Council the same year. In 1903, when Tabard Street was extended to Borough High Street, a portion of the churchyard was lost. Today there is an area of raised churchyard abutting the church with brick wall, railings and a pair of square stone dressed gate piers on Tabard Street with steps to a small triangular garden. A larger garden area is to the north side of the church with some memorials in flower beds and a few gravestones against the church wall.
Across Tabard Street is the detached portion of the former churchyard, which was re-opened as public gardens in 1902 by the LCC Member for Rotherhithe, and is now called St George's Garden. The north wall that forms the boundary to the recreation ground dates from the C18th with early C19th and later alterations. It has a pair of segmented openings with C20th wrought iron gates. It originally formed the southern boundary of Marshalsea Prison and a plaque in the garden refers to this. St George's Garden has a number of mature trees including a fine plane tree with seating around the trunk. It was re-landscaped in recent years through a gardening club run by Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOS) and now has a series of hooped arches and a hedged garden, gravelled paths and seats. A few gravestones are located in one corner.
'The London County Council and what it does for London: London Parks and Open Spaces' (Hodder & Stoughton, 1924); Ron Woollacott, 'Southwark's Burying Places, Past and Present', Magdala Terrace Nunhead Local History publication, 2001; Southwark Listed Buildings data
Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
- Grid ref:
- Size in hectares:
- 0.157 (Gardens)
- Site ownership:
- Church. St George's Garden: LB Southwark
- Site management:
- Parks; St George's Garden Gardening Group (BOST)
- C12th onwards, 1882 (public garden); 1902
- Listed structures:
- LBII*: St George-the-Martyr Church. LBII: north boundary wall of St George's Gardens
- 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:
- Borough High Street
- Tree Preservation Order:
- Not known
- Nature Conservation Area:
- Green Belt:
- Metropolitan Open Land:
- Special Policy Area:
- Yes - Archaeological Priority Zone
- Other LA designation:
- Churchyard, Tier Three. Strategic Views Backdrop Consultation Zone