A team working for HS2 has completed the reburial of more than 14,000 human remains that were archaeologically excavated from St James’s Gardens in Euston as part of the project.
In September 2020 it was announced that the remains would be reinterred at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey following an agreement with the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England.
A prayer service took place on Wednesday, June 28, led by The Rev. Neil Hopkins, Vicar of Brookwood, to mark the reinterment. Some relatives of those being reburied joined representatives of the Archbishop’s Council, St James’s Church, Piccadilly, and St Pancras Church, Euston.
To honour the deceased, a memorial monument has been erected within a new landscaped garden. The design of the monument takes inspiration from the form of the gravestones and ledgers found at St. James’s Gardens.
The monument is in two pieces which reflects the changes made to the burial ground when Euston Station was extended in the late 19th century, with a new road load laid out between the remaining gardens and the station. It is reminiscent of ledger stones similar to those which have been found during the HS2 works, sensitively commemorating all those removed from St. James’s Gardens.
The monument is inscribed with a poem which reads:
“Still hearts buried within the quiet earth, from centuries past,
Their earthly fires no longer kindled,
heavenly spirits now shine bright,
pure white of the moon and stars, in eternal life,
memories left to remain, now solemn and soothing,
amongst the trees old and new, cloaked in vivid colour,
nothing is as certain as the passing of days,
the setting sun and rising moon,
new birth and life, to ashes and dust in death,
remember the past with peaceful reverence,
and to the future with faith, kindness and hope”
The Rev. Neil Hopkins, Vicar of Brookwood, said:
"This was a humbling time to not only remember those who have been relocated from St James's Gardens and recommit them to the Lord but to thank God for the care, dignity and respect that was shown by all who have worked on the memorial and the excavation at St James's Gardens.
"I pray that in the peaceful setting of the memorial that those who visit will meet God and find his peace."
Helen Wass, HS2’s Head of Historic Environment, said:
“Our works at St. James’s Gardens burial ground has sought to honour those buried there, treating them with dignity, care and respect. The service to commemorate those being reburied was a fitting tribute to the lives of Londoners, others from across the UK and beyond.
“As part of our unprecedented archaeological programme, HS2 is committed to telling stories of Britain’s past, leaving a lasting legacy of knowledge for generations to come.”
Jim Williams, Senior Science Advisor at Historic England, said:
“We have worked in close partnership on the excavation at St James’s Gardens and plans for reburial, providing specialist advice and support in best managing this sensitive historic site. The service was a very moving commemoration of the lives of those now respectfully reinterred at Brookwood, which also recognised the dedicated and compassionate approach of everyone involved over the past ten years.”
Work to excavate the disused London Cemetery began in October 2018, and a team of archaeologists from MOLA Headland Infrastructure carefully removed over 20,000 human remains buried there in the 18th and 19th centuries. Around 5,500 of the human remains carefully excavated from St James’s Gardens are undergoing archaeological analysis and will be reinterred with the burial population on a future date.
Brookwood Cemetery was chosen as the destination for the burial population due to its connection to the capital. The cemetery was opened in 1852 by the London Necropolis Company to accommodate increasing need for a burial site for London's growing population. A railway branch line connected the cemetery to Waterloo station and special hearse carriages for the coffins were used.
Many more of London’s burial grounds have been relocated in the past and Brookwood has often been the location for reburials over the past 150 years. In the 1960s the chapel at St James's Gardens was demolished and the remains of the individuals interred within its crypt were removed and reburied at Brookwood. The cemetery is the largest in the UK.
The new landscaped garden has been designed to symbolically reunite the burial population and enhance the connection between the two burial plots.
The burial ground was originally an overflow cemetery for the parish of St James’s in Piccadilly. As part of HS2’s archaeology programme, the stories of those buried at St James’s Gardens has been told through an interactive exhibition held earlier in 2023 at St James’s Church in Piccadilly. The exhibition was then moved to a location in Camden Local Archives and Studies Centre.