Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
The gravestones arranged along the wall on the east side of the playground point to its former use as a burial ground, in fact it is two adjacent former burial grounds joined together. The section that opened in 1896 was formerly the Friends’ Burial Ground, purchased in 1697 and probably used for burials for those who attended at the Horsleydown Meeting House. It was much used and probably raised once or twice. The Horsleydown Meeting House was sold in 1800 and the Meeting combined with that held in Redcross Street. The Burial Ground was closed in 1855.
There was a burial ground attached to the Redcross Street meeting house in Worcester Street (now O’Meara Street) and in 1860 both meeting house and burial ground were compulsorily purchased by the Metropolitan Board of Works for the formation of Southwark Street. Just under a thousand skeletons that had been buried in now perished wooden and nineteen lead coffins still complete were carefully dug up and tranported by hearse to the Long Lane burial ground where they were reburied in two long pits that had been especially dug. All the while, a member of the Friends Meeting House attended to ensure the procedure was undertaken properly and with respect.
The Metropolitan Public Gardens Association after “considerable negotiation” with the Society of Friends arranged for Bermondsey Vestry to lease the former burial ground and the MPGA contributed £150 towards the laying out of the new public space. Mrs Basil Holmes wrote ‘The London Burial Grounds’ in 1896 as the park was being laid out and before the adjoining Ebernezer Burial Ground was added to form a larger space. This latter burial ground was formed at the end of the 18th century and was owned originally by the Independent Chapel in Beck Street and then by the Ebenezer Baptist Chapel. Mrs Basil Holmes reported it was “closed and untidy.” Some buildings that lay between the Friends Burial Ground and fronting on to Long Lane were demolished probably in the middle of the 20th century and the cleared ground added to the park.
Long Lane Playground is a small park with a children’s playground and planted with shrubs around the perimeter wall. When opened in 1896, the large tannery belonging to Hepburn and Gale was operating directly opposite in Long Lane and must have made for very smelly playtime but perhaps the stench from the tannery was sweetened by the aroma from the E&T Pink jam factory close by. Nevertheless the new open space was still a very welcome open space in a poor and overcrowded area.
Another plaque set into the perimeter wall bears the inscription "This wall being 29 feet and 3 inches in length is the property of and was built by John Savidge 1749 and 1750". Both plaques and the brick perimeter wall to the former Friends Burial Ground are Grade II listed.
In addition to the gravestones arranged around the wall there is a granite slab set into the wall which states “The Property of the Six Weeks Meeting of the Society of Friends. This tablet has been placed here by order of the Said Meeting. The burial ground purchased in 1697 was extensively used for Friends’ burials until closed by order of the Privy Council.” This plaque was obscured by planting for a long time but a visitor to Exploring Southwark got in touch to advise that the plaque had been revealed a couple of years ago and kindly supplied the photo to the left.