Originally posted on Spitalfields Life.
Celebrating the publication of his new book Crypts of London by History Press, Malcolm Johnson – formerly Rector of St Botolph’s, Aldgate, where he ran a homeless shelter in the crypt – offers this brief history of London crypts.
After the Great Fire of 1666, it was decided not to replace thirty-two out of those churches destroyed in the Square Mile, yet St Paul’s Cathedral and fifty-one churches were rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke and others, and almost all of these new buildings were given a crypt of the same extent as the ground floor. This was also true for churches in Westminster and those on the edges of the City such as in Spitalfields, Shoreditch and St Clement, King’s Sq.
What were these spaces intended for? Charity schools? Storage? Meeting rooms? There was no chance of any of these, because the clergy and their vestries soon realised that good money was to be made by charging wealthy parishioners to stack coffins containing their dead family members under the church.
In doing so, they went against the advice and opinions of both architects and others, who doubted the wisdom of burying the dead among the living. In 1552, Bishop Hugh Latimer thought it “an unwholesome thing to bury within the city,” considering that “it is the occasion of great sickness and disease.” Mainly for architectural reasons, Wren and Vanbrugh were also opposed to burial in or close to a church, although when Wren was interred beneath…